An Alligator's Influence: Part 1

by on Jul.04, 2011

“What Art conducts: Itself: Art: its potential: its fecundity; its contaminatoriness: in and of itself; its viral mediumicity; its monstrosity; its sound; its vibribration; its stutter; its contagion; flightlike or fluid; its inhuman influence.”

Thinking about influence in the terms Joyelle outlines above, I can’t help but dwell on the subject of my current writing:  the alligator attack that killed a close friend of mine several years ago.

I want to approach my project through a detour into The Alligator People, a fascinating (and sort of terrible) sci-fi flick from 1959. The film is about the disabled patients of an inventive doctor whose treatment is based on reptilian hormones.  Because of their potent healing properties, the hormones save the life of the protagonist, depicted above, and regenerate his missing limbs.  The unforeseen pitfall is that the recipients of such hormones turn into alligator-human hybrids.  Their state is one of species limbo and existential shame.  Unbeknownst to their families, they live in a makeshift hospital in the swamp.  When an experiment gone awry exacerbates the protagonist’s crocodilian features, transforming him into a being more alligator than man, he panics in the wilderness, in his wildness.  He drowns in quicksand while his screaming wife looks on ashore.

In light of The Alligator People’s incredible if rather dark synchronicity with my manuscript, I’ve tried thinking about the film as an allegorical model, in which becoming-artist = becoming-alligator.  As if the poet, too, could be the host-body of a reptilian infection brought about by subject matter.  But this model only feels helpful to an extent.  Who wants their poems to be swallowed in the quicksand of grief, or in the finality of the elegy?  To animate both the human and animal as undead forces on the page, it seems more powerful to focus on the mournful poem itself as a kind of perversely shiny, vibrating shrine–a structure that, in Deleuze and Guattari’s definition of the monument, “confides to the ear of the future the persistent sensations that embody [an] event.”

This is where I’ve been compelled, in my poetics, to evolve the metaphors of infection and contamination toward the fecundity Joyelle theorizes in her post.  As interesting as I find it to emphasize abjection–and, in fact, to channel lyric impulse through such a state–I still want a way of articulating the untamed and grandiose sense of possibility, if not self-determined agency, that influences of all kinds allow.  After all, crocodilians are remarkably adept at survival, having coexisted with the dinosaurs.  In a future we can sense but not fully determine, it is the gator’s blood that may help us treat HIV...

[to be continued]

3 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    Loved this post. As you know I’m really interested in B-movies, partially because they tend to dare to make up this kinds of ludicrous scenarios that seems to carry with them really profound interactions with culture… Also I love the way the aligators seem both internal and external, both before and after, both a costume and a genetic thing.


  2. Lucas de Lima

    Yes, totally! Something sacred gets transmitted along with the attention to bad special FX and cosmetics in this film. The alligator’s sacred surface.


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