Tuesday, September 21, 2010

MERMAID AS METAPHOR (a consideration from forkergirl's temporary fish eye lens advantage)

the fish eye lens advantagefish eye lens advantage image from forkergirl's photostream

In this consideration of Mermaid as Metaphor, a point of entry and a point of departure (bifurcation hub) are formed by two elements brought together (in a range of manipulations) forming a third element that is a composite of the two (1 element plus 1 element = a 3rd element [1+1=3], as Rima pointed out in a limited forked multimedia story class). At this hub is a common depiction of mermaids in which two unrelated biological segments of two organisms are brought together in (primarily visual) unification usually depicted as horizontally split halves forming wholeness: a mermaid.

This (visual) wholeness is a form of marriage, an easily imagined evolutionary progression or regression of marriage. Though the one mermaid outcome of wholeness formation is usually offered, there are at least two composites that would emerge from each union in this imagined evolution or regression. Human upper body + fish lower body, and human lower body + fish upper body. This is an answer to where's the other halves? —the human lower body and the fish upper body? An example of this more complete merger outcome scenario supplies the horror factor of The Fly (1958). The human/fly hybrid is created when a teleportation experiment meant to be an exclusively human teleportation experiment becomes a human/insect teleportation experiment when a fly is discovered inside the teleportation chamber with the scientist when the experiment is already underway and no one is there to stop the experiment. Though the human/fly hybrid is an unintended outcome, that the hybrid is an outcome indicates a form of successful, if horrifying, biological union. The film features both composite forms: human body with fly head/hand and fly body with human head/hand. Once the hybrids emerged, the assumption was that capturing the fly body/human head composite and repeating the experiment with both hybrid outcomes in the chamber, would restore the human and the fly to pre-composite forms though other possibilities would have been as likely had the fly body/human head variation not been snared in a web of spider for whom the genetic modifications of the humanized insect changed nothing.

A cautionary tale, to be sure. A scientist accused of playing God to be sure.

Though I hesitate the use the term, this serves, in part, as a, well, deconstruction of the mermaid metaphor. It is a closer look inside what is and isn't occurring in the architecture of the metaphor that a mermaid is, and simultaneously is an invitation to explore what can happen/is happening inside other metaphors, using the outcomes of those explorations to establish other opportunities and forms of expression: the making of other poams (products of acts of making).

In popular depictions of mermaids, biological segments contributed by the human and by the (unspecified species of) fish seem interchangeable, largely because each segment apparently remains intact with crossover of fish into human, human into fish. The fish and human portions of a mermaid hybrid system could be separated easily. It is obvious where to cut. The human and fish segments seem closed systems stitched together (or in some other way held in place) superficially. The forming of human/fish composites seems exceedingly neat with a well-defined boundary separating fish function and appearance from human function and appearance. No transgression of species apparently occurs; nothing, well, fishy in the merger. Mermaids, rather, seem models of respect for species purity despite their being linked. No tinkering with the actual DNA as human DNA and fish genetic code don't mix, but instead exist side-by side. Good neighbors who share much, but not everything. Good spouses who share much but not everything.

If a deeper connection is considered, the external division and separation of fish and human raises questions about function, form, and layout of internal organs. Just how is the mermaid metaphor creature mapped internally? Surely anatomical mingling occurs, or it is difficult to imagine viability of this trans-species as a species distinct from human and fish with its own biological frameworks and systems; the fish, in the more frequent ichthyological bottom half mermaid configuration, would have no heart, no brain, no circulation of human blood in fish areas. If the halves are stitched together superficially and not integrated into a single being, each half would then need separate and contained systems of respiration, systems of ingestion, systems of excretion, etc. A romanticized depiction (and why not such a depiction!) of mermaids does not support contamination of the beautiful, usually, woman, with fishiness. Indeed, the mermaid might even be a purer form of woman for rejecting genitalia in favor of fishtail; with breasts, she may suckle a child and could even seem, depending on who's constructing the idea system, nearly as wholesome and good as Mary, Mother of Christ. In this wonderful anatomical chart (to the right) of a mermaid from gearfuse.com, the internal revelation is still decidedly human in keeping with the biological structure of most mermaids; no doubt a common or typical mermaid is dissected in the well-imagined image of mermaid reality wherever it exists, in imagination, gaming, and/or virtual worlds, for instance. Mermaid Diaries is a blog all about a little mermaid named Natalia Zelmanov and her adventures in second life. Below is a video of a Spore mermaid followed by a video of a Second Life mermaid show:

The common mermaid is uncomplicated, unproblematic in biological terms. She (usually) looks good,
and, in keeping with her fish contribution, is an excellent catch.

