The Post-Modern Self   /   Spring 2017   /    The Post-modern Self

The Devil We Know

Elizabeth Bruenig

IDIOS (detail), 1985, by Antony Gormley (b. 1950), courtesy of and © the artist.

Convincing us to believe he doesn’t exist might be the finest trick the devil has ever played.

The devil just isn’t what he used to be. Glimpsing him in passing the other day on Fox—not in a news segment, where he is often in much better form, but in a comedy-drama adapted from a comic book—I found him downright approachable. The eponymous antihero of Lucifer is played by a perfectly decent-looking man from Cardiff, whose neat haircut and pressed but casual attire lend him only the vaguest air of bourgeois menace. He’s as unsettling as the nouveaux riches generally are, and only in that same register.

So it goes with the devil these days. Where medieval manuscripts and illustrations find him towering and glowering, seething with hot, rancid breath and countless animal fangs, the go-to depiction of humankind’s ancient enemy is today often of a being polished though flawed, a little tragic, more cordial than hypnotically tempting. He has his dignity, anyway, and usually his existential angst.

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