1 Monster Culture (Seven Theses) Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

What I will propose here by way of a first foray, as entrance into this book of monstrous content, is a sketch of a new modus legendi: a method of reading cultures from the monsters they engender. In doing so, I will partially violate two of the sacred dicta of recent cultural studies: the compulsion to historical specificity and the insistence that all knowledge (and hence all cartographies of that knowledge) is local. Of the first I will say only that in cultural studies today history (disguised perhaps as "culture") tends to be fetishized as a telos, as a final determinant of meaning; post de Man, post Foucault, post Hayden White, one must bear in mind that history is just another text in a procession of texts, and not a guarantor of any singular signification. A movement away from the longue duree and toward microeconomics (of capital or of gender) is as- sociated most often with Foucauldian criticism; yet recent critics have found that where Foucault went wrong was mainly in his details, in his minute specifics. Nonetheless, his methodology—his archaeology of ideas, his histories of unthought—remains with good reason the chosen route of inquiry for most cultural critics today, whether they work in postmodern cyberculture or in the Middle Ages. And so I would like to make some grand gestures. We live in an age that has rightly given up on Unified Theory, an age when we realize that history (like "individuality," "subjectivity," "gender," and "culture") is composed of a multitude of fragments, rather than of smooth episte-

Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright mological wholes. Some fragments will be collected here and bound temporarily together to form a loosely integrated net—or, better, an unassimilated hybrid, a monstrous body. Rather than argue a "theory of

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teratology," I offer by way of introduction to the essays that follow a set of breakable postulates in search of specific cultural moments. I offer seven theses toward understanding cultures through the monsters they bear. Thesis I: The Monster's Body Is a Cultural Body Vampires , burial, death: inter the corpse where the road forks, so that when it springs from the grave, it will not know which path to follow. Drive a stake through its heart: it will be stuck to the ground at the fork, it will haunt that place that leads to many other places, that point of in- decision. Behead the corpse, so that, acephalic, it will not know itself as subject, only as pure body. The monster is born only at this metaphoric crossroads, as an embodi- ment of a certain cultural moment—of a time, a feeling, and a place.1 The monster's body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy (ataractic or incendiary), giving them life and an uncanny in- dependence. The monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and a projection, the monster exists only to be read: the monstrum is etymo- logically "that which reveals," "that which warns," a glyph that seeks a hierophant. Like a letter on the page, the monster signifies something other than itself: it is always a displacement, always inhabits the gap be- tween the time of upheaval that created it and the moment into which it is received, to be born again. These epistemological spaces between the monster's bones are Derrida's familiar chasm of differance: a genetic un- certainty principle, the essence of the monster's vitality, the reason it al- ways rises from the dissection table as its secrets are about to be revealed and vanishes into the night. Thesis II: The Monster Always Escapes We see the damage that the monster wreaks, the material remains (the footprints of the yeti across Tibetan snow, the bones of the giant stranded on a rocky cliff), but the monster itself turns immaterial and vanishes, to reappear someplace else (for who is the yeti if not the medieval wild

man? Who is the wild man if not the biblical and classical giant?). No Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright matter how many times King Arthur killed the ogre of Mount Saint Michael, the monster reappeared in another heroic chronicle, bequeath- ing the Middle Ages an abundance of morte d'Arthurs. Regardless of how many times Sigourney Weaver's beleaguered Ripley utterly destroys the Monster Theory : Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gwu/detail.action?docID=310376. Created from gwu on 2017-08-27 11:17:46. Monster Culture (Seven Theses) 5

ambiguous Alien that stalks her, its monstrous progeny return, ready to stalk again in another bigger-than-ever sequel. No monster tastes of death but once. The anxiety that condenses like green vapor into the form of the vampire can be dispersed temporarily, but the revenant by definition returns. And so the monster's body is both corporal and in- corporeal; its threat is its propensity to shift. Each time the grave opens and the unquiet slumberer strides forth ("come from the dead, / Come back to tell you all"), the message pro- claimed is transformed by the air that gives its speaker new life. Monsters must be examined within the intricate matrix of relations (social, cul- tural, and literary-historical) that generate them. In speaking of the new kind of vampire invented by Bram Stoker, we might explore the foreign count's transgressive but compelling sexuality, as subtly alluring to Jonathan Harker as Henry Irving, Stoker's mentor, was to Stoker.2 Or we might analyze Murnau's self-loathing appropriation of the same demon in Nosferatu, where in the face of nascent fascism the undercurrent of desire surfaces in plague and bodily corruption. Anne Rice has given the myth a modern rewriting in which homosexuality and vampirism have been conjoined, apotheosized; that she has created a pop culture phe- nomenon in the process is not insignificant, especially at a time when gender as a construct has been scrutinized at almost every social register. In Francis Coppola's recent blockbuster, Bram Stoker's Dracula, the homo- sexual subtext present at least since the appearance of Sheridan Le Fanu's lesbian lamia (Carmilla, 1872) has, like the red corpuscles that serve as the film's leitmotif, risen to the surface, primarily as an AIDS awareness that transforms the disease of vampirism into a sadistic (and very me- dieval) form of redemption through the torments of the body in pain. No coincidence, then, that Coppola was putting together a documentary on AIDS at the same time he was working on Dracula. In each of these vampire stories, the undead returns in slightly differ- ent clothing, each time to be read against contemporary social move- ments or a specific, determining event: la decadence and its new possi- bilities, homophobia and its hateful imperatives, the acceptance of new

subjectivities unfixed by binary gender, a fin de siecle social activism Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright paternalistic in its embrace. Discourse extracting a transcultural, trans- temporal phenomenon labeled "the vampire" is of rather limited utility; even if vampiric figures are found almost worldwide, from ancient Egypt to modern Hollywood, each reappearance and its analysis is still bound Monster Theory : Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gwu/detail.action?docID=310376. Created from gwu on 2017-08-27 11:17:46. TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT

in a double act of construction and reconstitution.3 "Monster theory" must therefore concern itself with strings of cultural moments, con- nected by a logic that always threatens to shift; invigorated by change and escape, by the impossibility of achieving what Susan Stewart calls the desired "fall or death, the stopping" of its gigantic subject,4 mon- strous interpretation is as much process as epiphany, a work that must content itself with fragments (footprints, bones, talismans, teeth, shad- ows, obscured glimpses—signifiers of monstrous passing that stand in for the monstrous body itself). Thesis III: The Monster Is the Harbinger of Category Crisis The monster always escapes because it refuses easy categorization. Of the nightmarish creature that Ridley Scott brought to life in Alien, Harvey Greenberg writes:

It is a Linnean nightmare , defying every natural law of evolution; by turns bivalve, crustacean, reptilian, and humanoid. It seems capable of lying dormant within its egg indefinitely. It sheds its skin like a snake, its carapace like an arthropod. It deposits its young into other species like a wasp It responds according to Lamarckian and Darwinian principles.5 This refusal to participate in the classincatory "order of things" is true of monsters generally: they are disturbing hybrids whose externally inco- herent bodies resist attempts to include them in any systematic struc- turation. And so the monster is dangerous, a form suspended between forms that threatens to smash distinctions. Because of its ontological liminality, the monster notoriously appears at times of crisis as a kind of third term that problematizes the clash of extremes—as "that which questions binary thinking and introduces a crisis."6 This power to evade and to undermine has coursed through the monster's blood from classical times, when despite all the attempts of Aristotle (and later Pliny, Augustine, and Isidore) to incorporate the monstrous races7 into a coherent epistemological system, the monster always escaped to return to its habitations at the margins of the world (a purely conceptual locus rather than a geographic one).8 Classical "won- Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright der books" radically undermine the Aristotelian taxonomic system, for by refusing an easy compartmentalization of their monstrous contents, they demand a radical rethinking of boundary and normality. The too- precise laws of nature as set forth by science are gleefully violated in

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the freakish compilation of the monster's body. A mixed category, the monster resists any classification built on hierarchy or a merely binary opposition, demanding instead a "system" allowing polyphony, mixed response (difference in sameness, repulsion in attraction), and resistance to integration—allowing what Hogle has called with a wonderful pun "a deeper play of differences, a nonbinary polymorphism at the 'base' of human nature."9 The horizon where the monsters dwell might well be imagined as the visible edge of the hermeneutic circle itself: the monstrous offers an es- cape from its hermetic path, an invitation to explore new spirals, new and interconnected methods of perceiving the world.10 In the face of the monster, scientific inquiry and its ordered rationality crumble. The monstrous is a genus too large to be encapsulated in any conceptual sys- tem; the monster's very existence is a rebuke to boundary and enclosure; like the giants of Mandeville's Travels, it threatens to devour "all raw & quyk" any thinker who insists otherwise. The monster is in this way the living embodiment of the phenomenon Derrida has famously labeled the "supplement" (ce dangereux supplement):11 it breaks apart bifurcating, "either/or" syllogistic logic with a kind of reasoning closer to "and/or," introducing what Barbara Johnson has called "a revolution in the very logic of meaning."12 Full of rebuke to traditional methods of organizing knowledge and human experience, the geography of the monster is an imperiling ex- panse, and therefore always a contested cultural space. Thesis IV: The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference The monster is difference made flesh, come to dwell among us. In its function as dialectical Other or third-term supplement, the monster is an incorporation of the Outside, the Beyond—of all those loci that are rhetorically placed as distant and distinct but originate Within. Any kind of alterity can be inscribed across (constructed through) the monstrous body, but for the most part monstrous difference tends to be cultural, political, racial, economic, sexual.

The exaggeration of cultural difference into monstrous aberration is Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright familiar enough. The most famous distortion occurs in the Bible, where the aboriginal inhabitants of Canaan are envisioned as menacing giants to justify the Hebrew colonization of the Promised Land (Numbers 13). Representing an anterior culture as monstrous justifies its displacement Monster Theory : Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gwu/detail.action?docID=310376. Created from gwu on 2017-08-27 11:17:46. 8 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

or extermination by rendering the act heroic. In medieval France the chansons de geste celebrated the crusades by transforming Muslims into demonic caricatures whose menacing lack of humanity was readable from their bestial attributes; by culturally glossing "Saracens" as "mon- stra," propagandists rendered rhetorically admissible the annexation of the East by the West. This representational project was part of a whole dictionary of strategic glosses in which "monstra" slipped into significa- tions of the feminine and the hypermasculine. A recent newspaper article on Yugoslavia reminds us how persistent these divisive mythologies can be, and how they can endure divorced from any grounding in historical reality: A Bosnian Serb militiaman, hitchhiking to Sarajevo, tells a reporter in all earnestness that the Muslims are feeding Serbian children to the animals in the zoo. The story is nonsense. There aren't any animals left alive in the Sarajevo zoo. But the militiaman is convinced and can recall all the wrongs that Muslims may or may not have perpetrated during their 500 years of rule.13 In the United States, Native Americans were presented as unredeemable savages so that the powerful political machine of Manifest Destiny could push westward with disregard. Scattered throughout Europe by the Diaspora and steadfastly refusing assimilation into Christian society, Jews have been perennial favorites for xenophobic misrepresentation, for here was an alien culture living, working, and even at times prospering within vast communities dedicated to becoming homogeneous and monolithic. The Middle Ages accused the Jews of crimes ranging from the bringing of the plague to bleeding Christian children to make their Passover meal. Nazi Germany simply brought these ancient traditions of hate to their conclusion, inventing a Final Solution that differed from earlier persecutions only in its technological efficiency. Political or ideological difference is as much a catalyst to monstrous representation on a micro level as cultural alterity in the macrocosm. A political figure suddenly out of favor is transformed like an unwilling participant in a science experiment by the appointed historians of the Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright replacement regime: "monstrous history" is rife with sudden, Ovidian metamorphoses, from Vlad Tepes to Ronald Reagan. The most illus- trious of these propaganda-bred demons is the English king Richard III, whom Thomas More famously described as "little of stature, ill fetured

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of limmes, croke backed, his left shoulder much higher then his right, hard fauoured of visage. . . . hee came into the worlde with feete for- ward, . . . also not vntothed."14 From birth, More declares, Richard was a monster, "his deformed body a readable text"15 on which was in- scribed his deviant morality (indistinguishable from an incorrect politi- cal orientation). The almost obsessive descanting on Richard from Polydor Vergil in the Renaissance to the Friends of Richard III Incorporated in our own era demonstrates the process of "monster theory" at its most active: cul- ture gives birth to a monster before our eyes, painting over the normally proportioned Richard who once lived, raising his shoulder to deform simultaneously person, cultural response, and the possibility of objectiv- ity.16 History itself becomes a monster: defeaturing, self-deconstructive, always in danger of exposing the sutures that bind its disparate elements into a single, unnatural body. At the same time Richard moves between Monster and Man, the disturbing suggestion arises that this incoherent body, denaturalized and always in peril of disaggregation, may well be our own. The difficult project of constructing and maintaining gender identi- ties elicits an array of anxious responses throughout culture, producing another impetus to teratogenesis. The woman who oversteps the bound- aries of her gender role risks becoming a Scylla, Weird Sister, Lilith ("die erste Eva," "la mere obscure"),17 Bertha Mason, or Gorgon.18 "Deviant" sexual identity is similarly susceptible to monsterization. The great me- dieval encyclopedist Vincent of Beauvais describes the visit of a her- maphroditic cynocephalus to the French court in his Speculum naturale (31.126).19 Its male reproductive organ is said to be disproportionately large, but the monster could use either sex at its own discretion. Bruno Roy writes of this fantastic hybrid: "What warning did he come to deliver to the king? He came to bear witness to sexual norms.... He embodied the punishment earned by those who violate sexual taboos."20 This strange creature, a composite of the supposedly discrete categories "male" and "female," arrives before King Louis to validate heterosexuality over homo-

sexuality, with its supposed inversions and transformations ("Equa fit Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright equus," one Latin writer declared; "The horse becomes a mare").21 The strange dog-headed monster is a living excoriation of gender ambiguity and sexual abnormality, as Vincent's cultural moment defines them: heteronormalization incarnate. Monster Theory : Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gwu/detail.action?docID=310376. Created from gwu on 2017-08-27 11:17:46. 10 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

