I recently picked up Terry Eagleton’s book On Evil (New Haven: Yale U.P., 2010). I might at some point write a fuller “booknote” about the volume, and a related Eagleton book, Holy Terror (2005), which I am also reading. However, in light of some of my recent posts on children as people, I thought some of my readers might enjoy the following passage from the first chapter of On Evil.
We are ready to believe all kinds of sinister things about children, since they seem like a half-alien race in our midst. Since they do not work, it is not clear what they are for. They do not have sex, although perhaps they are keeping quiet about this too. They have the uncanniness of things which resemble us in some ways but not in others. It is not hard to fantasize that they are collectively conspiring against us, in the manner of John Wyndham’s fable The Midwich Cuckoos. Because children are not fully part of the social game, they can be seen as innocent; but for just the same reason they can be regarded as the spawn of Satan (2).
Setting aside the question of whether or not what he’s describing vis a vis actual children holds true — and whether, if it does hold true, to what extent such a situation is culturally created or “natural” — I think it’s fascinating to consider how strong our cultural perception of its reality is: children are read uas “other,” whether in the Romantics innocent ur-human sense or in the sense of Golding’s barely-repressed savage, “uncivilized” amoral bestiality.