Society and Space: Angela Last interviews Monique Allewaert
Angela Last: When reading your book, I found that your interpretation of Ariel differs from existing mobilisations of this figure in interesting ways. Obviously, you are focusing more on the nonhuman connection, but, I thought, also on the inhuman (or assumed inhuman) aspects of subversion, negotiation and revolution. Much recent materialist writing seems to shy away from questions of violence, especially human violence. Could you talk a bit more about this?
Monique Allewaert: For me Ariel is not a human character but an elemental force that evokes and manipulates not entirely substantial but still absolutely material forces like lighting, thunder, and climate. My insistence on Ariel’s materiality means to resist interpretations that entirely etherealize Ariel and then divide him from the obviously material Caliban. I see this intensely material Ariel as a sort of Hermes-like character who passes through media like air, water, fire, and vapor (here I mean media in the Aristotitilean sense as Shakespeare is thinking about things like water or air as media) in order to produce connections that transform those entities touched by his mediation. I think Ariel’s power of transformative mediation is one of the capacities we should glean from his famous song. Although Prospero imagines all this mediating magic should serve colonial ends, it’s interesting to me that the media Ariel is associated with – water, air, climate — are those that colonials found particularly threatening because they were thought to deform of European bodies and minds. So, even if the play attempts to have readers understand Ariel’s mediating power as serving the colonial project, his powers clearly have the potential to disrupt the colonial organization of the material world, as we see in several moments of the play. As you point out, Ariel’s mediating power can produce subversions and even revolutionary transformations, either on its own or when mixed with human ambitions. The important point for me is that the media Ariel evokes are coeval with and not submissive to human agents, which means that neither is fully determining of the other.