From the classical period into the twentieth century, race has been almost as powerful a catalyst to the creation of monsters as culture, gen- der, and sexuality. Africa early became the West's significant other, the sign of its ontological difference simply being skin color. According to the Greek myth of Phaeton, the denizens of mysterious and uncertain Ethiopia were black because they had been scorched by the too-close passing of the sun. The Roman naturalist Pliny assumed nonwhite skin to be symptomatic of a complete difference in temperament and attrib- uted Africa's darkness to climate; the intense heat, he said, had burned the Africans' skin and malformed their bodies (Natural History, 2.80). These differences were quickly moralized through a pervasive rhetoric of deviance. Paulinus of Nola, a wealthy landowner turned early church homilist, explained that the Ethiopians had been scorched by sin and vice rather than by the sun, and the anonymous commentator to Theodulus's influential Ecloga (tenth century) succinctly glossed the meaning of the word Ethyopium: "Ethiopians, that is, sinners. Indeed, sinners can rightly be compared to Ethiopians, who are black men presenting a terrifying appearance to those beholding them."22 Dark skin was associated with the fires of hell, and so signified in Christian mythology demonic prove- nance. The perverse and exaggerated sexual appetite of monsters gener- ally was quickly affixed to the Ethiopian; this linking was only strength- ened by a xenophobic backlash as dark-skinned people were forcibly imported into Europe early in the Renaissance. Narratives of miscegena- tion arose and circulated to sanction official policies of exclusion; Queen Elizabeth is famous for her anxiety over "blackamoores" and their sup- posed threat to the "increase of people of our own nation."23 Through all of these monsters the boundaries between personal and national bodies blur. To complicate this category confusion further, one kind of alterity is often written as another, so that national difference (for example) is transformed into sexual difference. Giraldus Cambrensis demonstrates just this slippage of the foreign in his Topography of Ireland; when he writes of the Irish (ostensibly simply to provide information about them to a curious English court, but actually as a first step toward

invading and colonizing the island), he observes: Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright It is indeed a most filthy race, a race sunk in vice, a race more ignorant than all other nations of the first principles of faith.... These people who have customs so different from others, and so opposite to them, on mak- ing signs either with the hands or the head, beckon when they mean that Monster Theory : Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gwu/detail.action?docID=310376. Created from gwu on 2017-08-27 11:17:46. Monster Culture (Seven Theses) 11

you should go away, and nod backwards as often as they wish to be rid of you. Likewise, in this nation, the men pass their water sitting, the women like an arthropod. It deposits its young into other species like a wasp It legs stuck out on each side of the horse.24 One kind of inversion becomes another as Giraldus deciphers the alpha- bet of Irish culture—and reads it backwards, against the norm of English masculinity. Giraldus creates a vision of monstrous gender (aberrant, demonstrative): the violation of the cultural codes that valence gendered behaviors creates a rupture that must be cemented with (in this case) the binding, corrective mortar of English normalcy. A bloody war of sub- jugation followed immediately after the promulgation of this text, re- mained potent throughout the High Middle Ages, and in a way contin- ues to this day. Through a similar discursive process the East becomes feminized (Said) and the soul of Africa grows dark (Gates).25 One kind of differ- ence becomes another as the normative categories of gender, sexuality, national identity, and ethnicity slide together like the imbricated circles of a Venn diagram, abjecting from the center that which becomes the monster. This violent foreclosure erects a self-validating, Hegelian master/slave dialectic that naturalizes the subjugation of one cultural body by another by writing the body excluded from personhood and agency as in every way different, monstrous. A polysemy is granted so that a greater threat can be encoded; multiplicity of meanings, paradoxi- cally, iterates the same restricting, agitprop representations that nar- rowed signification performs. Yet a danger resides in this multiplication: as difference, like a Hydra, sprouts two heads where one has been lopped away, the possibilities of escape, resistance, disruption arise with more force. Rene Girard has written at great length about the real violence these debasing representations enact, connecting monsterizing depiction with the phenomenon of the scapegoat. Monsters are never created ex nihilo, but through a process of fragmentation and recombination in which elements are extracted "from various forms" (including—indeed, espe- Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright cially—marginalized social groups) and then assembled as the monster, "which can then claim an independent identity."26 The political-cultural monster, the embodiment of radical difference, paradoxically threatens to erase difference in the world of its creators, to demonstrate Monster Theory : Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gwu/detail.action?docID=310376. Created from gwu on 2017-08-27 11:17:46. 12 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

the potential for the system to differ from its own difference, in other words not to be different at all, to cease to exist as a system— Difference that exists outside the system is terrifying because it reveals the truth of the system, its relativity, its fragility, and its mortality.... Despite what is said around us persecutors are never obsessed with difference but rather by its unutterable contrary, the lack of difference.27 By revealing that difference is arbitrary and potentially free-floating, mutable rather than essential, the monster threatens to destroy not just individual members of a society, but the very cultural apparatus through which individuality is constituted and allowed. Because it is a body across which difference has been repeatedly written, the monster (like Frankenstein's creature, that combination of odd somatic pieces stitched together from a community of cadavers) seeks out its author to demand its raison d'etre—and to bear witness to the fact that it could have been constructed Otherwise. Godzilla trampled Tokyo; Girard frees him here to fragment the delicate matrix of relational systems that unite every private body to the public world. Thesis V: The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible The monster resists capture in the epistemological nets of the erudite, but it is something more than a Bakhtinian ally of the popular. From its position at the limits of knowing, the monster stands as a warning against exploration of its uncertain demesnes. The giants of Patagonia, the dragons of the Orient, and the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park together declare that curiosity is more often punished than rewarded, that one is better off safely contained within one's own domestic sphere than abroad, away from the watchful eyes of the state. The monster prevents mobility (intellectual, geographic, or sexual), delimiting the social spaces through which private bodies may move. To step outside this official geography is to risk attack by some monstrous border patrol or (worse) to become monstrous oneself. Lycaon, the first werewolf in Western literature, undergoes his lupine metamorphosis as the culmination of a fable of hospitality.28 Ovid re- lates how the primeval giants attempted to plunge the world into anar- Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright chy by wrenching Olympus from the gods, only to be shattered by divine thunderbolts. From their scattered blood arose a race of men who con- tinued their fathers' malignant ways.29 Among this wicked progeny was Lycaon, king of Arcadia. When Jupiter arrived as a guest at his house,

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Lycaon tried to kill the ruler of the gods as he slept, and the next day served him pieces of a servant's body as a meal. The enraged Jupiter punished this violation of the host-guest relationship by transforming Lycaon into a monstrous semblance of that lawless, godless state to which his actions would drag humanity back:

The king himself flies in terror and, gaining the fields, howls aloud, at- tempting in vain to speak. His mouth of itself gathers foam, and with his accustomed greed for blood he turns against the sheep, delighting still in slaughter. His garments change to shaggy hair, his arms to legs. He turns into a wolf, and yet retains some traces of his former shape.30 The horribly fascinating loss of Lycaon's humanity merely reifies his pre- vious moral state; the king's body is rendered all transparence, instantly and insistently readable. The power of the narrative prohibition peaks in the lingering description of the monstrously composite Lycaon, at that median where he is both man and beast, dual natures in a helpless tu- mult of assertion. The fable concludes when Lycaon can no longer speak, only signify. Whereas monsters born of political expedience and self-justifying na- tionalism function as living invitations to action, usually military (in- vasions, usurpations, colonizations), the monster of prohibition polices the borders of the possible, interdicting through its grotesque body some behaviors and actions, envaluing others. It is possible, for example, that medieval merchants intentionally disseminated maps depicting sea ser- pents like Leviathan at the edges of their trade routes in order to dis- courage further exploration and to establish monopolies.31 Every mon- ster is in this way a double narrative, two living stories: one that describes how the monster came to be and another, its testimony, detailing what cultural use the monster serves. The monster of prohibition exists to demarcate the bonds that hold together that system of relations we call culture, to call horrid attention to the borders that cannot—must not— be crossed. Primarily these borders are in place to control the traffic in women, or more generally to establish strictly homosocial bonds, the ties between Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright men that keep a patriarchal society functional. A kind of herdsman, this monster delimits the social space through which cultural bodies may move, and in classical times (for example) validated a tight, hierarchical system of naturalized leadership and control where every man had a Monster Theory : Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gwu/detail.action?docID=310376. Created from gwu on 2017-08-27 11:17:46. 14 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

functional place.32 The prototype in Western culture for this kind of "geographic" monster is Homer's Polyphemos. The quintessential xeno- phobic rendition of the foreign (the barbaric—that which is unintelligi- ble within a given cultural-linguistic system),33 the Cyclopes are repre- sented as savages who have not "a law to bless them" and who lack the techne to produce (Greek-style) civilization. Their archaism is conveyed through their lack of hierarchy and of a politics of precedent. This disso- ciation from community leads to a rugged individualism that in Home- ric terms can only be horrifying. Because they live without a system of tradition and custom, the Cyclopes are a danger to the arriving Greeks, men whose identities are contingent upon a compartmentalized func- tion within a deindividualizing system of subordination and control. Polyphemos's victims are devoured, engulfed, made to vanish from the public gaze: cannibalism as incorporation into the wrong cultural body. The monster is a powerful ally of what Foucault calls "the society of the panopticon," in which "polymorphous conducts [are] actually ex- tracted from people's bodies and from their pleasures ... [to be] drawn out, revealed, isolated, intensified, incorporated, by multifarious power devices."34 Susan Stewart has observed that "the monster's sexuality takes on a separate life";35 Foucault helps us to see why. The monster embodies those sexual practices that must not be committed, or that may be com- mitted only through the body of the monster. She and Them!: the mon- ster enforces the cultural codes that regulate sexual desire. Anyone familiar with the low-budget science fiction movie craze of the 19505 will recognize in the preceding sentence two superb films of the genre, one about a radioactive virago from outer space who kills every man she touches, the other a social parable in which giant ants (really, Communists) burrow beneath Los Angeles (that is, Hollywood) and threaten world peace (that is, American conservatism). I connect these two seemingly unrelated titles here to call attention to the anxieties that monsterized their subjects in the first place, and to enact syntactically an even deeper fear: that the two will join in some unholy miscegenation. We have seen that the monster arises at the gap where difference is per- ceived as dividing a recording voice from its captured subject; the crite- Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright rion of this division is arbitrary, and can range from anatomy or skin color to religious belief, custom, and political ideology. The monster's destructiveness is really a deconstructiveness: it threatens to reveal that difference originates in process, rather than in fact (and that "fact" is

