Monsters and monster slayers

I couldn’t even remember who it was that stated it, despite at times loosely using it to get the message across, but yes, it was indeed Friedrich Nietzsche who (69) states in ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ that:

“Whoever fights with monsters should see to it that he does not become one himself. And when you stare for a long time into an abyss, the abyss stares back into you.”

This usually helps me to explain that the world isn’t black and white, which leads me to another aphorism, supposedly originating to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and translating to:

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Now, what was it that Michel Foucault once stated to Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow (187), as indicated in the second edition of ‘Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics’::

“People know what they do; they frequently know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does[.]”

Ah, yes, indeed, so, when fighting monsters, you are aware that you are fighting monsters and why you are fighting them, but not what fighting monsters may lead to. That said, it seems to me that people rarely take this into account when they oppose something. There’s only good and evil, as if the world was simply black and white with no shades of gray in between. In contemporary terms, there’s only oppressors and the oppressed, as if they are mutually exclusive.

To get back to the monster theme and the simplistic portrayals of life, it’s perhaps interesting to discuss realities that have actual monsters in them. If you play games, be they board games or computer games, you may run into games where you face all kinds of monsters. In my experience you typically play a human or a humanoid character that ends up taking part in quests which involve facing monsters. While some games do make it possible to play an evil character or a neutral character, a mercenary type if you will, you often find yourself playing a good character. It’s not just that you’ve been taught to behave in that way in real life (you probably have been though), but rather that games reward the gamer for making choices that are deemed good (because the developers were probably taught to behave that way). The plot tends to push you that way as well, so you end up playing a goody-two-shoes. You end up being the light in darkness. That’s actually just fine, feel free to play that way, I mean I tend to do so (usually in hopes of a better reward though), but it assumes that there is a clear distinction between good and evil and that there’s no going beyond it. Fair enough, not all games are like that, so blaming all of them is hardly fair, yet at the same time, it is rare to play a game where things aren’t that simple.

I’ll take one game, or rather series of games, as an example. Based on the novel series written by Andrzej Sapkowski, the Witcher game series, consisting of three successive games with the same protagonist, makes you confront the question of good and evil. You play the protagonist, a Witcher named Geralt, a monster hunter for hire. I’ve played all of the games, but I’m not going into detail here on any of them. Why I chose to even mention them has all to do with monsters and monster slaying. It is expected of you to slay monsters as that’s literally in your job description and thus more or less your duty to do so. You end up protecting villagers from monsters as you are the one capable of doing so. That said, at times the game forces you to make choices. What do you do when you face a sentient monster, one that confronts you on your actions? Do you simply slay the monster for being one or do you reconsider your job description? Is the creature really a monster that plagues the local villagers or is it that the villagers want to get rid of the creature for some other reason? Is the sentient creature lying to you or are the villagers up to no good? It may be that slaying is the right path to take, but it might not be. The thing is that whatever you choose to do, what you do may end up haunting you later. Okay, now one might object that it’s monsters vs. humans in this case. If only it were that simple. I remember an encounter in the third game. You come across a man tied up and left to die in a place swarmed by monsters. The man has been left there for deserting, or so he claims. There seems to be more to this, but you can’t be sure. Now, I suppose the good thing to do is to free the man. I mean you are the monster slayer. It would be out of character to do otherwise, considering there are monsters in the area. If you do free the man, one day you’ll meet him again, in a small camp, alongside what appears to be bandits who’ve forcefully taken the camp from the people who left the man to die. Now, he may have been a deserter tied up by the people he later on killed, a group war refugees, or not. What matters is that your intervention was all about good intentions, which then made the retaliation possible. It may well be that the man was a known bandit after all, judging by what subsequently happened. So, when you opt to save the man, you do know what you are doing and why you are doing it. There’s no doubt about it. It’s only later on that you realize that what you did actually did. Now, the game does give you a choice to do the opposite, but then that death is on you, considering that you can’t be sure of the situation when you make the choice. The exceptional thing is that the consequences are not immediate, which makes you want to reconsider when it’s already too late. You only get to realize what you did did when the blood is already spattered everywhere.

Back to reality, of course we don’t face actual monsters like the ones in the computer games that I just mentioned, but the figurative ones work just as well. So, when one goes on a quest to oppose the figurative monsters, one should be wary of becoming one in the process. The world isn’t black and white and then there is that what they say about good intentions. That’s why I like the way Foucault (194) understands power in ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’:

“We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.”

