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Monster Theory

Monster Theory: Reading Culture

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen editor
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Monster Theory
    Book Description:

    The contributors to Monster Theory consider beasts, demons, freaks and fiends as symbolic expressions of cultural unease that pervade a society and shape its collective behavior. Through a historical sampling of monsters, these essays argue that our fascination for the monstrous testifies to our continued desire to explore difference and prohibition. Contributors: Mary Baine Campbell, David L. Clark, Frank Grady, David A. Hedrich Hirsch, Lawrence D. Kritzman, Kathleen Perry Long, Stephen Pender, Allison Pingree, Anne Lake Prescott, John O'Neill, William Sayers, Michael Uebel, and Ruth Waterhouse.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8764-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Preface: In a Time of Monsters
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  2. I. Monster Theory

    • 1 Monster Culture (Seven Theses)
      (pp. 3-25)
      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 newmodus 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 atelos,as a final...

    • 2 Beowulf as Palimpsest
      (pp. 26-39)
      Ruth Waterhouse

      Beowulfincludes a palimpsest of Grendel, in that in 1073, Scribe A originally wrote that Grendel was proscribed “in chames cynne [because of Ham’s kin].”¹ The manuscript was altered from “chames” to “caines” (“because of Cain’s kin”), as Ham (who was the second son of Noah) seemed less relevant than “Cain” to a reader, given the following lines with their reference to the killing of Abel.² Even during the period of the text’s inscribing, an early reference to Grendel became a palimpsest, as one interpretation succeeded another for reasons we can now only deduce from context.³

      The interpretation of Grendel...

    • 3 Monstrosity, Illegibility, Denegation: De Man, bp Nichol, and the Resistance to Postmodernism
      (pp. 40-72)
      David L. Clark

      In a theoretical age often enamored of the “playfulness” of the sign and the “pleasure” of the text, Paul de Man’s last writings stand out as darkly sobering, driven as they are by an almost ascetic desire to bring thinking into proximity with what he calls, after Walter Benjamin,“reine Sprache,”pure language (TT, 92),² or, in Carol Jacob’s terms, “that which is purely language—nothing but language.”³ From the stringent and selfcanceling perspective afforded by de Man’s late essays, the Nietzschean rhetoric of play and gaming often associated with postmodernist theory and literary practice registers the work of a...

  3. II. Monstrous Identity

    • 4 The Odd Couple: Gargantua and Tom Thumb
      (pp. 75-91)
      Anne Lake Prescott

      Giants and pygmies are ambiguously monstrous: strange “here” but normal “there,” where their species is at home, whether Scythia, Africa, Brazil, Lilliput, or Brobdingnag. The fact of merely situational monstrosity was not lost on earlier writers, who could joke about spatial relativity (the thirty-foot Ascapart inBevis of Hamptonleaves home because he is too short) or more soberly deduce from it the value of ethnic humility (in the thirteenth century Jacques de Vitry wrote that “just as we consider Pygmies to be dwarfs, so they consider us giants And in the land of the Giants, who are larger than...

    • 5 America’s “United Siamese Brothers”: Chang and Eng and Nineteenth-Century Ideologies of Democracy and Domesticity
      (pp. 92-114)
      Allison Pingree

      In the early 1830s, as spectators lined up in towns across the United States for the celebrated event, they found for sale a publicity pamphlet purporting to give “an historical account,” based on “actual observations,” of the human exhibit they were about to see. The cover and title page greeted them with a familiar sight: an eagle, sporting a banner reading “E Pluribus Unum” in its beak, with the motto “‘United We Stand’” inscribed below (see Figure 5.1). Such an image, of course, was unmistakably American: though the nation was only a few decades old, already these symbols circulated widely,...

    • 6 Liberty, Equality, Monstrosity: Revolutionizing the Family in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
      (pp. 115-140)
      David A. Hedrich Hirsch

      The institution of new social orders has always gone hand in hand with the reinvention of foundation narratives, and according to Socrates, foremost among such literary “cures/poisons[pharmakois]” useful in the generation of a republic are myths of humanity’s essential kinship, whereby citizens may be taught to “regard the other citizens as their brothers and children of the self-same earth.”¹ Let there be Enlightenment, said the creators of French republicanism, believing that the establishment of a more humane, revolutionary order depended upon the resurrection and secular conversion of an idea of social brotherhood associated with early Christianity. TheCatéchisme républicain...

  4. III. Monstrous Inquiry

    • 7 “No Monsters at the Resurrection”: Inside Some Conjoined Twins
      (pp. 143-167)
      Stephen Pender

      In 1664, a “wonderful creature” was born at Fisherton-Anger in Salisbury. Female twins “perfectly made,” with “only one payre of legs coming forth on one side from the middle where they were joined,” were born to John and Mary Waterman. This “strange Monster . . . formed Triangular,” in the words of a contemporary ballad by a physician, Josiah Smith, had “Two Bodies shaped perfectly,” “joyned wondrously,” a seemingly miraculous occurrence that demanded both investigation and exhibition.

