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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)
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 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.
- 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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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).
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.
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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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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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
3 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. 4 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
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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Xinyue shen (cynthia), response to monster culture (seven theses).
In “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”, Cohen gives us an insight into how “monsters” can be closely connected with the cultures from which they were born. Through figuratively analyzing the derivation of these monsters (either fictional monsters or real people), Cohen silently asks his readers to make a choice on whether to entirely believe his monster theory or to doubt if monsters do exist in human’s culture. In the following sections, I would like to break down and summarize what Cohen’s seven theses of “monster culture” are.
Thesis I: The Monster’s Body Is a Cultural Body
At the beginning of the monster theory, Cohen points out that, as a personification of certain cultural moments, the monster’s body in effect includes mainly negative feelings or by-products. Like Pandora’s box, it brings fear, desire and uncertainty to life, it emphasizes differences, and it heightens anxiety. Since the monster’s vital force comes from differences and frictions, it is always born at the “crossroads” of a culture (where a span-new culture emerges or two distinctive cultures collide).
Thesis II: The Monster Always Escapes
In this section, Cohen focuses on the inevitable shifts and recurrences of the monster. He believes that the monster’s body can be either corporal or incorporeal. Even if a difference in either ideology, culture, sex, or race has seemingly eliminated at one time, it will by definition return at another point over the course of human history. Also, the condensed anxiety, uncertainty that the monstrous body emits have a greater chance to shift into another categories or different cultures rather than lingering over a specific point.
Thesis III: The Monster Is the Harbinger of Category Crisis
For the sake of a fire-new and interdependent perspective of the world, one of the monster’s most distinguishing features is the steadfast refusal to be classified under any categories that are based on the established social hierarchy or the conventional taxonomic system. The very existence of the monster aims to challenge the traditional ways of managing human knowledge and experience and the methods of perceiving the world. For the monster, “change” and “revolution” may become the hot buttons.
Thesis IV: The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference
In the fifth thesis, Cohen chiefly discusses the monsters (particularly real people) that ever indwelled in cultural, political, ideological, racial, economic, and sexual differences. In his view, alterity and distinctiveness in these categories become spontaneous catalysts for the birth of the monsters. Through the course of self-contradiction and self-deconstruction, culture itself tends to integrate those disparate, fragmented elements into one body. Then, people repeatedly witness the birth of the monstrous “Frankenstein” before their eyes. Plus, the line between personal and national monstrous bodies turns blurry, and a variety of differences interrelate and interact with one another. As a result, the monster threatens not only individuals but the whole society (or the whole culture).
Thesis V: The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible
As soon as a kind of culture forms, it sets about establishing the boundary of its territory within which the cultural body can move. Apparently, it is in jeopardy of exposing itself to another cultures or the monsters who usually hover on the edge of certain culture. In addition, the image of the monster is often used by the hierarch of certain culture as a warning sign against any forbidden practices and explorations of uncertain territories.
Thesis VI: Fear of the Monster Is Really a Kind of Desire
As the section title suggests, our fear of the monster in reality reflects a kind of desire and anxiety that sometimes we wish to have access to taboos and forbiddances. As long as people are fully aware that they are mainly surrounded by safeness, the encounter with the monsters may become an intriguing interlude. It is this desire that leads a fraction of an established community to overstep the cultural boundaries. Accordingly, it is actually the monster that capacitates the formation of different kinds of new identities (personal, national, cultural, economic, sexual, psychological).
Thesis VII: The Monster Stands at the Threshold of Becoming
Finally, Cohen makes a clear statement of his attitude toward the existence of the monster. In his opinion, there does exist an interdependent relationship between the monsters and us. The monsters are always born in the divergence point of human culture. In return, these monsters drive us to reexamine our existing perceptions of difference and alterity. In essence, that is how our social progresses.
A link to Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster Culture (Seven Theses)
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- Monster Theory: Reading Culture
In this Book
- Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
- Published by: University of Minnesota Press
Table of Contents
- Title Page, Copyright
- Preface: In a Time of Monsters
- I. Monster Theory
- 1. Monster Culture (Seven Theses)
- 2. Beowulf as Palimpsest
- Ruth Waterhouse
- 3. Monstrosity, Illegibility, Denegation: De Man, bp Nichol, and the Resistance to Postmodernism
- David L Clark
- II. Monstrous Identity
- 4. The Odd Couple: Gargantua and Tom Thumb
- Anne Lake Prescott
- 5. America's "United Siamese Brothers": Chang and Eng and Nineteenth-Century Ideologies of Democracy and Domesticity
- Allison Pingree
- 6. Liberty, Equality, Monstrosity: Revolutionizing the Family in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
- David A. Hedrich Hirsch
- pp. 115-140
- III. Monstrous Inquiry
- 7. "No Monsters at the Resurrection": Inside Some Conjoined Twins
- Stephen Fender
- pp. 143-167
- 8. Representing the Monster: Cognition, Cripples, and Other Limp Parts in Montaigne's "Des Boyteux"
- Lawrence D. Kritzman
- pp. 168-182
- 9. Hermaphrodites Newly Discovered: The Cultural Monsters of Sixteenth-Century France
- Kathleen Perry Long
- pp. 183-201
- 10. Anthropometamorphosis: John Bulwer's Monsters of Cosmetology and the Science of Culture
- Mary Baine Campbell
- pp. 202-222
- IV. Monstrous History
- 11. Vampire Culture
- Frank Grady
- pp. 225-241
- 12. The Alien and Alienated as Unquiet Dead in the Sagas of the Icelanders
- William Sayers
- pp. 242-263
- 13. Unthinking the Monster: Twelfth-Century Responses to Saracen Alterity
- pp. 264-291
- 14. Dinosaurs-R-Us: The (Un)Natural History of Jurassic Park
- John O'Neill
- pp. 292-308
- pp. 309-312
- pp. 313-315
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