Mr Monk goes to the monastery

Elliott, Andrew B. R. (2010) Mr Monk goes to the monastery. In: Mr Monk and philosophy. Open Court Popular Culture and Philosophy, Chicago, pp. 169-180. ISBN 9780812696745

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What’s in a Name? Monk, Monasticism and Ordering the World

I first encountered ‘Monk’ while conducting research on the association of medieval monks with detectives, which inevitably led to a temptation to see potentially tenuous connections between Mr Monk and his medieval namesake. For example, aside from his surname, his first name, Adrian, was shared with no fewer than six Popes during the Middle Ages; he lives in San Francisco, a city named after the most celebrated medieval monk, and even his wardrobe of identical suits fulfils the vow of monastic poverty, namely the repudiation of earthly vanities. Are these merely coincidental? It’s possible—maybe even probable. However, examining his way of arriving at the truth and the inductive process he uses to get there does indeed reveal a similarity with medieval Scholasticism. Like Thomas Aquinas, he often uses a via negativa in his rationale: scanning a room not only for clues, but for absences; considering what should be there and isn’t, what is there that shouldn’t be.

His way of viewing the world reveals a second similarity with monasticism, in his contemptus mundi—an ascetic rejection of the world—which prevents him from engaging with the world, and inspires him to try to order its inevitable chaos. In doing so, however, Monk’s attention to the minutiae leads him to assemble a ‘truth’ about the world which others frequently overlook. As Stottlemeyer opines, “I have the same pair of eyes, I see everything he does, but I just don’t see it”.

In this essay, I follow these comparisons through, using examples drawn from Monk’s detective work to provide an introduction to Aquinas’s Scholastic thought and the notion of contemptus mundi. I then analyse Monk’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, questioning its role in his construction of reality. In the medieval world, contemptus mundi sought to remove the distractions of everyday life, striving for as close to earthly perfection as possible. The ascetic’s attention was thus focused precisely on anything which was out of place, or any contradictions; they endlessly debated the minutiae (whether Christ laughed, smiled, etc) so as to arrive—seemingly accidentally—at the most fundamental truths about our existence. Similarly, while Monk’s OCD might hinder his engagement with the world (in terms of friendship, social skills and reinstatement), I question whether a personal hindrance can also be a professional boon, and whether his rejection of the world is perhaps fundamental in his—and our—quest for truth.

Keywords:Philosophy (General), Popular culture, Television, Detective, Medieval philosophy, Television studies, Scholasticism, Thomas Aquinas
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V130 Medieval History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V500 Philosophy
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P301 Television studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V610 Theology
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
ID Code:4297
Deposited On:01 Mar 2013 14:04

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