two versions of a monster: the pope of the self.

Franz Sedlacek, The Moon Calf, 1936.

Franz Sedlacek, The Moon Calf, 1936.

“The monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and a projection, the monster exists only to be read: the monstrum is etymologically ‘that which reveals,’ ‘that which warns,’ a glyph that seeks a hierophant.” – Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Monster Culture (Seven Theses)

In other words, it’s a fucking metaphor, doofus.*

* * *


The Pope of the Self has been ordered excommunicated, no more to lead its congregation in the thaumaturgy of silence and indifference. The ritual of excommunication is to begin, so that the holy father will know its congregation more intimately and serve it more faithfully than ever from the chair.

The crypt below the church floor: chipped frescoes of early medieval origin gleam with sweat on the ceiling, rendering indistinct the boundaries between knight and dog, human and inhuman. The storm-organ pipes in the thunder concussing the countryside, the notes of the wind ripping through the acoustics of the upper hall. The aether suffers its indigestion noisily, even through the thickset walls.

The crypt opens up, widens out into a common room, still lined with tombs. The congregation sits at a long table laid with onion-shaped candles in brass holders and the dull glamor of silverware. The Pope of the Self is laid on the dinner tray, braised and served with persimmon spice and garlic, the congealed bubbles of fat rising and falling like dough as steaming air escapes. His eyes are in a bowl like olives. His fingers are fried like strips of potato. His jaw is stock in a vat of swamp-colored pea soup.

The congregation must finish eating him before the dawn. If they do not, the spirits of popes past will materialize from the drippings in their tombs and terrify the village until the next pope is elected, a process which can take months. It happened in a neighboring town once, and the spirits possessed the village guards and prevented all from entering or leaving; disappeared stairways as people descended them so that they were thrust down bottomless shafts into the world; inhabited domestic plants and filled them with excess life so that they suffocated the house; threw the skinnier children down the wells.

The congregation inhales the smell of the braised pope. They say a small prayer together, holding hands tenderly. The mouldering sextons fidget in their coffins. Outside, the moon’s taper burns on.

* * *


The pope of the self is a lolling, bearded tongue swathed in a white, urine-stained cassock. It has no real eyes in the sense of fixed visual organs, but instead a free-flowing cascade of ‘eye-slits’ produced from the foam of its ceaseless slobber of saliva. These crack open like periwinkles and glimmer amidst the gnarled drain-gathered hair and greenish sores, then shut abruptly and are washed away by the churn of spittle, only to re-open at other points across its body.

It has no face either, but a free-association of facialities dispersed across its flesh wherever the eye-growths are blooming. The pope of the self has a small drooping vine at its tip, light green colored, tender as the taproot of a baby carrot. This is its genital, and it manipulates it constantly during its many proclamations and encyclicals. It does this with its hairs, which have all the muscular and flexible capacity of arms.

The pope of the self has no real mouth for its speech, but the suggestion of a chestnut-dark hole hidden within its hair gives off a feeble voice encumbered with reverb. The pope of the self smells like compost.



* (Though obviously no monstrous creation should be chained to any particular interpretation, even within a single cultural moment.)