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subject to constant reconstruction and change). Given that the recorders of the history of the West have been mainly European and male, women (She) and nonwhites (Them!) have found themselves repeatedly trans- formed into monsters, whether to validate specific alignments of mas- culinity and whiteness, or simply to be pushed from its realm of thought.36 Feminine and cultural others are monstrous enough by themselves in patriarchal society, but when they threaten to mingle, the entire econ- omy of desire comes under attack. As a vehicle of prohibition, the monster most often arises to enforce the laws of exogamy, both the incest taboo (which establishes a traffic in women by mandating that they marry outside their families) and the de- crees against interracial sexual mingling (which limit the parameters of that traffic by policing the boundaries of culture, usually in the service of some notion of group "purity").37 Incest narratives are common to every tradition and have been extensively documented, mainly owing to Levi- Strauss's elevation of the taboo to the founding base of patriarchal soci- ety. Miscegenation, that intersection of misogyny (gender anxiety) and racism (no matter how naive), has received considerably less critical at- tention. I will say a few words about it here. The Bible has long been the primary source for divine decrees against interracial mixing. One of these pronouncements is a straightforward command from God that comes through the mouth of the prophet Joshua (Joshua 23:iaff.); another is a cryptic episode in Genesis much elaborated during the medieval period, alluding to "sons of God" who impregnate the "daughters of men" with a race of wicked giants (Genesis 6:4). The monsters are here, as elsewhere, expedient representations of other cultures, generalized and demonized to enforce a strict notion of group sameness. The fears of contamination, impurity, and loss of iden- tity that produce stories like the Genesis episode are strong, and they reappear incessantly. Shakespeare's Caliban, for example, is the product of such an illicit mingling, the "freckled whelp" of the Algerian witch Sycorax and the devil. Charlotte Bronte reversed the usual paradigm in Jane Eyre (white Rochester and lunatic Jamaican Bertha Mason), but

horror movies as seemingly innocent as King Kong demonstrate misce- Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright genation anxiety in its brutal essence. Even a film as recent as 1979's im- mensely successful Alien may have a cognizance of the fear in its under - workings: the grotesque creature that stalks the heroine (dressed in the final scene only in her underwear) drips a glistening slime of K-Y Jelly Monster Theory : Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gwu/detail.action?docID=310376. Created from gwu on 2017-08-27 11:17:46. 16 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

from its teeth; the jaw tendons are constructed of shredded condoms; and the man inside the rubber suit is Bolaji Badejo, a Masai tribesman standing seven feet tall who happened to be studying in England at the time the film was cast.38 The narratives of the West perform the strangest dance around that fire in which miscegenation and its practitioners have been condemned to burn. Among the flames we see the old women of Salem hanging, accused of sexual relations with the black devil; we suspect they died because they crossed a different border, one that prohibits women from managing property and living solitary, unmanaged lives. The flames devour the Jews of thirteenth-century England, who stole children from proper families and baked seder matzo with their blood; as a menace to the survival of English race and culture, they were expelled from the country and their property confiscated. A competing narrative again im- plicates monstrous economics—the Jews were the money lenders, the state and its commerce were heavily indebted to them—but this second story is submerged in a horrifying fable of cultural purity and threat to Christian continuance. As the American frontier expanded beneath the banner of Manifest Destiny in the nineteenth century, tales circulated about how "Indians" routinely kidnapped white women to furnish wives for themselves; the West was a place of danger waiting to be tamed into farms, its menacing native inhabitants fit only to be dispossessed. It mat- ters little that the protagonist of Richard Wright's Native Son did not rape and butcher his employer's daughter; that narrative is supplied by the police, by an angry white society, indeed by Western history itself. In the novel, as in life, the threat occurs when a nonwhite leaves the reserve abandoned to him; Wright envisions what happens when the horizon of narrative expectation is firmly set, and his conclusion (born out in seventeenth-century Salem, medieval England, and nineteenth-century America) is that the actual circumstances of history tend to vanish when a narrative of miscegenation can be supplied. The monster is transgressive, too sexual, perversely erotic, a lawbreaker; and so the monster and all that it embodies must be exiled or destroyed.

The repressed, however, like Freud himself, always seems to return. Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright Thesis VI: Fear of the Monster Is Really a Kind of Desire The monster is continually linked to forbidden practices, in order to normalize and to enforce. The monster also attracts. The same creatures

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who terrify and interdict can evoke potent escapist fantasies; the linking of monstrosity with the forbidden makes the monster all the more ap- pealing as a temporary egress from constraint. This simultaneous repul- sion and attraction at the core of the monster's composition accounts greatly for its continued cultural popularity, for the fact that the monster seldom can be contained in a simple, binary dialectic (thesis, antithe- sis... no synthesis). We distrust and loathe the monster at the same time we envy its freedom, and perhaps its sublime despair. Through the body of the monster fantasies of aggression, domination, and inversion are allowed safe expression in a clearly delimited and per- manently liminal space. Escapist delight gives way to horror only when the monster threatens to overstep these boundaries, to destroy or decon- struct the thin walls of category and culture. When contained by geo- graphic, generic, or epistemic marginalization, the monster can function as an alter ego, as an alluring projection of (an Other) self. The monster awakens one to the pleasures of the body, to the simple and fleeting joys of being frightened, or frightening—to the experience of mortality and corporality. We watch the monstrous spectacle of the horror film be- cause we know that the cinema is a temporary place, that the jolting sen- suousness of the celluloid images will be followed by reentry into the world of comfort and light.39 Likewise, the story on the page before us may horrify (whether it appears in the New York Times news section or Stephen King's latest novel matters little), so long as we are safe in the knowledge of its nearing end (the number of pages in our right hand is dwindling) and our liberation from it. Aurally received narratives work no differently; no matter how unsettling the description of the giant, no matter how many unbaptized children and hapless knights he devours, King Arthur will ultimately destroy him. The audience knows how the genre works. Times of carnival temporally marginalize the monstrous, but at the same time allow it a safe realm of expression and play: on Halloween everyone is a demon for a night. The same impulse to ataractic fantasy is behind much lavishly bizarre manuscript marginalia, from abstract

scribblings at the edges of an ordered page to preposterous animals and Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright vaguely humanoid creatures of strange anatomy that crowd a biblical text. Gargoyles and ornately sculpted grotesques, lurking at the cross- beams or upon the roof of the cathedral, likewise record the liberating fantasies of a bored or repressed hand suddenly freed to populate the Monster Theory : Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gwu/detail.action?docID=310376. Created from gwu on 2017-08-27 11:17:46. 18 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

margins. Maps and travel accounts inherited from antiquity invented whole geographies of the mind and peopled them with exotic and fan- tastic creatures; Ultima Thule, Ethiopia, and the Antipodes were the me- dieval equivalents of outer space and virtual reality, imaginary (wholly verbal) geographies accessible from anywhere, never meant to be discov- ered but always waiting to be explored. Jacques Le Goff has written that the Indian Ocean (a "mental horizon" imagined, in the Middle Ages, to be completely enclosed by land) was a cultural space where taboos were eliminated or exchanged for others. The weirdness of this world produced an impression of liberation and freedom. The strict morality imposed by the Church was contrasted with the discomfiting at- tractiveness of a world of bizarre tastes, which practiced coprophagy and cannibalism; of bodily innocence, where man, freed of the modesty of clothing, rediscovered nudism and sexual freedom; and where, once rid of restrictive monogamy and family barriers, he could give himself over to polygamy, incest, and eroticism.40 The habitations of the monsters (Africa, Scandinavia, America, Venus, the Delta Quadrant—whatever land is sufficiently distant to be exoticized) are more than dark regions of uncertain danger: they are also realms of happy fantasy, horizons of liberation. Their monsters serve as secondary bodies through which the possibilities of other genders, other sexual practices, and other social customs can be explored. Hermaphrodites, Amazons, and lascivious cannibals beckon from the edges of the world, the most distant planets of the galaxy. The co-optation of the monster into a symbol of the desirable is often accomplished through the neutralization of potentially threatening as- pects with a liberal dose of comedy: the thundering giant becomes the bumbling giant.41 Monsters may still function, however, as the vehicles of causative fantasies even without their valences reversed. What Bakhtin calls "official culture" can transfer all that is viewed as undesirable in it- self into the body of the monster, performing a wish-fulfillment drama of its own; the scapegoated monster is perhaps ritually destroyed in the course of some official narrative, purging the community by eliminating its sins. The monster's eradication functions as an exorcism and, when Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright retold and promulgated, as a catechism. The monastically manufactured Queste del Saint Graal serves as an ecclesiastically sanctioned antidote to the looser morality of the secular romances; when Sir Bors comes across a castle where "ladies of high descent and rank" tempt him to sexual

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indulgence, these ladies are, of course, demons in lascivious disguise. When Bors refuses to sleep with one of these transcorporal devils (de- scribed as "so lovely and so fair that it seemed all earthly beauty was embodied in her"), his steadfast assertion of control banishes them all shrieking back to hell.42 The episode valorizes the celibacy so central to the authors'belief system (and so difficult to enforce) while inculcating a lesson in morality for the work's intended secular audience, the knights and courtly women fond of romances. Seldom, however, are monsters as uncomplicated in their use and man- ufacture as the demons that haunt Sir Bors. Allegory may flatten a mon- ster rather thin, as when the vivacious demon of the Anglo-Saxon hagio- graphic poem Juliana becomes the one-sided complainer of Cynewulf's Elene. More often, however, the monster retains a haunting complexity. The dense symbolism that makes a thick description of the monsters in Spenser, Milton, and even Beowulf so challenging reminds us how per- meable the monstrous body can be, how difficult to dissect. This corporal fluidity, this simultaneity of anxiety and desire, ensures that the monster will always dangerously entice. A certain intrigue is allowed even Vincent of Beauvais's well-endowed cynocephalus, for he occupies a textual space of allure before his necessary dismissal, during which he is granted an undeniable charm. The monstrous lurks some- where in that ambiguous, primal space between fear and attraction, close to the heart of what Kristeva calls "abjection": There looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the think- able. It lies there, quite close, but it cannot be assimilated. It beseeches, worries, fascinates desire, which, nonetheless, does not let itself be seduced. Apprehensive, desire turns aside; sickened, it rejects— But simultaneously, just the same, that impetus, that spasm, that leap is drawn toward an else- where as tempting as it is condemned. Unflaggingly, like an inescapable boomerang, a vortex of summons and repulsion places the one haunted by it literally beside himself.43 And the self that one stands so suddenly and so nervously beside is the Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright monster. The monster is the abjected fragment that e.iables the formation of all kinds of identities—personal, national, cultural, economic, sexual, psychological, universal, particular (even if that "particular" identity is

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an embrace of the power/status/knowledge of abjection itself); as such it reveals their partiality, their contiguity. A product of a multitude of morphogeneses (ranging from somatic to ethnic) that align themselves to imbue meaning to the Us and Them behind every cultural mode of seeing, the monster of abjection resides in that marginal geography of the Exterior, beyond the limits of the Thinkable, a place that is doubly dangerous: simultaneously "exorbitant" and "quite close." Judith Butler calls this conceptual locus "a domain of unlivability and unintelligibility that bounds the domain of intelligible effects," but points out that even when discursively closed off, it offers a base for critique, a margin from which to reread dominant paradigms.44 Like Grendel thundering from the mere or Dracula creeping from the grave, like Kristeva's "boomer- ang, a vortex of summons" or the uncanny Freudian-Lacanian return of the repressed, the monster is always coming back, always at the verge of irruption. Perhaps it is time to ask the question that always arises when the mon- ster is discussed seriously (the inevitability of the question a symptom of the deep anxiety about what is and what should be thinkable, an anxiety that the process of monster theory is destined to raise): Do monsters really exist? Surely they must, for if they did not, how could we? Thesis VII: The Monster Stands at the Threshold . .. of Becoming "This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine." Monsters are our children. They can be pushed to the farthest margins of geography and discourse, hidden away at the edges of the world and in the forbidden recesses of our mind, but they always return. And when they come back, they bring not just a fuller knowledge of our place in history and the history of knowing our place, but they bear self- knowledge, human knowledge—and a discourse all the more sacred as it arises from the Outside. These monsters ask us how we perceive the Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright world, and how we have misrepresented what we have attempted to place. They ask us to reevaluate our cultural assumptions about race, gender, sexuality, our perception of difference, our tolerance toward its expression. They ask us why we have created them.

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1. Literally, here, Zeitgeist Time Ghost , the bodiless spirit that uncannily incor- porates a "place" that is a series of places, the crossroads that is a point in a movement toward an uncertain elsewhere. Bury the Zeitgeist by the crossroads: it is confused as it awakens, it is not going anywhere, it intersects everyplace; all roads lead back to the monster. 2. I realize that this is an interpretive biographical maneuver Barthes would surely have called "the living death of the author." 3. Thus the superiority of Joan Copjec's "Vampires, Breast-feeding, and Anxiety," October 58 (Fall 1991): 25-43,to Paul Barber's Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988). 4. "The giant is represented through movement, through being in time. Even in the ascription of the still landscape to the giant, it is the activities of the giant, his or her legendary actions, that have resulted in the observable trace. In contrast to the still and perfect universe of the miniature, the gigantic represents the order and disorder of historical forces." Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984). 86. 5. Harvey R. Greenberg, "Reimaging the Gargoyle: Psychoanalytic Notes on Alien," in Close Encounters: Film, Feminism, and Science Fiction, ed. Constance Penley, Elisabeth Lyon, Lynn Spigel, and Janet Bergstrom (Minneapolis: University of Min- nesota Press, 1991), 90-91. 6. Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (New York: Routledge, 1992), 11. Garber writes at some length about "category crisis," which she defines as "a failure of definitional distinction, a borderline that becomes perme- able, that permits of border crossings from one (apparently distinct) category to an- other: black/white, Jew/Christian, noble/bourgeois, master/servant, master/slave.... [That which crosses the border, like the transvestite] will always function as a mechanism of overdetermination—a mechanism of displacement from one blurred boundary to another. An analogy here might be the so-called 'tagged' gene that shows up in a genetic chain, indicating the presence of some otherwise hidden con- dition. It is not the gene itself, but its presence, that marks the trouble spot, indicat- ing the likelihood of a crisis somewhere, elsewhere" (pp. 16-17). Note, however, that whereas Garber insists that the transvestite must be read with rather than through, the monster can be read only through—for the monster, pure culture, is nothing of itself. 7. These are the ancient monsters recorded first by the Greek writers Ktesias and Megasthenes, and include such wild imaginings as the Pygmies, the Sciapods (men with one large foot with which they can hop about at tremendous speed or that they can lift over their reclining bodies as a sort of beach umbrella), Blemmyae ("men Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright whose heads / Do grow beneath their shoulders," in Othello's words), and Cynocephali, ferocious dog-headed men who are anthropophagous to boot. John Block Friedman has called these creatures the Plinian races, after the classical encyclopedist who bestowed them to the Middle Ages and early modern period. The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981). Monster Theory : Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gwu/detail.action?docID=310376. Created from gwu on 2017-08-27 11:17:46. 22 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