Consideration of shared biological functioning is not meant to discredit the mythic or aesthetic function of mermaid systems, and certainly does not undermine an ability of imagination to overcome problems of mermaid existence within shared physical realities. That closed biological and chemical systems can align themselves without sharing structures or circulation, may give a nod to some of the power of imagination as part of the glue maintaining the human/fish alignment. Not that everyone can (or should) use imagination in tis manner; what I refer to as imagination may be referred to differently in other cultural and/or belief systems that configure reality differently, including religions in which what some might consider supernatural is real; prayer connects a human mortal reality with a divine system of existence; prayer and belief function as bridges between these configurations.

It is quite odd, I think, that more mingling apparently does not occur at the juncture of fish and human in a mermaid system of co-dependency to be one being, one creature; why not more raggedness as these halves struggle to come together? In the production of mermaids, if something is occurring biologically, why not more evidence of mutation in the manipulation of humans and fish to produce mermaids? Where are the failures? Where are the monsters of human/fish alliances? Where are the other creature from black lagoons (gill-men) and other evolutionary missing links along the evolutionary road to mermaid? What is it about certain environments that seem to encourage emergence of human/fish hybrids? So much perfection! —similar, it seems (sorry for a lack of statistics) to a rate of perfection in production of angels or other beings embodying some human elements and some divine elements. Something in imagination apparently overcomes potential conflict in human and fish unions —did not George W. Bush say that he hoped the human and the fish could coexist peacefully? In configuring scenarios of this coexistence, some of that peaceful cohabitation would exist within a single body, half human, half fish; the bi-species creature practicing a form of political correctness in blending —indeed, Bush's statement could be construed as a call for transspecies experimentation, phase one focusing on human and fish peacful coexistence scenarios.

Had W seen Shiloh Pepin on a Discovery Channel documentary (Mermaid Girl) when he said that?
Did he realize that there was such a condition as sirenomelia, that humans were sometimes born with their legs fused in a disease commonly called mermaid syndrome, a challenging coexistence that might look peaceful? What hope for the future of humans did he foresee in improving human/fish coexistence? What's in that enhanced coexistence for Americans? for democracy? for capitalism?

In written metaphor also things come together with suspicious ease, perhaps in part because of familiarity with a long history of mythical part human creatures from ancient, classical, and sacred texts ; indeed, even Jesus Christ is a half-human outcome of a human/divine union. Evolutions occur inside metaphor; there is a journey from something to something, and details of the journey are seldom mapped. Mapping of what occurs inside metaphor could be quite revelatory and could lead to other revelatory forms of making, thinking, and/or understanding. To the left, Gort becomes The Stig, and to the right, Sambo becomes Obama in two metaphork evolutions by forkergirl. Much, much (compelling and exciting, among other forms of work) remains to be done.


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  2. Futurama is such a great show because they tackle all sorts of strange scenarios that we might not think about. In fact, they wrote and proved a math theorem to fill in a plot hole in a recent episode! Reading this post made me think of the Season 2, Episode 16 where they find the sunken city of Atlanta (the show is set in the year 3000) and there are merpeople living there. Fry takes a liking to one of the mermaids and...I'll let you watch the scene for yourself, but they address mermaid anatomy.

  3. If mermaids did result from sailors hallucinations or mistakes, isn't another aspect of them not being a purer form of woman, but being a symbol of unfulfilled lust and sexual frustration? A creature that pops out of the water and visually stimulates a straight male whose been away from their loved ones or love interests, but is incapable of copulation, thus a futile venture. This is further hammered in by the fact that the mermaid is a creature of the sea, inhabits and thrives a space people can't.

  4. This ability to inhabit water is curious since most mermaids aren't depicted with nonhuman respiratory systems; how do they inhabit the sea? The fish aspect in the lower half fish configuration is not the breathing half of the hybrid form. The mermaid necessarily spends a good deal of time on rocks, out of the sea —for breathing purposes. She's got lungs. Half mammal, half fish. She's got to come out of the sea for air —And don't forget the mermen.

    Most accounts of mermaids don't give much information regarding the sea-life of mer-people. The details of that culture aren't given. If they thrive in the sea, how that thriving was managed has not been disclosed in most mermaid literature. Perhaps magic of some sort. An idealized existence. What of the mermaid's humanity? Are mer-people to be endowed with personhood? A good deal of shaping of mermaid depictions has come from Andersen's Little Mermaid, a story that places the mermaid far from the possible origin you mention.

    At this point in the evolution of mermaids since, they seem to have transcended whatever caused the hallucination, becoming a part of the popular culture that releases them from any initial unfulfilled lust —And whose frustration? Might not the mermaid or merman feel frustration for lacking genitalia and reproductive potential? Perhaps (some of) this sexual frustration is hers or the merman's. Without obvious avenues of procreation, are mer-people dependent on mutation, human and/or fish birth defect for their existence?

    This study of mermaids is far from finished, by the way; chapters and chapters to go —thanks for reading so carefully. I appreciate the questions you raise. Keep them coming.

  5. Thanks for letting me know about the Futurama episode; mermaid anatomy is addressed —the form in which the mermaid presents, and a mention of the reverse form: human lower half, fish upper half.