Seeing a hybrid creates a specific sensation. Even if it’s merely a bronze sculpture, the frisson that runs through you when you stand eye to eye with a hybrid, with the Chimaera for instance, results from the absurd heterogeneity of its external appearance. Just in the way that the Chimaera afreets you with its lion’s head front half, its snake’s head rear and the goat’s head springing out of its back, this monstrous beast is terrifying not simply because of its unreal and awful appearance but through the actual obviousness of its unreality, the ease and directness with which the three heads are combined.
All creatures that flaunt their absurdity in this way and so blatantly parade their anomaly are disturbing. They are not to be trusted. It is as if you are being hoodwinked. You are the victim of Mother Nature’s irony.
There is nothing mysterious about a hybrid. There is no vague Surrealist mysticism here. The top half of a mermaid is a women, her bottom half is a fish, the Centaur is half-man, halfhorse, the Griffin’s front is an eagle, its rear a lion. All combinations require insight, each separate component part of a hybrid is easy to name, but put together the hybrid entity defies comprehension. So the mystery is to be found elsewhere, not in heterogeneity per se but in its absurdity' and in the clarity with which this absurdity is embodied.
Or is there someone who can explain the meaning of the Mermaid? In terms of history is there some latent need for the Hippogryph? Have we discovered the psychoanalysis of the Minotaur? Absurd. The hybrid has no meaning or psyche. In that sense the unproblematic and blunt way in which a piece of animal is attached to a piece of man - the bizarre immediacy of splicing - is already symptomatic of the complete absence of any deep structure. The hybrid is a totally artificial being behind which nothing is hidden, or it must be a godhead that delights in adorning itself with the eclectic mug of a push-me-pull-you.
The Surrealists’ cadavre exquis (which is actually compiled out of extremely well-defined composites)demonstrates the chasm between words and forms. Although this game was initially intended to break through logic and to reach the deeper essence of chance, in fact words and forms linked in some absurd way reveal the irony of chance. The absurdity of the connection is the hybrid’s power, the source of its demonism.
It is as if this process of hybridization causes a particular kind of electricity, a demonic energy that results in little of any benefit. Because hybrids are not by nature benevolent, least of all the mythological. Sometimes they are harbingers of doom, sometimes the guardians of some dreadful secret, or seducers who lure mere mortals to their deaths. The Minotaur and the labyrinth, the Sphinx and the riddle, the Western Dragon and the treasure, the Chinese Hsiao and the drought, the Sirens and their song, the Harpies and their insatiable hunger - hence each hybrid possesses the attribute that confirms its demonic character (but how can one speak of the Minotaur without the labyrinth, the Siren without her singing?).
This absurd heterogeneity results not only in a frisson but also in actual fright that is caused by the hybrid’s demonic character. Possibly hybrids were thought up to exorcise all the weirdness and murk surrounding human beings. It was no coincidence that mythological hybrids were symbolic representations of voracity and enticement, drunkenness and barbarism. Human beings are compelled to create a precise image of the demonic world, because real monstrosity is too dreadful and cannot be depicted.
Ultimately this kind of explanation is unsatisfactory. It does not explain why hybridization has persisted right to our modern technological crossbreed products (take, for instance, one simple household hybrid: a whisk that can also be used to squeeze oranges). Because of course time has eaten away at much of the hybrid’s prestige (we believe, as Jorge Luis Borges says, in the lion as reality and as symbol; we believe in the Minotaur as symbol, but no longer as reality), of course its mythical and magical power has waned and of course what was once an art, the art of hybridization, had degenerated in our promiscuous culture into merely being a trick, a pale imitation of the original perversion of the crossbreed. All this is true, yet whatremains unscathed is the predilection for eclecticism, the idiotic desire for bastardization that protects us from letting the universe become corrupted by too many noble, pure, godfearing creatures and full- bloods.
When an object, animal, god or person is born, one has to subject them to an immediate brisk recycling. Against the principle of purity (and what does it matter if its defender is called God or Design) one must posit the principle of the hybrid, Mother Nature’s little irony.
The question is: if the hybrid’s mythic power has evaporated, what then remains of the accompanying frisson on seeing one?
Perhaps the frisson is no longer the result of one specific, defined mongrel form but of die whole hybrid production (and that includes fruit, the human body, music and politics), no longer the result of one magnificent monstrosity7 but of a completely monstrous culture of which we partake. One of the two protagonists of The Satanic Verses,
Saladin Chamcha, notices this after a laborious cure for a doubtful metamorphosis (he grew horns and cloven hooves). He prescribes himself plenty7 of rest and lots of television and as he obsessively snitches from one channel to the next, the screen seems to be bulging with freaks: There were mutants - ‘Mutts’ - on Dr Who, bizarre creatures who appeared to have been crossbred with different types of industrial machinery; forage harvesters, grabbers, donkeys, jackhammers, saws, and whose cruel priest- chieftains were called Mutilasians; children's television appeared to be exclusively populated by humanoid robots and creatures with metamorphic bodies, while the adult programmes offered a continual parade of the misshapen human by-products of the newest notions in modern medicine, and its accomplices, modern disease and war A hospital in Guyana had apparently preserved the body of a fully formed merman, complete with gills and scales. Lycanthropy was on the increase in the Scottish Highlands. The genetic possibility of centaurs was being seriously discussed. A sex-change operation was shown. This square-eyed viewing had the effect that precious little remains of his conception of the normal, average quality of the real. Then he takes fright: a program about gardening shows images of a ‘chimeran graft’ of two different kinds of trees which results in achimaera with roots, planted in British soil, the vegetable equivalent of himself: an Indian, grafted onto British culture. Amid all the televisual images of hybrid tragedies - the uselessness of mermen, the failures of plastic surgery, the Esperanto- like vacuity of much modern art, the Coca-Colonization of the planet - he was given this one gift. It was enough. He switched off the set.
translation Annie Wright