8. The discussion of the implication of the monstrous in the manufacture of heuristics is partially based upon my essay "The Limits of Knowing: Monsters and the Regulation of Medieval Popular Culture," Medieval Folklore 3 (Fall 1994): 1-37. 9. Jerrold E. Hogle, "The Struggle for a Dichotomy: Abjection in Jekyll and His Interpreters," in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after One Hundred Yean, ed. William Veeder and Gordon Hirsch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 161. 10. "The hermeneutic circle does not permit access or escape to an uninterrupted reality; but we do not [have to] keep going around in the same path." Barbara Herrnstein Smith, "Belief and Resistance: A Symmetrical Account," Critical Inquiry 18 (Autumn 1991): 137-38. 11. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Balti- more: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974). 12. Barbara Johnson, "Introduction," in Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), xiii. 13. H. D. S. Greenway, "Adversaries Create Devils of Each Other," Boston Globe, December 15,1992, i. 14. Thomas More, The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of Thomas More, vol. 2, The History of King Richard III, ed. Richard S. Sylvester (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963), 7. 15. Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare's Ghost Writers: Literature as Uncanny Causality (New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1988), 30. My discussion of Richard is indebted to Marjorie Garber's provocative work. 16. "A portrait now in the Society of Antiquaries of London, painted about 1505, shows a Richard with straight shoulders. But a second portrait, possibly of earlier date, in the Royal Collection, seems to emblematize the whole controversy [over Richard 's supposed monstrosity], for in it, X-ray examination reveals an original straight shoulder line, which was subsequently painted over to present the raised right shoulder silhouette so often copied by later portraitists." Ibid., 35. 17.1 am hinting here at the possibility of a feminist recuperation of the gendered monster by citing the titles of two famous books about Lilith (a favorite figure in feminist writing): Jacques Bril's Lilith, ou, La Mere obscure (Paris: Payot, 1981), and Siegmund Hurwitz's Lilith, die erste Eva: Eine Studie uber dunkle Aspekte des Weib- lichen (Zurich: Daimon Verlag, 1980). 18. "The monster-woman, threatening to replace her angelic sister, embodies in- transigent female autonomy and thus represents both the author's power to allay 'his' anxieties by calling their source bad names (witch, bitch, fiend, monster) and simul- taneously, the mysterious power of the character who refuses to stay in her textually ordained 'place' and thus generates a story that 'gets away' from its author." Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright 1984), 28. The "dangerous" role of feminine will in the engendering of monsters is also explored by Marie-Helene Huet in Monstrous Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993). 19. A cynocephalus is a dog-headed man, like the recently decanonized Saint Christopher. Bad enough to be a cynocephalus without being hermaphroditic to

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boot: the monster accrues one kind of difference on top of another, like a magnet that draws differences into an aggregate, multivalent identity around an unstable core. 20. Bruno Roy, "En marge du monde connu: Les races de monstres," in Aspects de la marginalite au Moyen Age, ed. Guy-H Allard. (Quebec: Les Editions de FAurore, 1975). 77- This translation is mine. 21. See, for example, Monica E. McAlpine, "The Pardoner's Homosexuality and How It Matters," PMLA 95 (1980): 8-22. 22. Cited by Friedman, The Monstrous Races, 64. 23. Elizabeth deported "blackamoores" in 1596 and again in 1601. See Karen Newman," 'And Wash the Ethiop White': Femininity and the Monstrous in Othello," in Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology, ed. Jean E. Howard and Marion F. O'Connor (New York: Methuen, 1987), 148. 24. See Giraldus Cambrensis, Topographia Hibernae (The History and Topography of Ireland), trans. John J. O'Meara (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1982), 24. 25. See Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978); Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988). 26. Rene Girard, The Scapegoat, trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 33. 27. Ibid., 21-22. 28. Extended travel was dependent in both the ancient and medieval world on the promulgation of an ideal of hospitality that sanctified the responsibility of host to guest. A violation of that code is responsible for the destruction of the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, for the devolution from man to giant in Sir Gawain and the Carl of Carlisle, and for the first punitive transformation in Ovid's Metamorphoses. This popular type of narrative may be conveniently labeled the fable of hospitality; such stories envalue the practice whose breach they illustrate through a drama repu- diating the dangerous behavior. The valorization is accomplished in one of two ways: the host is a monster already and learns a lesson at the hands of his guest, or the host becomes a monster in the course of the narrative and audience members realize how they should conduct themselves. In either case, the cloak of monstrousness calls at- tention to those behaviors and attitudes the text is concerned with interdicting. 29. Ovid, Metamorphoses (Loeb Classical Library no. 42), ed. G. P. Goold (Cam- bridge: Harvard University Press, 1916, rpr. 1984), 1.156-62. 30. Ibid., 1.231-39. 31. I am indebted to Keeryung Hong of Harvard University for sharing her re- search on medieval map production for this hypothesis. 32. A useful (albeit politically charged) term for such a collective is Mannerbunde, "all-male groups with aggression as one major function." See Joseph Harris, "Love

Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright and Death in the Mannerbund: An Essay with Special Reference to the Bjarkamdl and The Battle ofMaldon," in Heroic Poetry in the Anglo-Saxon Period, ed. Helen Damico and John Leyerle (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute/Western Michigan State Univer- sity, 1993), 78. See also the Interscripta discussion of "Medieval Masculinities," mod- erated and edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, accessible via WWW: http://www.george-

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town.edu/labyrinth/e-center/interscripta/mm.html (the piece is also forthcoming in a nonhypertext version in Arthuriana, as "The Armour of an Alienating Identity"). 33. The Greek word barbaros, from which we derive the modern English word barbaric, means "making the sound bar bar"—that is, not speaking Greek, and there- fore speaking nonsense. 34. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. i, An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990), 47-48. 35. Stewart, On Longing. See especially "The Imaginary Body," 104-31. 36. The situation was obviously far more complex than these statements can begin to show; "European," for example, usually includes only males of the Western Latin tradition. Sexual orientation further complicates the picture, as we shall see. Donna Haraway, following Trinh Minh-ha, calls the humans beneath the mon- strous skin "inappropriate/d others": "To be 'inappropriate/d' does not mean 'not to be in relation with"—i.e., to be in a special reservation, with the status of the authen- tic, the untouched, in the allochronic and allotropic condition of innocence. Rather to be an 'inappropriate/d other' means to be in critical deconstructive relationality, in a diffracting rather than reflecting (ratio)nality—as the means of making po- tent connection that exceeds domination." "The Promises of Monsters," in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), 299. 37. This discussion owes an obvious debt to Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966). 38. John Eastman, Retakes: Behind the Scenes 0/500 Classic Movies, 9-10. 39. Paul Coates interestingly observes that "the horror film becomes the essential form of cinema, monstrous content manifesting itself in the monstrous form of the gigantic screen." The Gorgon's Gaze (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 77. Carol Clover locates some of the pleasure of the monster film in its cross-gender game of identification; see Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992). Why not go further, and call the pleasure cross-somatic? 40. Jacques Le Goff, "The Medieval West and the Indian Ocean," in Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 197. The postmodern equivalent of such spaces is Gibsonian cyberspace, with its MOOs and MUSHes and other arenas of unlimited possibility. 41. For Mikhail Bakhtin, famously, this is the transformative power of laughter: "Laughter liberates not only from external censorship but first of all from the great internal censor; it liberates from the fear that developed in man during thousands of years: fear of the sacred, fear of the prohibitions, of the past, of power." Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1984), 94. Bakhtin traces the moment of escape to the point at which laughter became a part of the "higher levels of literature," when Rabelais wrote Gargantua etPantagruel. Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright 42. The Quest for the Holy Grail, trans. Pauline Matarasso (London: Penguin Books, 1969), 194. 43. Julia Kristeva, The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), i. 44. Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (New York:

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Routledge, 1993), 22. Both Butler and I have in mind here Foucault's notion of an emancipation of thought "from what it silently thinks" that will allow "it to think differently." Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1985), 9. Michael Uebel amplifies and applies this practice to the monster in

his essay in this volume. Copyright © 1996. University of Minnesota Press. All rights reserved. rights All Press. Minnesota of University 1996. © Copyright

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Monster Culture (Seven Theses): Reflections on our Fears

How it works

  • 1.1 Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster Culture (Seven Theses)
  • 1.2 Analyzing Cohen’s Theses with Modern Monster Archetypes
  • 1.3 An In-depth Analysis: Godzilla as a Cultural Symbol
  • 1.4 The Megalodon: Unleashing the Terror of the Unknown
  • 1.5 The Allure of Fear: Dinosaurs as a Prime Example
  • 2.0.1 Rereferences

Introduction to Monsters and Their Cultural Reflections

“We make our own monsters, then fear them for what they show us about ourselves.” (Carey) Monsters have been around for a very long time. They are in novels, movies, series, and even comic books. Monsters are creatures created by us for many different reasons, such as pleasure. There are thousands of different kinds of monsters. Other than being crazy scary, they all have one thing in common: they eat people.

Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster Culture (Seven Theses)

To help us understand the concept of monsters and why we create them, we are going to analyze Jeffrey Cohen’s essay, Monster Culture (Seven Theses).

In his essay, Cohen argues that the monsters we create reflect our cultures. He provides seven theses that describe monsters in our society and explains how and why they are created. The seven theses help us analyze different cultures using the monsters they create. By locating the origin of monsters and where they come from, Cohen strives to reveal our culture’s values and likelihood. I agree with Cohen’s perspective; monsters are created by cultures to reflect humanity’s fear and desire and represent a cultural moment, and for that, they cannot be killed forever.

Monster culture (Seven theses), by Jeffrey Cohen, declares a new modus legend, or an approach to understanding cultures through the monsters they create. He disobeys two older and holy modes. He explains, “I will partially violate two of the sacred dicta of recent cultural studies: the compulsion to historical specificity and the insistence that all knowledge is local.” He also analyzes how monsters are created in our society and cultures. Cohen provides seven theses that help us understand different cultures through their monsters; he also explains that monsters reflect our society’s fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy. He has one shared point in all seven theses: Monsters cannot be killed or hidden forever; they always find a way to come back. Cohen’s seven theses are extremely strong that each one could act as its own argument.

Analyzing Cohen’s Theses with Modern Monster Archetypes

For this purpose, we shall focus on three of his theses, which, in my opinion, are the most relevant. The first thesis we will be discussing is thesis number one: The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body, where Cohen explains that the monsters we create are a symbol or a representation of a feeling or a cultural moment. The second thesis we will be discussing is thesis number five: The Monster Polices, The Borders of the Possible, where Cohen explains that monsters are a warning of the unknown and that when we try to explore the unknown, we are punished, not rewarded. The third and last thesis we will be discussing is thesis number six: Fear of the Monster is Really a Kind of Desire, where Cohen claims that people tend to have some kind of desire to be scared of monsters. We shall connect Cohen’s three theses with three common monsters we have all heard of and seen in movies. These three monsters are Godzilla, The Megalodon, and Dinosaurs.

An In-depth Analysis: Godzilla as a Cultural Symbol

Godzilla, king of the monsters, is one of the most famous monsters on the planet. Godzilla, also called Gojira, first appeared on television in 1954. Since then, there have been many movie reproductions of him. He also appears in video games, series, and cartoons. Godzilla became an international icon in a short time. He is so popular that there is another movie of him coming out in 2019. Godzilla is described as a gigantic, disastrous, primitive sea creature that looks like a giant lizard, which got empowered and created as the result of nuclear radiation of war back in the 1940s and 50s. Godzilla, as a scary nuclear monster, represents the terror, horror, and panic of the Japanese people about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the article, How “Godzilla” Dances Around That Whole Nuclear Issue, posted on USNEWS, writer Tierney Sneed says, “Gojira” is considered one of the most emotionally potent metaphors for the scars Japan still bore from the bombing as well as the anxieties they carried about the development of nuclear technologies into the future.” (Sneed). Now that we have discussed what Godzilla represents and why it was created, we are able to move on to Cohen’s thesis: The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body.

In this thesis, Cohen suggests that when people are facing a situation that puts them outside of their comfort zone, cultural-wise, they create monsters to represent that specific cultural moment. Supporting Cohen’s thesis, Godzilla represents the cultural moment of the atomic bombing of Japan and the regret feeling of the Japanese after World War 2. It represents the fear as well as the guilt held by them. This cultural moment was out of the normal people’s comfort zone, so the gigantic monster was created. As Cohen explains, “The monster is born only at this metaphoric crossroads, as an embodiment of a certain cultural moment of a time, a feeling, and a place.”

