Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Thinking about Monster Theory? (Seven Theses)

Hundreds of books have been written about 'real' and 'imagined' monsters. Monsters are in between reality and fantasy because they are part nature and part culture. We could list thousands of named types of monsters (and the creation of new ones is infinite); but it is also helpful in understanding the phenomenon of monsters to think about common patterns of perception and recurring issues in theoretical approaches.

One of the essays that I used for discussion with my University students for several years was the "Seven Theses" in Monster Culture by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, a collection which he also edited:

Thesis I
The Monster's Body is a Cultural Body

Thesis II
The monster Always Escapes

Thesis III
The Monster is the Harbinger of Category Crisis

Thesis IV
The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference

Thesis V
The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible

Thesis VI
Fear of the Monster is Really a Kind of Desire

Thesis VII
The Monster Stands at the Threshold ... of becoming

Synopsis of Monster Theory: Reading Culture

Monsters provide a key to understanding the culture that spawned them. So argues the essays in this wide-ranging collection that asks the question, what happens when critical theorists take the study of monsters seriously as a means of examining our culture? In viewing the monstrous body as metaphor for the cultural body, the contributors consider beasts, demons, freaks, and fiends as symbolic expressions of very real fears and desires, signs of cultural unease that pervade society and shape its collective behaviour. Through a sampling of monsters as a conceptual category, these essays argue that our fascination for the monstrous testifies to our continued desire to explore the difference, prohibition and the everchanging "borders of possibility".

Topics treated include: the connection between Beowulf, Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, and Dr Jekyll's Hyde; the fascination with Chang and Eng, the "Siamese twins" in 1830s America, and what it has to say about anxieties regarding the recently "united" states; the idea of monstrosity in Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles"; the use of monstrosity in medieval anti-muslim polemics; and an exploration of the creation myth embedded in "Jurassic Park".

Further information.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

Want to know more? See

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