From Homer to the Renaissance, there was a constant appeal for stranger things. Hybrids, mutants, incredible stories, fantastical episodes, all had a claim on the European imagination. Strangeness is ambivalent, it can’t be dismissed as false, but cannot be welcomed as true either, it sits on the precipice of credence, risking to fall into belief or dissolve into incredulity.
In the Middle Ages, strangeness was welcomed as a fact of life. Some animals had been tamed, while others were still wild – the unfathomable sea was confined by clear shorelines, the deep forest ended where the cultivated land began. The drama of strangeness developed on the margins of these lands, at their points of intersection. We find that strange today, because we’ve lost our appeal for strangeness, or we’ve let it develop into a stranger form of attraction to strangeness. We like saying ‘that’s weird’ all the time, using the Old English word ‘wyrd’, which calls on the power of fate or chance whose ambivalence again makes it the arch-enemy of reason. And reason is what we seek in everything, it’s no surprise that weirdness is seldom weird, and more often a halting-place on the way to a rational explanation. But weirdness endures, whether we like it or not, since we cannot explain everything; and the belief that we will one day explain everything there is, is, on the scale of human history, a weird thing.