In the amazing TED Talk, What Fear Can Teach Us, Karen Thompson Walker explains how we can take advantage of our fears and look at them differently. She claims that fear can be an amazing act of imagination, something that can be as powerful as storytelling. She tells an interesting story of the Whaleship Essex. In the story, the sailors’ ship drowned in the middle of the ocean, so they had to move to small whaleboats. The sailors had three options: they knew the nearest islands were about 1200 miles away, but they had heard rumors that these islands were filled with cannibals.

Another option was to sail to Hawaii, but due to the time and season, they were afraid that the storms could break their boats. Their last option was to sail 1,500 miles south, hoping they would face some kind of wind that could push them toward the cost of South America. The sailors finally made a decision. Afraid of getting eaten by cannibals, they decided to route to South America. Two months later, the men ran out of food, and some of them turned into cannibals themselves.

When a passing ship rescued them, only half of the men were still alive. The cannibals created by the men’s imagination had made them choose the longest and the hardest route. As both Cohen and Thompson have explained, people tend to create monsters, either real or imaginary, to represent important moments or feelings in their lives. The Japanese created Godzilla for the same reason the sailors created cannibals: because they hated and feared them. As Cohen states, “The monster’s body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy (ataractic or incendiary), giving them life and an uncanny independence.”

The second thesis we will be analyzing is Cohen’s thesis number five: The Monster Policies the Borders of the Possible. In this thesis, Cohen explains that monsters are a representation of a warning against exploring the unknown. He mentions that people who cross the borders set by the monsters are at risk of being punished by the monsters. He supports his thesis by talking about the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and how they punished the people who tried to get in their business instead of rewarding them, “The dinosaurs of Jurassic Park together declare that curiosity is more often punished than rewarded, that one is better off safely contained within one’s own domestic sphere than abroad, away from the watchful eyes of the state.” Cohen also adds that monsters can kill and cause harm without feeling any guilt.

The Megalodon: Unleashing the Terror of the Unknown

Another monster that proves Cohen’s point is the Megalodon shark. The Megalodon is an extinct type of shark that lived millions of years ago. It is one of the most powerful sharks to have ever lived. According to Wikipedia, “This giant shark reaches a maximum length of 18 meters (59 ft.) Their large jaws could exert a bite force of up to 110,000 to 180,000 newtons (25,000 to 40,000 lb). Their teeth were thick and robust, built for grabbing prey and breaking bone.” (Wikipedia). There have been many movies about shark monsters, but this specific monster, the Megalodon, is fairly new, as it made its first appearance in 2018 in the movie The Meg. In the movie, scientists decide to explore and discover the world deep beneath the Mariana Trench. On the mission to go down the Mariana Trench, scientists increase the temperature of the icy layer, which opens our world to all the creatures living in the Mariana Trench, including the Meg. The rest of the movie is very predictable; the Meg shark starts attacking the scientists, kills people, and destroys ships. As Cohen stated, when we, the people, decide to explore the unknown, we get punished by the monsters. Mariana Trench had been unexplored for many years, so when the scientists crossed the border, Meg had to do the only thing he knew: kill people.

The Allure of Fear: Dinosaurs as a Prime Example

The third and last thesis we will be analyzing is thesis number six: Fear of the Monster is Really a Kind of Desire. In this thesis, Cohen explains that monsters are terrifying, but at the same time, they are attractive. He verifies that monsters have appealing approaches to make people do forbidden acts. He adds that people get the pleasure of having the desire to be scared by monsters, “Times of carnival temporally marginalize the monsters, but at the same time allow it a safe realm of expression and play: on Halloween, everyone is a demon for a night.” While reading Cohen’s sixth thesis, I immediately thought of Dinosaurs! No better example than dinosaurs could explain the desire people have for monsters. In Jurassic World movie 2015, a new theme park is built where the old Jurassic Park used to be. Scientists created a genetically modified dinosaur called the Indominus Rex. The modified dinosaur’s height is 6 meters (20 ft.) long; its length is 15 meters (50 ft.), and it could run up to a speed of 30 mph.

Understanding Our Fascination with Scary Creatures

The Indominus Rex ends up escaping its gate and starts killing people and destroying the park. The opening day of the park was filled with people who wanted to see the new dinosaur. They wanted to be scared and thrilled at the same time. When scientists made the new hybrid dinosaur, they knew it was going to be insanely strong and scary. In fact, it was their intention to do so because the scarier it is, the more people would enjoy it. But why are people attracted to monsters when they are scared of them?  Why did the scientists in Jurassic World decide to make a new breed of a scary dinosaur when they knew it could kill and destroy it?

The fascinating writer Matt Kaplan explains to us why we love scary stories and things in the introduction to his book, The Science of Monsters: The Origins of the Creatures We Love to Fear. Kaplan states that monsters are creatures we usually run from and are scared of, but something about them is enchanting and addicting. He adds, “Something deep inside monsters fascinates us.” Kaplan compares monsters to spicy food. Both can make you cry and sweat, yet we still eat spicy food and are interested in monsters. Kaplan uses scientific examples to support his claim. He mentions research done by the psychologist Paul Rozin and a team of his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania.

The research asked 108 males and 135 females multiple questions about whether they liked certain things or not. One of the questions was if they like spicy food; the average score was 55.5, which means around half of the population likes these types of food. Another question that was asked to the same participants is whether they like mouth burns, sweating, and tearing eyes. Over 50 percent voted as these being a pleasure to them. This shows that most people enjoy the negative impacts of certain foods (spicy in this case).

Rozin’s study also asked participants if they enjoyed scary rides, horror movies, and a racing heart. Again, there was a connection between the two; people who enjoyed scary movies also enjoyed scary rides and having their hearts racing. Based on the research, Rozin believes that there is pleasure for the human mind in watching the body suffering and reacting in a negative way while knowing that nothing bad is going to happen. Kaplan’s introduction proves Cohen’s thesis six: most people enjoy getting scared, which makes monsters a kind of desire.

Rereferences

  • Cohen, J. (1996). Monster culture (Seven theses). In J. J. Cohen (Ed.), Monster theory: Reading culture (pp. 3-25). University of Minnesota Press.
  • Sneed, T. How “Godzilla” dances around that whole nuclear issue. USNEWS.
  • Wikipedia. Megalodon.

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monster culture (seven theses essay)

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“Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”

From the book classic readings on monster theory.

  • Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
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Classic Readings on Monster Theory

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The Morningside Review

The Final Judgement in “Monster Culture”

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“In this distribution of functions, the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is rare for a writer to put his or her theory at risk by exposing its secret vulnerability, to set out on that fragile, shaky wooden bridge stretching across a chasm—the gap between the two cliffs of understanding. Daunting is the possibility of trust collapsing. One would be a fool to turn one’s idea against oneself. Yet, Jeffrey Cohen leads readers of his essay, “Monster Culture,” on this bridge of uncertainty when he poses a polarizing question that could either make the readers believe him completely or doubt his entire theory: “Do monsters really exist?” (20).

In “Monster Culture,” Cohen extensively discusses and analyzes monsters in connection with the cultures from which they rise. “What I will propose here by way of a first foray, as entrance into this book of monstrous content, is a sketch of a new modus legendi : a method of reading cultures from the monsters they engender,” he begins (3). Maintaining the formal tone of an academic, he contends that monsters rise at the “crossroads” of a culture, where differences emerge and anxiety heightens. The monster is an embodiment of difference—of any quality, whether it be ideological, cultural, sexual, or racial, that inspires fear and uncertainty in its creators (7). The monster is frequently a “disturbing hybrid” that defies categorization––its hybridity rebels against nature (6). And though there are fictional monsters, real people can become monsters too. In order to bring “freaks” under control, those who abide by the standard code of the day impart monstrous identities to those who do not. Anxiety is what breeds them and defines their existence. Thus locating the origin of monsters, Cohen strives to reveal our culture’s values and tendencies. For the vast majority of the essay, the monster is simply the subject of our examination, an otherworldly creature under our scrutiny.

It is when Cohen approaches the end of his essay that he adds another dimension to the monster’s entity and exposes its vulnerability:

Perhaps it is the time to ask the question that always arises when the monster is discussed seriously (the inevitability of the question a symptom of the deep anxiety about what is and what should be thinkable, an anxiety that the process of monster theory is destined to raise): Do monsters really exist? Surely they must, for if they did not, how could we? (20)

In an essay in which monsters are central, he chooses to investigate in his final paragraphs whether monsters even exist after all. This query boldly shifts the focus away from the discussion of his monster theory and introduces a counter argument, pushing readers to either end of the spectrum of their belief in monster theory. They will have to choose whether monsters exist, and whether they will believe or disregard Cohen’s work. Pressing his readers to decide, Cohen places his readers in this foggy gap between the two extremes in order to, paradoxically, eliminate their indecision about his theory.

From the first page––in fact, the first sentence––Cohen seems to be building up to this eruption, the boom moment. Grave and rather stiff in his tone, he is full of purpose––“What I propose here . . . is a sketch of a new modus legendi ” (3). By starting with a rather abrupt announcement, he lays out his objective plainly and explicitly as he launches into a “foray,” a sudden raid, to destroy the protective walls of convention and comfort (3). The risk he takes in unveiling his argument’s potential flaws and testing the readers’ judgments will bring forth the anxiety that permeates not only his essay, but also people’s minds. This sense that a quest is underway reappears in the diction of his concluding passage. His language and tone, departing from the academic study of monsters, demonstrates a serious yet playfully provoking attitude toward the audience. We see the subtle, ironic sense of humor that he has well hidden under the seriousness and technicalities of an academic. Imagine him smirking as he encourages, “Surely they must, for if they did not, how could we?”—content that he has the power to spark trouble and uneasiness in his readers. But to arrive at this point, he detoured from his scholarly discussion of his theses.

Let’s return to the beginning of the passage. The word “perhaps” marks a careful interjection that brings a pause to the flow of his ideas. It is a gentle motion to stop and think. The following phrase “it is time” displays Cohen’s anticipation: he has been building up toward this moment. Thus pulling his readers out of the text and back into reality, he raises the central question: “Do monsters really exist?” (20). The answer to this question holds the key to his theory’s credibility. Can we trust his theory, which is wholly based on the assumption that monsters do exist? His answer is a testament to his confidence, for he replies, “Surely they must” (20). Sly and expectant, his response is not only a challenge to the conventional understanding that monsters are forms of our imagination, but also a design to trigger a little indignation from the readers. For example, the word “surely” gives a sense that his answer is an obvious one that “surely” everyone should know (though he provides no more concrete evidence than his emphatic interpretation of common sense). Indeed, Cohen’s use of “must” suggests that there is no other rational answer that can be true. With these subtly forceful word choices, he appears to challenge readers’ knowledge or, more importantly, their pride in what they know. We can start to see here that Cohen is aiming at a specific part of the subconscious—the ego—that will allow him access and even control a reader’s sense of what is real.

Cohen demands a definite answer, a conviction—whether it be disregard or trust—for vacillating on that unsteady bridge is a source of anxiety in itself. But under the appearance of a perfectly probable motive lies a more intricate pursuit. By calling the question’s inevitability a “symptom of the deep anxiety about what is and what should be thinkable,” he challenges his audience’s scope of thought (20). Notice his inclusion of the word “should.” The clear, crucial distinction between what “is” and what “should” be thinkable serves to differentiate the mundane, average thinking ability from the sophisticated intellect Cohen requires from his readers. It is his way of coyly, maybe even with a hint of haughtiness, asking, “Can you handle my ideas?” In an ever-so-charming manner, he prods our ego—something that we so treasure that we will go to extreme lengths to save it from damage or belittlement. With his suave patronization as the bait, he is fishing for our overprotectiveness of our egos.

And as Cohen’s prey, the readers may feel their ego threatened and become perceptibly anxious. When Cohen calls “the inevitability of the question a symptom of the deep anxiety,” “symptom” is also a carefully chosen word that appropriately renders a disease-like quality. According to this notion, anxiety is a contagious epidemic––one that takes over people’s reason and causes them to constantly feel insecure, leading them to eventually produce monsters. Interestingly, anxiety in Cohen’s text is a revisited subject—a constantly reoccurring term—that mirrors the prevalent, lingering nature of a disease. It is ironic that his own monster theory, which analyzes the anxieties that create monsters in the first place, might itself engender anxiety—both his and his readers’. The anxiety can rise simply from the essay’s content (a solemn discourse on monster), which Cohen says inevitably prompts his central query, or it can also come from ambivalence regarding the question (of the monster’s existence) itself. “Monster Culture” brims with uncertainty and tension.

In many ways, then, reading “Monster Culture” is not just reading but rather thinking and questioning, and all the while coping with anxiety. Fueling the anxiety, Cohen establishes a dependent relationship between monsters and us. According to the rhetorical question in “Surely they must, for if they did not, how could we?” we cannot exist if monsters do not (20). But consequently, if their existence equates to our existence, does that not mean we are monsters? Here is the epitome of the break between thinkable and unthinkable. We all are monsters, and in choosing whether or not one can accept that fact is the key to complete comprehension of Cohen’s theory—and deciding on which end of the bridge we will land. In fact, with the question, Cohen allows the readers to actively experience the making of a monster. As Cohen says, we detest monsters. So, we naturally don’t want to be monsters ourselves—or casted out as different or freakish. But when Cohen suggests that we are all monsters, a non-monster (who is thus unlike all others) becomes a monster nonetheless. With this prospect, anxiety turns into panic, and as a result, his question “If they did not, how could we?” acts as reverse psychology: rather than be appalled, we are tempted to swiftly accept Cohen’s bait and concur, “Yes, you are right. I, too, am a monster.” We don’t want to be left behind on that bridge. When the essay ends and the bridge falls, we could either plummet down and flounder in that bottomless gulf of uncertainty and anxiety—with no one to pull you out, to persuade you to either side. Or, we could escape the easy way: follow his lead.