      The Waterman twins were “convey’d /for Chyurgeons to Dissect.” On 9 November 1664, Robert Boyle read a letter to the Royal Society that...

    • 8 Representing the Monster: Cognition, Cripples, and Other Limp Parts in Montaigne’s “Des Boyteux”
      (pp. 168-182)
      Lawrence D. Kritzman

      The relationship between the exemplum of cripples and the theme of causality is central to Montaigne’s representation of the monster in the essay “On Cripples” (III, n).¹ If the question of causality is discussed early in the chapter, it is in order to set in motion an epistemological critique whose target is the weakness of human reason. Montaigne focuses specifically on the defects of human understanding and our need to shift attention away from things(“chases”)in order to reflect more closely on their causes(“causes”).Nevertheless, by engaging in this wordplay the essayist ironically links things to causes and...

    • 9 Hermaphrodites Newly Discovered: The Cultural Monsters of Sixteenth-Century France
      (pp. 183-201)
      Kathleen Perry Long

      Recent works on the figure of the hermaphrodite, especially as manifested in early modern France, have concentrated on the medical and legal bases for depiction of this dual being.¹ When philosophical sources are explored, platonic and neoplatonic sources are emphasized.² Thus the hermaphrodite becomes a figure either of menace or of divine completion and wisdom. These views evade many of the epistemological, theological, and political problems raised by ambiguity of gender, problems currently discussed in modern gender theory but already known to Renaissance audiences well versed in skepticism. The gender ambiguities played out in the court of Henri III of...

    • 10 Anthropometamorphosis: John Bulwer’s Monsters of Cosmetology and the Science of Culture
      (pp. 202-222)
      Mary Baine Campbell

      My purpose here is not to explain the story of Jonathan Haynes, quoted above. His moralized morphology is propelled by circumstances far re- moved from those of John Bulwer, a seventeenth-century London physician and author of several books on sign language and lipreading, based at least in part on his successful experience in teaching the deaf.¹ There is a historical relation between the very different hysterias of the murderer and the doctor, however: the men expressed themselves on the entwined subjects of racial identity and consumer culture at separate points on a line that traces the development of international capitalism....

  5. IV. Monstrous History

    • 11 Vampire Culture
      (pp. 225-241)
      Frank Grady

      In his 1982 essay “The Dialectic of Fear,” Franco Moretti makes a persuasive case for reading the vampire of Bram Stoker’sDraculaas a metaphor for capital.¹ According to Moretti, the novel operates on one level as a parable about the dangers of monopoly capitalism, constituted by Stoker as an external threat in the monstrous, predatory, acquisitive, and above all utterly foreign figure of the count, “a rational entrepreneur who invests his gold to expand his dominion: to conquer the City of London.”² Opposing Dracula in the name of individualism and economic liberty, then, are a small band of valiant...

    • 12 The Alien and Alienated as Unquiet Dead in the Sagas of the Icelanders
      (pp. 242-263)
      William Sayers

      In the medieval Icelandic culture of the supernatural, one who recrossed the boundary from death to life was calledaptrgangr(revenant) ordraugr,derived from the Indo-European rootdhreugh(harm, deceive). In thedraugr,spirit is not breathed into matter so much as material corporeality is retained by the restless spirit. The collected evidence, literary and folkloric, medieval and later, gives a consistent picture of physically active dead beings who bear the earth of the grave or the sodden clothing of death at sea. Not only are their bodies uncorrupted, but in the cases of the physically most active and...

    • 13 Unthinking the Monster: Twelfth-Century Responses to Saracen Alterity
      (pp. 264-291)
      Michael Uebel

      Every system of thought traces, as if along a Mobius strip, its own system of unthought, and in the process unfolds a history of alterity that reveals how the other, “at once interior and foreign,” has been provisionally unthought, exteriorized, and “shut away (in order to reduce its otherness).”² Though “shut away,” the other is absolutely integral to the selfsame, a necessary parable (Gr.parabole,juxtaposition, comparison, fromparaballein,to set beside), as Michel Foucault suggests, of the self: “The unthought (whatever name we give it) is not lodged in man like a shrivelled-up nature or a stratified history; it...

    • 14 Dinosaurs-R-Us: The (Un) Natural History of Jurassic Park
      (pp. 292-308)
      John O’Neill

      Americans love big things, including themselves. They even love things bigger than themselves, like America. Recently, Americans have demonstrated an extraordinary affection for carnivores larger than them selves—returning the earlier efforts by King Kong and other aliens such as ET to love Americans. Even when Americans love tiny creatures like Mickey Mouse what they love is their espousal of the cardinal American virtues of hardworking, asexual aggression tirelessly practiced by the little guys in totally controlled, aseptic environments such as that they have come to worship at Disneyland.¹ The Disney complex contains both a psychic and technocultural apparatus through...