So, there is no good and evil split at play. In reality, there is exercise of power, from one point to another and not external to “economic processes, knowledge relations, sexual relations”, to name some, as noted by Foucault (94) in the first volume of ‘The History of Sexuality’. More specifically and highly relevantly to this essay, he (94) adds that:

“Power comes from below; that is, there is no binary and all-encompassing opposition between rulers and ruled at the root of power relations, and serving as a general matrix-no such duality extending from the top down and reacting on more and more limited groups to the very depths of the social body.”

There you have it. Power is everywhere or, as Foucault (94) puts it, “exercised from innumerable points[.]” There is no simple duality between the one and the other. If only it was as black and white as good against evil. To clarify this, Foucault (94) continues:

“One must suppose rather that the manifold relationships of force that take shape and come into play in the machinery of production, in families, limited groups, and institutions, are the basis for wide-ranging effects of cleavage that run through the social body as a whole. These then form a general line of force that traverses the local oppositions and links them together; to be sure, they also bring about redistributions, realignments, homogenizations, serial arrangements, and convergences of the force relations. Major dominations are the hegemonic effects that are sustained by all these confrontations.”

Simply put, the way things work is far more complex than some good/evil or oppressor/oppressed binary. It may seem that the world is that simple, but there is more than meets the eye. What about resistance then? Well, Foucault (95) addresses that as well:

“Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power. Should it be said that one is always ‘inside’ power, there is no ‘escaping’ it, there is no absolute outside where it is concerned, because one is subject to the law in any case?”

Skipping a bit, he (95-96) adds:

“Hence there is no single locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, source of all rebellions, or pure law of the revolutionary. Instead there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case: resistances that are possible, necessary, improbable; others that are spontaneous, savage, solitary, concerted, rampant, or violent; still others that are quick to compromise, interested, or sacrificial; by definition, they can only exist in the strategic field of power relations.”

And skipping a bit more, he (96) states:

“They are the odd term in relations of power; they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite. Hence they too are distributed in irregular fashion: the points, knots, or focuses of resistance are spread over time and space at varying densities, at times mobilizing groups or individuals in a definitive way, inflaming certain points of the body, certain moments in life, certain types of behavior.”

So, they way I see it, Foucault states that while there is resistance to where there is exercise of power, there is no exit to power. As he points out, resistance is not in a position of exteriority in relation to power. As there is no escaping power, one must come up with a sense of how to cope with it, what forms of exercises of power we want and what forms we don’t want. That might not be the greatest paraphrasing or summary of his thought, but, well, there you have it. I think I’d need the help of a physicist in order to better explain how this relates to force and resistance, how one requires the other, but, hence, I think, the point about the irreducible opposite. So, there is no total domination, just as there is no total liberation, only points of resistance, just as there are points of exercise of power. That might not sound all that great to those seeking a better world, but then again, to throw in another common expression, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

As an addendum (a day later), I forgot to mention that the second part of the Nietzsche quote reminds me of the ‘Black Mirror’, a television series created and mainly written by Charlie Brooker. The idea behind the name being that once one of the typically dystopian episodes (there’s like one that ends on a sort of a positive note) ends and eventually “when the screen cuts to black, [the viewers] see themselves reflected” on the screen, as explained by Brooker in a Channel 4 interview published on December 16, 2014. So, whatever just shocked or horrified you (that tends to happen) first puzzles you as the credits roll, how could that be and who’s responsible for this, then suddenly you see your mirror reflection, the black mirror. It’s in fact you! That reminds me of how Deleuze and Guattari (130) point out in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ about being slave to oneself once there are no despots around. What is reflected in the black mirror is of course not you specifically. It’s rather a general (dark) reflection on humanity, which, I reckon should make the viewer feel even less at ease than if it was only about you.


  • Brooker, C. (20112019). Black Mirror. Leeds, United Kingdom / Los Gatos, CA: Channel 4 / Netflix.
  • Brooker, C. (2014). Creator Charlie Brooker Explains… | Black Mirror: White Christmas. Leeds, United Kingdom: Channel 4.
  • CD Projekt Red (2007). The Witcher. Warsaw, Poland.
  • CD Projekt Red (2011). The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Warsaw, Poland.
  • CD Projekt Red (2015). The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. Warsaw, Poland.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Dreyfus H. L., and P. Rabinow (Eds.) (1983). Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Foucault, M. ([1976] 1978). The History of Sexuality. Volume 1: An Introduction (R. Hurley, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
  • Foucault, M. ([1975] 1995). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books.
  • Nietzsche, F. ([1886] 2002). Beyond Good and Evil (R-P. Horstmann and J. Norman, Eds., J. Norman, Trans.). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sapkowski, A. (n. d.). The Witcher.