Thus, Cohen’s concluding inquiry was not a question at all, but a powerful shove to his readers toward believing him completely. Though in a glance, he appears to be simply questioning the existence of monsters, he is really testing the readers’ level of thought and urging others to question everything and everyone (even him, the author, and themselves). But, even in this, there is deception because he in fact is pushing the readers to the side the bridge that corresponds to trust and belief in him. By speaking to the readers’ egos, he actually makes readers, afraid of humiliation, want to agree with him. And with the suggestion that everyone is a monster, he entices them to accept it as a plainly apparent reality. Rather than putting his theory at risk, Cohen has convinced his readers––by causing their anxiety to rule over their reason––to want to be on his side even if they aren’t necessarily his believer. Thus, the vulnerability exposed isn’t that of his theory, but that of his readers. “Monster Culture,” then, is Cohen’s lonely battle against “un-thought,” which ironically, and unfortunately, shows the prevalence and inevitability of it (3).

WORKS CITED

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture . Ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press, 1996. 3-25.

Emerson, Ralph W. “The American Scholar.” Speech. Phi Beta Kappa Society, Cambridge, MA. 31 Aug. 1837. EmersonCentral.com . Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

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SUE BAHK '15SEAS is an undergraduate student in The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Though she is an engineer, she considers herself also as a humanities person who believes in the value and power of writing. She was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, but started studying in the States since the 6th grade. In her free time, Sue enjoys reading, listening to music, and traveling.

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Monster Theory: Reading Culture

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Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

Monster Theory: Reading Culture Paperback – November 15, 1996

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Explores concepts of monstrosity in Western civilization from Beowulf to Jurassic Park.

  • Print length 336 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Univ Of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date November 15, 1996
  • Dimensions 5.88 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • ISBN-10 0816628556
  • ISBN-13 978-0816628551
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About the author.

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is assistant professor of English and associate director of the Program in Human Sciences at George Washington University.

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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Univ Of Minnesota Press; First Edition (November 15, 1996)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 336 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0816628556
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0816628551
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.88 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • #42 in Horror & Supernatural Literary Criticism (Books)
  • #126 in Medieval Literary Criticism (Books)
  • #818 in Literary Criticism & Theory

About the author

Jeffrey jerome cohen.

I am Dean of Humanities at Arizona State University and I'm interested in all kinds of things: monsters, the environment, catastrophe, the elements, racism in the past and today, Noah's ark, making art ... I hope you'll find some of my work interesting.

http://www.jeffreyjeromecohen.com/

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  • Classic Readings on Monster Theory: Demonstrare, Volume One

In this Book

Classic Readings on Monster Theory

  • Edited by Asa Simon Mittman and Marcus Hensel
  • Published by: Arc Humanities Press

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Table of Contents

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  • Title Page, Copyright
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • pp. vii-viii
  • Introduction: “A Marvel of Monsters”
  • PART I. MONSTER THEORY
  • “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • “A Measure of Man,” excerpted from The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought
  • John Block Friedman
  • “The Nature of Horror,” from The Philosophy of Horror
  • Noël Carroll
  • “Rethinking the Canon: Prophets, Canons, and Promising Monsters”
  • Michael Camille
  • “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”
  • Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
  • PART II. ALLIED THEORIES
  • “Introduction,” from Orientalism
  • Edward Said
  • “Approaching Abjection,” from Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection
  • Julia Kristeva
  • “Parasites and Perverts: An Introduction to Gothic Monstrosity,” from Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters
  • J. Halberstam
  • “From Wonder to Error: A Genealogy of Freak Discourse in Modernity,”
  • Rosemarie Garland Thomson

Additional Information

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Monstrous Rhetoric: The Beasts We Feed

Ann Fillmore

  • Do Monsters Really Exist?
  • What Creates a Monster?
  • Monsters Serve Many Purposes.
  • Monsters Adapt to the Needs of a Situation.
  • What Do Monsters Reveal?
  • What Can Monsters Teach Us?

word art showing a monster's grinning face with horns etc all made of words like desire, taboo, evil, fear, society, enormous, culture, monster, etc

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ―Friedrich Nietzsche

I love monsters. I love scary stories and monster movies. I love classic monsters and contemporary monsters. Spine-tingling stories are a part of our history and are passed down from generation to generation as folklore and pop culture. Humans are fascinated with monsters, but why? What is the connection? What makes a monster?

The word monster is a derivative of the Latin word monstrum , which is defined as “that which reveals, that which warns” (Cohen 4). This definition sparked my interest since I teach rhetoric and writing, and I ponder such things. And, I found myself asking, “What do monsters reveal to us? What can monsters teach us?”

In the article “Monster Culture: Seven Theses,” medieval scholar Jeffrey Jerome Cohen presents several criteria (theses) about what makes a monster. His work not only captivated my attention but has helped me to appreciate how monsters can be an effective tool for understanding rhetoric and discourse today. “How?” you might ask. Because monsters show us that language matters.

DO MONSTERS REALLY EXIST?

Yes. What is a monster? It depends on the audience.

graphic representation of a red dragon

Monsters exist in many forms. They can be literal or metaphorical and can manifest as people, places, things, and even ideas. Monsters are “outsiders” that symbolize the fears, taboos, and values of a culture. They emerge as “a construct and a projection” of the cultures who creates and perpetuate them (Cohen 4). Therefore, a monster is a part of folklore that represents different things to different people. For example, when I think of a dragon, I think of a scaly, fire-breathing creature that burns villages (like Smaug in the book The Hobbit ). However, in China, dragons represent good fortune and luck.

By examining how people use language to do things, be things, and make things in the world, we gain insight into a culture. Cohen argues that all monsters are, in fact, “texts” and that we can more fully understand a culture by “reading” its monsters. Monsters, old and new, are a reflection of their audience during specific moments in time. Therefore, “every monster is in this way a double-narrative, two living stories: one that describes how the monster came to be, and another, its testimony, detailing what cultural use the monster serves” (13).

WHAT CREATES A MONSTER?

illustration of a skeleton lying on the parched ground with its finger spelling out "It's a hoax" on the cracked clay

Monsters are rhetorical. A monster lives in the way we tell its story. It’s all in the delivery; as we can see from the example above, those who fear dragons draw on a diction that generates emotions of fear, whereas societies who value dragons employ a discourse to portray creatures of wisdom and nobility, worthy of celebration. Language matters.

Modern examples are not difficult to find. Think of how people discuss current issues. For instance, climate change is a beast that ravages the landscapes, flora, and fauna, resulting in extinctions and extreme natural disasters worldwide. Some frame climate change as a conspiracy (climate change is not the monster, but those who claim so are) and others argue climate change as fact (climate change as the monster).

We can also see this in how people manipulate language to frame Covid-19 as political. For some, it’s a monstrous pandemic, a tragic circumstance that has devastated global economic, health, and social systems. For others, the virus was an act of carelessness or mal intent by the Chinese. They choose to cast blame at this nation with terms such as “Chinese virus” and #kungflu. The spread of pejorative language has lead to a racializing of the virus and a profiling of individuals of Asian descent. And who says language doesn’t matter?

MONSTERS SERVE MANY PURPOSES.

Every culture has distinct values, customs, and ideals, and monsters are often used as a rhetorical tool for enforcing the norm. One move often associated with monsters is the use of fear because fear can shape behavior and attention to more desired actions. For example, parents in the U.S. lay on the pathos (an appeal to emotions) in order to “encourage” their kids into behaving during the holiday season. Parents threaten that Santa is always watching and won’t deliver presents if a child’s name is on the naughty list. In this narrative, we see that the monster (yes, Santa) is used to warn children against “crossing the line” and to behave in a manner that is expected. The story brings consequences to life for children and serves as a useful behavioral tool for parents because it gives them control and power.

cartoon image of Santa winking at the viewer as he checks off his naughty-vs-nice list

What does this monster tell us about American culture? It reveals many things if we “read” into it. One could see that though Christmas is a traditional Christian holiday, it has morphed into a commercial holiday. One could infer that children are part of this consumerism and parents leverage merchandise and happiness (Christmas morning) for control. It could also prompt us to examine why certain behaviors are considered “naughty” or “nice” in American culture and how these norms developed. It could also illustrate that children in the U.S. are highly emotional, and that pathos can be an effective rhetorical tool for manipulation. To be fair, Santa is also a “monster” who brings cheer, celebration, and reward. In this way, we can see the purpose of the double narrative for children and parents.

MONSTERS ADAPT TO THE NEEDS OF THE SITUATION.

image of 12 different Jason masks from the Friday the 13th series

Monsters never truly die. Cohen claims that a monster can survive “cultural shifts” and that monsters are continually adapted and revised to meet the needs of the situation. In this way, a monster can “return in slightly different clothing, each time to be read against contemporary social movements” that give them “new life in a modern rewriting” (Cohen 5).

Monsters possess the ability to escape only to return at a later date (another opportune moment) to haunt again. Think of the movie franchise Friday the 13th. How many times will Jason Voorhees return from the dead to torture the poor camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake? Even his masks have endured cultural shifts to more effectively scare contemporary audiences.

colored sketch of Ron Weasley, Harry Potter, and Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series

Likewise, language endures, and the stories we write will live on (and be revised) long after we are gone. For example, during the late 1600s, witches were feared, tortured, and killed in Colonial America. Puritans considered “black magic” to be an evil abomination of God. Their accusatory language caused mass hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts, and consequently, resulted in punishment, torture, and execution of women and men. However, in modern times, we have reframed the narratives to meet the shifting cultural landscape. We depict witches and wizards as beings (not quite humans, but not quite monsters) who fight evil and social injustice (think Harry Potter). Authors have created a successful pop culture of witchcraft and magic to be entertaining, heroic, and lucrative in print, television, and cinema ( Hocus Pocus , Maleficent , Bewitched , The Craft , The Magicians , etc.) Doing so moves the audience to envy their magic and relate to the human challenges the characters face.

purple cartoon image of the coronavirus wearing a face mask

As Cohen puts it, cultural shifts are all about timing: “The monster is born at [a] metaphoric crossroads, as an embodiment of a certain cultural moment — of a time, a feeling, and a place” (4). For example, think of the way we’ve seen language give “new life” to the face mask in the U.S. What was once a simple device used for protection (and seldom talked about) has been recast to tell a story of political affiliation and protest during the Covid-19 pandemic. For some, the face mask is considered a monster with devious intentions to take away our rights. For others, the face mask is a hero that intercepts dangerous germs and keeps people safe. This double narrative shapes meaning, identity, and action (to wear or not to wear?). How will we feel about face masks in the future? Only time will tell.

WHAT DO MONSTERS REVEAL?

Humans are the real monsters, and language is our weapon.

old sketch of a male and female slave on their knees holding up chained hands that reads, "Am I not a man and a brother, am I not a woman and a sister"

Monstrous rhetoric is used to justify law, policy, and punishment (Cohen 11). For example, the enslavement of Africans and their descendants was argued as “crucial” for physical labor, and vociferous supporters argued that emancipation could lead to economic and social collapse. When we erase the violence from the narrative, we fail to convey the true story: the devastation of family separation, the pain of stripping away names and identities, the denial of basic human rights, and the frustration and grief the slaves endured as they were forbidden from using their heritage languages. The fragmented history of slavery has lead to stories being lost, and those that we have are whitewashed (told by white people with the intent to conceal).

Along the same line, Cohen argues that a walk through the history books shows us how deceptive rhetoric (written strategically by those with power) frequently dehumanizes those who are different, labels and “others” them as monsters, and serves as a scapegoat to justify “cultural, political, ideological differences and biases” (7). Many people have chosen to portray Native Americans as uneducated, anti-Christian savages; black people as criminals; and Muslims as terrorists. Women, immigrants, and people of color are underrepresented and marginalized, which leaves a fragmented history of civilization.

image of German anti-Jewish propaganda with a star of David saying "Jude" and a statement in German

One doesn’t have to stretch very far to think of the Holocaust as another example. In his book titled, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Adolf Hitler wrote, “Was there any form of filth or profligacy, particularly in cultural life, without at least one Jew involved in it? If you cut even cautiously into such an abscess, you found, like a maggot in a rotting body — often dazzled by the sudden light — a Kike.” ( Kike is an offensive word for a Jewish person). The Nazi propaganda poster with the Jewish star reads, “Whoever wears this symbol is an enemy of our people.”

