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Why are we attracted to the Devil?
I find that I love representations of the devil. In art, literature, film, music etc. What got me thinking about this was the recent discovery of an early Michelangelo painting where Saint Anthony is staving off demons:

I wonder what attracts us to these visual realizations of our demons. Is it the admission that being human means that inside each of us there exists a devil as well as a saint? Are we all just Saint Anthonys constantly embattled with personal demons and monsters?

What draws our interest to the macabre? Why do we like to imagine death in books and movies and think about that which we cannot effect? Maybe it's just that, maybe our interest is peaked because we can't know our own death. And I'm sure someone has hypothesized that fear originates in unknowing. And what better symbol for fear and unknowing than the devil?

The devil is a mythic figure that is different for everyone. That's why throughout history he has been represented in so many different ways. In ancient times he was always the monster, the outward manifestation of fear and death and eternal hell. But at least since Faust, we've radically changed our perception of death and the devil. Now he looks just like us. He walks among us, talks in our own accent, and wears the same clothes. In today's world we admit that the devil is not one of us, he is us. He lives in our every action and is always at our beck and call. He is Faust's Mephistopheles, a servant until the last.

So what importance does the devil hold in an atheistic world where we admit that good and evil are outdated terms and all morality is at the hands of the individual? Is he merely an aesthetic? A plot device or a stylistic choice? I don't think so, I think the devil still carries crucial importance to those among us, myself included, who have thrown away religious significance. Why? In my mind the devil is just a visualization of internal conflict. It is the strife that we make for ourselves and is the portrait we see in the mirror that we ache to defeat. Like in that Harry Potter book, the devil is a  boggart, shapeshifting to our individual fears. And we are attracted to the devil because we want to know that we  can stand in his face and win. We want to test ourselves time and time again and show that we can overcome all our conflicts and laugh in the face of the boggart.

We are attracted to the Devil because we are attracted to fear. We need to know that when it comes down to it, we can smash the devil in the mirror. And though every time he just rebuilds himself and puts the glass back together, we know if we've defeated him once we can do it again.
A most excellent question Hannah, perhaps touching on one of the fundamental aesthetic problems in modernity. Why are we attracted to the devil? Curiously, the great question of the attraction to the devil starts with modern literature, thus, beginning in the Renaissance, the age which actually signals the demise of God and of theological figures in general, starting perhaps with two of the most famous English writers Marlowe, in his Dr. Faustus and, most importantly perhaps with Milton, in his Paradise Lost. It has been a famous problem for Milton criticism from very early on explaining why it is that a work that is ostensibly about the triumph of God over his opponent Satan is actually much more interested in the figure of Satan, making God a somewhat bland uninteresting presence, while making Satan the most fascinating of characters, thus as if undermining its own moral and theological intentions to glorify God by making Satan, from the literary viewpoint, the one in which we are really interested, thus to whom we are attracted.  Why are we attracted to Satan rather then God? It is as if literature, in distinction from theology, is that which is actually interested in portraying Satan, and in the age where literature becomes a discourse that to an extent replaces religion, that the very figure of Satan takes center stage. Melville has even famously said that in Moby-Dick he created a work in the name of the devil.

But what is the devil? why is it that he or perhaps she attracts? The devil is that which is opposed to God, but what does it mean to be thus opposed? If God marks that absolute value of existence that as if directs the entirety of existence from a transcendent above in relation to which it can orient itself, an above that can be named the Good, perhaps even the beautiful, etc, then the devil is that which marks the collapse oof such a transcendent orienting position. The devil is the ironic underminer of God, showing that there is no transcendent position that orients, that every such position that pretends to become absolute can be undermined, leading us to a disorientation. But why is it that we are attracted to such ironic undermining? this has to do with the very mystery of sexuality, or of attraction, as it has slowly developed in modernity. to be attracted, it has been discovered, means actually to be drawn to that which takes us away from ourselves, that which as if activates something in us that we are not in control of, cannot know, undermining any position or identity we thought we had. As such that which attracts is that which blinds us, undermining who we are. To an extent, it has been shown, that even as we supposedly live in a post theological world where ostensibly the figures of God the devils etc, don't have much meaning, the logic of our lives is still very much guided by these theological ideals. For example, psychoanalysis has shown that our construction of identity is still very much guided by a transcendent logic where we have to identify with a stable orienting position counting as good and as absolutely true in order to know who we are. But sexuality, for psychoanalysis, is that which constantly undermines that ideality around which we have constructed our identity. As such, to be attracted is that which undermines our being formed by a still theological model. There is much much more to say on this crucial question, but it is at least a beginning then to indicate that the devil, that which undermines the idealizing absolute position which is the condition of a construction of a specific way of understanding our identity, is that which attracts, and it is to the exploration of its attractions that modern art, that discourse that attempt to undermine religious logic, is dedicated.
I wanted to respond to a line from Dave's very nice explanation,

"to be attracted...means actually to be drawn to that which takes us away from ourselves, that which as if activates something in us that we are not in control of, cannot know, undermining any position or identity we thought we had. As such that which attracts is that which blinds us, undermining who we are."

Undermines perhaps, but also often makes one feel alive. I know many people who, it seems, feel that in much of their lives, presumably when things are stable and upright, that they do not exactly exist; and that it is only when something begins tugging at them, pushing them off balance, pulling the ground from under their feet does the adrenaline surge back and they feel themselves defined in a certain way, against that force. So part of the attraction to the devil surely comes from the fact that, for many people, the clearest way in which they feel themselves is, somehow, in attraction, in the pull of passion. This is related, certainly, to Amanda's post on infatuation.
In discussing the devil I believe we are moving towards a discussion of polarity. The definition of the terms devil and evil and dark are at once ambiguous but they also elicit an immediate understanding. So while I can't put to words an exact meaning for those words, I can concede that they all evoke a visceral reaction.

As the two of you suggest, I can agree that the devil pulls us off balance, he tears at the fabric of our balancing act lives. But rather than there being two clearly defined poles, of good and evil, light and dark, the symbolic devil exists on both ends, while we teeter in the middle. The whole idea calls to mind Aristotle's Golden Mean whereby perfection exists between the two poles. For example: courage (the ideal) is the mean of confidence and cowardice. Is it possible that our symbolic devil exists at either end and God rests in the middle? Is confidence the result of the devil blinding us with false promises and is cowardice him showing us a peak of his hell?

I like the idea that has been echoed above about the devil pulling us towards passion, it creates the image of the red behemoth curling a finger at me to follow. But maybe there is something beyond the passion, maybe to be human means we want certainty, and to go with the devil means we are falling from heaven alongside him. So maybe the devil is a symbol for our instinct to challenge the authority, to conquer Mount Olympus, to claim our throne either in heaven or in hell, whichever will have us.

And why do we do that? Why must we always move with our eyes on the seat of God? Why did Faust make that deal with the devil? Because he wanted to know what was behind that seat...
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Latest Post: March 24, 2012 at 2:43 PM
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