November 26

Eugene Ionesco (b. 1909)

 

Rhinoceroization

They’re not as physically powerful as the animals you’ve seen at the zoo, but they’re also not caged, not sleeping in hot sun, not rolling over in a cooling patch of mud to entertain park visitors.  Look, I think that big guy’s going to move.  It might have opened an eye!

Instead, the transformed humans are more like angry animals in the wild, skin armored over and stampeding in herds as they bash into trees or overturn a hunter’s jeep.  At some point, the disease affects more than their skin. The hard scabs begin to itch, driving the infected towards frenzy; similar scabs form in their brains, squeezing fresh agonies across synapses, splitting the skull until a horn-like growth emerges through a broken forehead.

That’s when they try to outrun the illness, slamming into walls and cars and pedestrians, smashing windows and breaking through doors.  More than once, a scaled-over human shape has crashed through the front of your house, trampled over a living room sofa or reduced a kitchen table to splinters before crashing out to the backyard.  It’s absurd, like something out of a cartoon:  a human shape outlined in the cheap plywood of your kitchen door.

Absurd, but not like the transformations in Ionesco’s absurdist play, Rhinocéros.  Real life borrowed the play’s plot, but abandoned literary symbolism.   In a theatrical production, the gradual transformation of citizens into rhinoceroses signifies a mass surrender to Fascism — they’ve been infected by dangerous political ideas.  Horror-movie tropes often work the same way:  a zombie’s blank stare symbolizes mindless consumerism; a werewolf transformation indicates surrender to an animalistic id; the vampire’s bite signals a descent into violent sexuality.

But sometimes a disease is just a disease.  Today’s transformations don’t mean anything — they just happen.

You’re trying to look on the bright side.  The best minds are working hard, you’re certain.  It’s never too late to find a cure.

Still, it’s hard not to be nervous.  As you glance at the human outline in your kitchen door, you can almost hear the gallop of a fresh herd approaching.  Constant anxiety has caused you to develop a rash.  You scratch at the underside of your arm, and the irritated patch of skin looks gray and feels hard beneath your fingertips.