In his article “Fighting Words: What We Can Learn from Hitler’s Hyperbole,” Dr. Michael Blain paints a dismal picture of how Hitler used “fighting words” in his speeches and propaganda in order to convince German youth to exterminate millions of Jewish people. Blain argues,

The violence and cruelty so characteristic of our species is rooted in the resources of  hyperbolic [exaggerated] language. Hitler seems to have turned his “maggot” aphorism into a strategy to achieve his political objectives. He turned the Jews into racial “monsters,” and, in fighting Jews, he became “monstrous.” … The Jews and Slavs were described as the murderers of everything the German masses identified as good, true, and beautiful. The Nazis talked themselves and then the German people into a war of revenge against “murderous” enemies, a war to determine who would govern Europe for the next thousand years. Hitler conceived the goals of the Nationalist Socialist movement in millennial terms. (258)

Indeed language matters, and it can literally kill people.

WHAT CAN MONSTERS TEACH US?

Monsters offer an opportunity for reflection, revision, and action. Cohen’s final message to readers is that we should embrace our monsters as a learning opportunity because they “bring not just a fuller knowledge of our place in history and the history of knowing our place, but they bear self-knowledge — human knowledge — and a discourse all the more sacred. … These monsters ask us how we perceive the world, and how we have misrepresented what we have attempted to place. … They ask us why we have created them” (20). The monster “seeks out its author to demand its d’etre [reason for being] — and to bear witness to the fact it could have been constructed otherwise” (12).

Monsters require a rhetorical analysis, and rhetoric is “a way to investigate, understand, and use language” to analyze our monsters. This is not easy work. As SLCC English professors Chris Blankenship and Justin Jory write in their article “Language Matters,” “Working with language is difficult and it’s messy. It’s a skill you have to learn and practice [and] rhetoric gives you a framework to make that process easier. It’s a method that you can use systematically as a way of revealing and handling the complexity of language.”

Monsters exemplify the narratives we live, and we have many different stories to tell. We all have monsters in our lives that haunt us. It’s an inescapable part of being human. And, we cannot forget that we are the narrators of history. As such, we will need to make very important choices. As SLCC professor Charlotte Howe says in her article “Writers Make Strategic Choices,” “If we want to be heard, understood, and perhaps even agreed with, we must make choices, develop strategies, and enact decisions that go beyond simply deciding what we want to say. We must choose the occasion — find just the right moment — to speak.”

a sketch of a pen and a sword crossed, their sizes equal, and reading "The pen is mightier than the sword"

Language matters. We can choose to be ethical, credible, and responsible with our messaging (ethos). We can choose to use inclusive language. We can choose to respect and acknowledge diversity. We can choose not to spread false or biased information. We can choose to accurately represent evidence. We can choose to “reevaluate our cultural assumptions … , our perception of difference, [and] our tolerance towards its expression” (Cohen 20).

Remember that monsters exist in many forms. And, what feeds them?

Works Cited

Blain, Michael. “Fighting Words: What We Can Learn from Hitler’s Hyperbole.” Symbolic Interaction , vol. 11, no. 2, 1988, pp. 257–276. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/si.1988.11.2.257 . Accessed 8 Dec. 2020.

Blankenship, Chris and Jory, Justin. “Language Matters: A Rhetorical Look at Writing.” Open English at SLCC: Texts on Writing, Language, and Literacy . Pressbook. openenglishatslcc.pressbooks.com/chapter/language-matters-a-rhetorical-look-at-writing/ . Accessed December 4, 2020.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture: Seven Theses.” Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp. 3–25.

Howe, Charlotte. “Writers Make Strategic Choices.” Open English at SLCC: Texts on Writing, Language, and Literacy. Pressbook. openenglishatslcc.pressbooks.com/chapter/writers-make-strategic-choices/ . Accessed November 27, 2020.

Word-cloud monster image created by the author on wordart.com .

Open English @ SLCC Copyright © 2016 by Ann Fillmore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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monster culture (seven theses essay)

monster culture (seven theses essay)

A Teen’s Short Guide to Monster Theory

            We have an obsession with monsters. We’re raised with fairy tales, forced to keep our night lights on in fear of the goblins, dragons, and monsters under our beds. Modern monsters, though, aren’t as visually distinguishable. Shrek, an ugly ogre, wins the heart of a princess with his genuine personality; best friends Mike and Sulley save Boo’s life rather than scare her. The Twilight Saga and shows like Teen Wolf, The Vampire Diaries, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina , and True Blood romanticize the once terrifying creatures, instead creating teen heart-throbs.

I binge-watched the majority of these shows/movies during the teen supernatural craze in the mid-2000s and wondered what kept drawing me back. Why was this craze so enticing? What part of our nature makes us so inclined to invent monsters? After reading Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s Monster Culture (Seven Theses), I was both mind blown and thoroughly confused. I wrote this guide to clarify what Cohen wrote to scholars in a language perhaps easier to digest, for all of my fellow Edward/Jacob lovers who got sucked into the craze. Why were you (and I) so enamored with sparkly vampires?

My guide uses Cohen’s theses as a base but further explains our fascination with monsters and their embedding in societal structure. Monsters are all around us. Constantly evolving and invented to alienate those who don’t follow our cultural norms. They don’t exist in singularity; monsters serve a purpose – to defy our categories and allow us to explore new possibilities – making them simultaneously monstrous and desirable. Read my guide to better acquaint yourself with the monsters in your screens, the monsters filling your pages, and maybe even the monster next door. You’ll better understand them and at the same time better understand yourself.

A Teen’s Short Guide to Monster Theory

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, an academic of medieval studies, lays out seven theses in Monster Culture. He guides scholars on how to read monsters and the cultures they both shape and are shaped by. Monsters are pure culture and exist “only to be read” (Cohen 4). They are Other and exist Beyond, policing the borders of our societal norms. As much as we may try to push them away, they always return, bearing “self-knowledge, human knowledge” because we – humans and monsters – are intrinsically connected (Cohen 20). But what makes Edward Cullen, Scott McCall, Stephen, Damon, and all of the others so enticing? We lovers of these teen supernatural heart-throbs should be most concerned with three of Cohen’s phenomena. They’re cunning escape artists: continually evading punishment and evolving to our cultural movements. They’re monstrous hybrids: refusing easy categorization and existing Beyond. They’re bad boy hotties: exposing that “our fear of the monster” that “is really a kind of desire” (Cohen 16).

Since monsters represent culture, they are forever retold, returning in different places and time periods to evolve to each contemporary setting. Every teen supernatural show/movie has a similar plot and composition of the monster because they embody the high-school culture, at least a glamorized version of it. But there is always some twist that keeps us watching. The monster holds an air of familiarity, yet provides us something new. Edward Cullen may look like a normal student, but his skin is cold to the touch, he sparkles in the sunlight, and (let’s be honest) is way too hot to still be in high school. Cohen presents examples of different vampire stories over time, in each of which “the undead returns in slightly different clothing, each time to be read against contemporary social movements” (Cohen 5). Bram Stoker’s count has transgressive but compelling sexuality, Anne Rice created the pop culture phenomenon “in which homosexuality and vampirism have been conjoined”, and Francis Coppola’s Dracula was put together at the same time as his AIDS documentary (Cohen 5). Vampires live worldwide, yes, but don’t expect to find a perfect epiphany. We love watching because every show/movie holds something to be imagined and a monstrous mystery to be unspun. Monster theory is a “work that must content itself with fragments (footprints, bones, talismans, teeth, shadows, obscured glimpses” (Cohen 6).

Monsters aren’t easily categorized and bring about a third space crisis. They are hybrids, refusing to fit into our world. Hope Mikaelson in The Vampire Diaries is a tribrid daughter of an original vampire and a witchy werewolf. She doesn’t fit into any of the supernatural communities and makes her own. Monsters exist beyond our reality, our visible world, and don’t follow societal prescriptions or norms. Thus, they offer an escape from our insulation: “an invitation to explore new spirals, new and interconnected methods of perceiving the world” (Cohen 7). As binge-watchers of the teen supernatural genre, we crave this escape. We watch to be pulled into a new world and reimagine ourselves with powers to do all of the things we’re forbidden from. We are all hybrids of identities, but we want to be like Hope – a powerful badass tribrid. Monsters completely break apart our binary thinking. They cannot be categorized into our societal system, cannot be understood by our logic, and this is why we are intrigued by them. We’re attracted by the brooding bad boy who doesn’t fit in. Their differences don’t exist in singularity, they compound and complicate. Because of this discontinuity, the monster poses a threat. We can’t fully figure them out. Monsters aren’t created out of nothing and the more fragmented and recombined, the greater danger they become. Since we crave adrenaline, we like monsters’ differences. The more complicated and powerful, the more attractive, the better, and the more we eagerly press play.

Teen supernatural shows and movies all feature the same storyline: the mysterious, attractive teen in your high school is secretly a vampire, werewolf, or witch…and they have a thing for you. This “simultaneous repulsion and attraction” is what makes monsters of the teen supernatural craze so enticing (Cohen 17). The monster can do what society deems forbidden, and so it attracts our rebelling nature. We crave its freedom, even if we don’t want to admit it to ourselves. Watching The Vampire Diaries, Twilight, Teen Wolf, etc. “evokes potent escapist fantasies” (Cohen 17). Monsters serve as “an alter ego, an alluring projection of (an Other) self” (Cohen 17). We live vicariously through them, exploring new fantasies and possibilities that we couldn’t regularly in our world. Where monsters live “are more than dark regions of uncertain danger: they are also realms of happy fantasy” (Cohen 18). This fear/desire complex is because we know how the genre works. We understand monsters, watching “the monstrous spectacle because we know that the cinema is a temporary place” (Cohen 17). It’s also partly because the genre is often mixed “with a liberal dose of comedy” (Cohen 18). Stiles Stilinski in Teen Wolf constantly jokes with his best friend Scott, relieving us from the heart-pounding trouble they always seem to get into.

So why do we keep watching? What makes us teens in particular so glued to our screens? These monsters live in a place that’s both far away and close to home. We know what high school is like, but enjoy seeing a glamorized version of it. Our teenage years are a very sensitive time: we’re constantly struggling to fit in and wanting to feel special. Watching monsters that don’t need to fit into our suffocating categories allows us to fantasize. These shows and movies we love create teen heart-throbs that we can’t get enough of. We feel for the so-called villain and perhaps even want to be them. Teen supernatural monsters offer freedom and escape. With all of the rules and structure, we have to follow, we desire doing what’s forbidden. So, Twilight lover, Stephan, and Damon fanatic, binger of Teen Wolf, why do you love monsters?

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome.“1: Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture .

University of Minnesota Press, 1997, pp. 3–20.

Natalie Lyijynen :

Natalie Lyijynen

Natalie Lyijynen is double majoring in Program in the Environment and Biology, Health and Society. She loves supernatural tv shows, which inspired her to write about monster theory. Her work aims to connect the sciences and arts and she plans to use these skills in the future, pursuing environmental law.

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Summary of Monster Culture: Seven Thesis

Summary of Monster Culture: Seven Thesis

The article Monster Culture (Seven Theses) by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen explores the use of monsters throughout history to influence politics and culture. Cohen argues that monsters have been used as a political tool to justify invasions or enslavement of certain groups. He also shows how monsters can be used to discourage exploration or enforce social norms. The fear of monsters arises from differences between people, and the monster is often seen as a forbidden attraction. Cohen suggests that the fear of monsters can also be enjoyable because it is temporary and offers a sense of excitement. Overall, the article emphasizes the significance of monsters in shaping human beliefs and behaviors.

Monsters have been depicted and used in a multitude of ways since the beginning of time and there are many different kinds of monsters. Monsters have been used to sabotage and sway arguments, to scare and frighten, and to influence a population. The writing: Monster Culture (Seven Theses) by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen gives reason and motive to the ways monsters have been used throughout time. To start, Cohen includes many historical references to events where monsters and labels played a large role in political or cultural events throughout time, thus embodying what Cohen calls the “political-cultural monster” (20).

Cohen provides copious amounts of historical and cultural evidence of this and quotes Giraldus Cambrensis as he labels the Irish as brutes and inferior monstrous people in order to convince and give reason for the English court to pursue in their eyes a just cause of invading. This is shown over and over again throughout history where a people or race was labeled as monstrous in order to justify a crusade or enslavement for personal gain. Each monster has two stories, the story of its creation and real motives for why it was created, and the story of the monster itself.

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Monsters have been used throughout history to scare people into thinking a certain way or acting a certain way or even simply as a scarecrow dimming down curiosity with fear of death or bodily harm, the monster that Cohen calls the monster of prohibition. Cohen shows that monsters can be a political tool to keep people contained under the heavy hand of government and order, or to discourage exploration that would harm a trade business as the medieval merchants are accused of creating the Leviathan to scare off increased exploration of alternative trade routes.

The monsters arise where difference occurs. Feared monsters are born out of fear, and that fear is born from difference, either difference in skin color, custom simple beliefs, or anything that may divide. People who are neither white nor male have been depicted as monsters because of their difference between the people writing the history books (the white males) At times the monster is designed to normalize and enforce, showing people what happens when one breaches a social norm or breaks through a boundary not meant to be broken.

But the monster also attracts. The monsters have what we do not, they have what is forbidden, and they go where none should. Cohen says that the fear of the monster is really a desire. A desire to be free and have the freedom of expressions which would be so looked down upon according to culture. The monster evokes the emotion and joy of being scared, or to scare. Cohen tells that the fear is enjoyed only because it’s temporary, everyone knows that the monster is slain or that the film ends.

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One approach to this question would be to say that the creature in 'Frankfurter' was himself the only monster. However, as we soon realism, the creature is benevolent at heart and only becomes monstrous due to the unjust way in which society treats him. The bleak, miserTABLE world which Shelley portrays, full of hypocrisy, oppression

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INTRODUCTION When someone told you there's an earthquake going on somewhere in the country, you smile but you don't quite know why. You giggled to yourself when a famous celebrity died with unknown reasons and you laugh hysterically when one of your close friend mysteriously commited suicide. It's that kind sick fascination that had me read

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In this essay I will be looking at, and exploring, the method used by Mary Shelley to create sympathy for the monster. There will be three things I will be looking at in this essay. Firstly I will be looking at the birth experience of the monster, and then I will be comparing the childhood

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Kody Scott grew up in South Central L.A. during the nineteen-sixties and seventies, soon after the creation of the Crips. Raised in poverty without a father, and a full family raised solely by his mother, Kody Scott led the stereotypical ghetto life, a poor and broken home. However he does not blame this on his

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Grendel the Existentialist Monster The monster Grendel is portrayed as an ironic observer, offering continuous examples of foolishness and self-mockery. His statements often expose his Sartrean nature, such as when he arrogantly declares, "I create the whole universe, blink by blink" (Gardner 22). Gardner seeks to emphasize the concept of solipsism here. However, it is

monster culture (seven theses essay)

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Monograph: The monstrous mother in Literature

CALL FOR PAPERS: Esferas Literarias nº 7 (2024)

Monograph: The monstrous mother in Literature 

The role of the mother is sacred to many cultures since prehistoric times, as it is regarded as the main generative and nurturing power for the origin of life as well as the main agent for childcare. This maternal role is therefore not only defined by biology and birthing, but also by social constructs that focus on the expected role of woman as carer, protector, and nurturer of any child. However, as the first experience the subject has of a distinctive other, the maternal body constitutes the most foreign, unknowable space in human experience. In fact, the womb is considered in itself a threshold that marks a relation of energy and space in the biological processes between two bodies that imply that one is created and/or dependant from the other. Even if endowed by society of these positive features, the maternal body contains the possibility of death, horror, rejection, and disgust. This ambiguity and potential transgression of normative and clear-cut borders recall the figure of the monster in both the symbolic and the physical manifestations. It may also entail how the mother's presence and behaviours are perceived as monstrous by others due to social and ethical conventions of what constitutes to be human and/or to be a mother.

We ask contributors to explore the representations in literature of monstrous mothers and monstrous forms of mothering that do not comply with normative embodiment or social conventions about the idea of mother. Articles may respond to some of the following thematic lines, but these are not restrictive:

  • Representations of deviant and abnormal motherhood : This could include representations of mother figures who deviate or subvert in any way the normative physical embodiment or the dominant cultural ideals that expect them to be feminine, compassionate, caring, selfless, self-sacrificing, etc. We are interested in contributions that analyse representations of the monstrous mother as a symbol of generative power/untamed nature, as non-human, animal hybrid, inorganic, uncaring, violent, etc.
  • Reproductive horrors and the monstrous body : this includes representations of any biological process that pertains to the maternal body and associates it with the abject. We are interested in contributions which explore narratives that feature menstruation, pregnancy, birth, miscarriage, abortion, death, etc., and relate it to the monstrous body and the experience of mothering.
  • The relationship between monstrous mothers and space:  We are interested in contributions which explore the possible relationship between the monstrous mother and the spaces where the child-mother dyad takes place or is expected to take place. This could include human habitations like the haunted mansion, or natural spaces like the cave.

Contributions can focus on the figure of the monstrous mother in any literary form, genre or subgenre, produced in any language or cultural context.

The proposed topics can be approached from diverse theoretical perspectives (Cohen’s monster theses; monster theory; psychoanalysis; affect theory; disability studies; race, cultural, postcolonial and decolonial studies; queer studies; women’s and gender studies; ecocriticism, among others).

The articles can be written in English or Spanish.

Articles must follow the guidelines of the journal and must be submitted through the journal’s website:  https://journals.uco.es/index.php/Esferas/about/submissions

IMAGES

  1. Summary of Monster Culture: Seven Thesis Free Essay Example 474 words

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  2. Monster Culture (Seven Theses) by Genesis Lopez

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  3. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen Monster Culture Seven Theses 1 .pdf

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  4. 1 Monster Culture (Seven Theses) Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

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  5. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”

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  6. Summary of Monster Culture.docx

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VIDEO

  1. Monster Culture Seven Theses

  2. Thesis 1: The Monster's Body Is a Cultural Body

  3. Monster Theory pt II II

  4. Ultron: An Analysis in Monster Culture

  5. Thesis 6: Fear of the Monster Is Really a Kind of Desire, excerpted

  6. Monster Theory

COMMENTS

  1. "Monster Culture (Seven Theses)"

    Rather than argue a "theory of teratology," I offer by way of introduction to the essays that follow a set of breakable postulates in search of specific cultural moments. I offer seven theses toward understanding cultures through the monsters they bear. Thesis I: The Monster's Body Is a Cultural Body. Vampires, burial, death: inter the ...

  2. 1 Monster Culture (Seven Theses) Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

    The monster is the abjected fragment that e.iables the formation of all kinds of identities—personal, national, cultural, economic, sexual, psychological, universal, particular (even if that "particular" identity is. Monster Theory : Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

  3. 102 Monster Culture (Seven Theses) Notes

    Thesis I. The Monster's Body Is a Cultural Body. Each culture will produce their own monsters and their own versions of monsters. "The monstrous body is pure culture" (4). The monsters is born as an embodiment of a certain cultural moment, a time, a feeling, and a place. A monster will always change because culture changes, our fears and ...

  4. Monster Culture (Seven Theses): Reflections on our Fears

    Monster culture (Seven theses), by Jeffrey Cohen, declares a new modus legend, or an approach to understanding cultures through the monsters they create. He disobeys two older and holy modes. He explains, "I will partially violate two of the sacred dicta of recent cultural studies: the compulsion to historical specificity and the insistence ...

  5. "Monster Culture (Seven Theses)"

    Jerome Cohen, Jeffrey. ""Monster Culture (Seven Theses)"" In Classic Readings on Monster Theory: Demonstrare, Volume One edited by Asa Simon Mittman and Marcus Hensel, 43-54. Amsterdam: ARC Humanities Press, 2018. ... An Essay on Abjection "Parasites and Perverts: An Introduction to Gothic Monstrosity," from Skin Shows: Gothic Horror ...

  6. The Final Judgement in "Monster Culture"

    The Final Judgement in "Monster Culture". "In this distribution of functions, the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking.". —Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  7. The Monster Theory Reader . Edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock

    The Monster Theory Reader is an essential reference and resource for anyone interested in the theoretical foundations, themes, and future directions of monster theory. Following Weinstock's introduction and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's seminal essay 'Monster Culture (Seven Theses)', The Monster Theory Reader is divided into four main sections ...

  8. Project MUSE

    Book. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. 1996. Published by: University of Minnesota Press. View. summary. We live in a time of monsters. Monsters provide a key to understanding the culture that spawned them. So argue the essays in this wide-ranging and fascinating collection that asks the question, What happens when critical theorists take the study of ...

  9. Monster Theory: Reading Culture on JSTOR

    Monster Culture (Seven Theses) Download; XML; Beowulf as Palimpsest Download; XML; ... "No Monsters at the Resurrection":: Inside Some Conjoined Twins Download; XML; Representing the Monster:: Cognition, Cripples, and Other Limp Parts in Montaigne's "Des Boyteux" Download; XML;

  10. "Monster Culture (Seven Theses)"

    This article explores sexual desire, exhalation and the transformation of female bodies in the Orientalist romance novel, comparing two works written by female authors: Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya…. Expand. [PDF] Semantic Scholar extracted view of ""Monster Culture (Seven Theses)"" by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen.

  11. In the Middle: Monster Classroom (Seven Theses)

    The Monster Stands at the Threshold of Belonging. "Monster Culture (Seven Theses)" has been used to teach composition, cultural studies, American studies, religion, literature, philosophy and critical theory. Sometimes the essay has been a shared text in required Freshman writing classes (Columbia, Rutgers, Indiana University).

  12. Monster Theory: Reading Culture

    For me, the most useful text by far was the one by editor Jeffery Jerome Cohen, in which he described seven theses on the role of monsters in culture. I found the concepts in this book useful when writing papers about such diverse topics as children's literature (monsters and the monstrous in children's lit) and popular culture (the role of the ...

  13. Jeffery Jerome Cohen: Monster Theory Analysis

    Jeffery Jerome Cohen's "Monster Culture (Seven Theses)" is a renowned work in the field of monster theory. In this essay, Cohen explores the concept of the monster as a cultural and social phenomenon, challenging traditional perceptions and shedding light on the symbolic significance of monsters in various contexts.

  14. Analysis Of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's Monster Culture

    In Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's Monster Culture (Seven Thesis), Cohen analyzes the psychology behind monsters and how, rather than being a monstrous beast for the protagonist of the story to play against, "the monster signifies something other than itself". Cohen makes the claim that by analyzing monsters in mythology and stories, you can learn ...

  15. Project MUSE

    Classic Readings on Monster Theory: Demonstrare, Volume One. Book. Edited by Asa Simon Mittman and Marcus Hensel. 2018. Published by: Arc Humanities Press. View. Buy This Book in Print. summary. This volume and its companion gather a wide range of readings and sources to enable us to see and understand what monsters show us about what it means ...

  16. Monstrous Rhetoric: The Beasts We Feed

    Monsters exist in many forms. They can be literal or metaphorical and can manifest as people, places, things, and even ideas. Monsters are "outsiders" that symbolize the fears, taboos, and values of a culture. They emerge as "a construct and a projection" of the cultures who creates and perpetuate them (Cohen 4).

  17. Cohen's Monster Theses digested

    Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "Monster Culture: Seven Theses," in Monster Theory : Reading Culture, University of Minnesota Press, 1996.. Thesis 1: The Monster's Body Is a Cultural Body. Monsters are born at a metaphoric crossroads as an embodiment of a certain cultural moment -- of a time, a feeling, and a place.

  18. Monster Culture Analysis: [Essay Example], 521 words

    Get original essay. One of the key aspects of monster culture is its ability to serve as a reflection of societal fears and anxieties. As Jeffrey Jerome Cohen argues in his essay "Monster Culture (Seven Theses)," monsters are born of a cultural moment and embody a specific set of fears and desires. For example, in Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein ...

  19. Cohen, Monster Culture, 7 Theses Flashcards

    thesis 7. monster stands at threshold of becoming. -always return. -bear human knowledge from outside. -ask us how we perceive world. -ask us to reevaluate cultural assumptions on race, gender, sexuality, perception toward differences and tolerance toward its expression. -ask us why we have created them. -we create them from imagination.

  20. A Teen's Short Guide to Monster Theory

    A Teen's Short Guide to Monster Theory. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, an academic of medieval studies, lays out seven theses in Monster Culture. He guides scholars on how to read monsters and the cultures they both shape and are shaped by. Monsters are pure culture and exist "only to be read" (Cohen 4). They are Other and exist Beyond, policing ...

  21. Monster Culture Seven Theses

    In Jerome Cohen's "Monster Culture (Seven Theses)," he argues that the monster is a cultural body, reflecting peoples' desires and fears through seven distinct claims. The monster prompts the audience to question their assumptions about the culture and why the monster was created. During the Shogunate era of Japan, the infamous drunken ...

  22. Monster Theory

    Jeffrey Jerome Cohen named monster theory in his 1996 collection Monster Theory: Reading Culture. This collection contained an essay, "Monster Culture: Seven Theses" which has served as a core text in the field since. J.R.R. Tolkien's 1936 essay, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," can be seen as the first foray into what would ...

  23. Monster Theory: Reading Culture by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

    Essays I've read and enjoyed: * Monster Culture (Seven Theses), by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen * Liberty, Equality, Monstrosity: Revolutionizing the Family in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, by David A. Hedrich Hirsch ... Monster Culture: Seven Theses, as that's the only part I've read. It was interesting to compare Cohen's schema with other books ...

  24. Summary of Monster Culture: Seven Thesis

    In his essay "Monster Culture: Seven Theses," Jeffrey Jerome Cohen offers a provocative reading of the monster in Western culture. Cohen argues that the monster is a cultural construct that reveals our deepest fears and desires. The monster is both repulsive and attractive, both other and self.

  25. cfp

    The proposed topics can be approached from diverse theoretical perspectives (Cohen's monster theses; monster theory; psychoanalysis; affect theory; disability studies; race, cultural, postcolonial and decolonial studies; queer studies; women's and gender studies; ecocriticism, among others). The articles can be written in English or Spanish.