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The Monster Theory Reader

The Monster Theory Reader

Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock Editor
Copyright Date: 2020
https://doi.org/10.5749/j.ctvtv937f
Pages: 600
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctvtv937f
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  • Book Info
    The Monster Theory Reader
    Book Description:

    A collection of scholarship on monsters and their meaning-across genres, disciplines, methodologies, and time-from foundational texts to the most recent contributions

    Zombies and vampires, banshees and basilisks, demons and wendigos, goblins, gorgons, golems, and ghosts. From the mythical monstrous races of the ancient world to the murderous cyborgs of our day, monsters have haunted the human imagination, giving shape to the fears and desires of their time. And as long as there have been monsters, there have been attempts to make sense of them, to explain where they come from and what they mean. This book collects the best of what contemporary scholars have to say on the subject, in the process creating a map of the monstrous across the vast and complex terrain of the human psyche.

    Editor Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock prepares the way with a genealogy of monster theory, traveling from the earliest explanations of monsters through psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, and cultural studies, to the development of monster theory per se-and including Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's foundational essay "Monster Theory (Seven Theses)," reproduced here in its entirety. There follow sections devoted to the terminology and concepts used in talking about monstrosity; the relevance of race, religion, gender, class, sexuality, and physical appearance; the application of monster theory to contemporary cultural concerns such as ecology, religion, and terrorism; and finally the possibilities monsters present for envisioning a different future.

    Including the most interesting and important proponents of monster theory and its progenitors, from Sigmund Freud to Julia Kristeva to J. Halberstam, Donna Haraway, Barbara Creed, and Stephen T. Asma-as well as harder-to-find contributions such as Robin Wood's and Masahiro Mori's-this is the most extensive and comprehensive collection of scholarship on monsters and monstrosity across disciplines and methods ever to be assembled and will serve as an invaluable resource for students of the uncanny in all its guises.

    Contributors: Stephen T. Asma, Columbia College Chicago; Timothy K. Beal, Case Western Reserve U; Harry Benshoff, U of North Texas; Bettina Bildhauer, U of St. Andrews; Noel Carroll, The Graduate Center, CUNY; Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Arizona State U; Barbara Creed, U of Melbourne; Michael Dylan Foster, UC Davis; Sigmund Freud; Elizabeth Grosz, Duke U; J. Halberstam, Columbia U; Donna Haraway, UC Santa Cruz; Julia Kristeva, Paris Diderot U; Anthony Lioi, The Julliard School; Patricia MacCormack, Anglia Ruskin U; Masahiro Mori; Annalee Newitz; Jasbir K. Puar, Rutgers U; Amit A. Rai, Queen Mary U of London; Margrit Shildrick, Stockholm U; Jon Stratton, U of South Australia; Erin Suzuki, UC San Diego; Robin Wood, York U; Alexa Wright, U of Westminster.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-6039-5
    Subjects: Cultural Studies, Language & Literature, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. INTRODUCTION: A Genealogy of Monster Theory
    (pp. 1-36)
    Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock

    JEFFREY JEROME COHEN’S 1996 essay “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” from his edited collection Monster Theory: Reading Culture, holds a prominent position in this reader as the introduction to a volume that named a field—and the naming of a field or subdiscipline can exert a powerful gravitational effect, allowing dispersed scholarship to coalesce around its banner and start to form into something coherent. In this sense, to name a field is a type of performative speech act, bringing something into being that did not previously exist: “I dub thee monster theory.” Presto! And then, having been named, the larger a...

  2. 1 MONSTER CULTURE (SEVEN THESES)
    (pp. 37-56)
    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...

  3. Part I. The Monster Theory Toolbox

    • 2 THE UNCANNY
      (pp. 59-88)
      Sigmund Freud

      It is only rarely that a psychoanalyst feels impelled to investigate the subject of aesthetics, even when aesthetics is understood to mean not merely the theory of beauty but the theory of the qualities of feeling. He works in other strata of mental life and has little to do with the subdued emotional impulses which, inhibited in their aims and dependent on a host of concurrent factors, usually furnish the material for the study of aesthetics. But it does occasionally happen that he has to interest himself in some particular province of that subject; and this province usually proves to...

    • 3 THE UNCANNY VALLEY
      (pp. 89-94)
      Masahiro Mori

      The mathematical term monotonically increasing function describes a relation in which the function y = f(x) increases continuously with the variable x. For example, as effort x grows, income y increases, or as a car’s accelerator is pressed, the car moves faster. This kind of relation is ubiquitous and easily understood. In fact, because such monotonically increasing functions cover most phenomena of everyday life, people may fall under the illusion that they represent all relations. Also attesting to this false impression is the fact that many people struggle through life by persistently pushing without understanding the effectiveness of pulling back....

    • 4 APPROACHING ABJECTION
      (pp. 95-107)
      Julia Kristeva

      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 thinkable. It lies there, quite close, but it cannot be assimilated. It beseeches, worries, and fascinates desire, which, nevertheless, does not let itself be seduced. Apprehensive, desire turns aside; sickened, it rejects. A certainty protects it from the shameful—a certainty of which it is proud holds on to it. But simultaneously, just the same, that impetus, that spasm, that leap is drawn toward...

    • 5 AN INTRODUCTION TO THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM
      (pp. 108-135)
      Robin Wood

      The most significant development—in film criticism, and in progressive ideas generally—of the past few decades has clearly been the increasing confluence of Marx and Freud, or more precisely of the traditions of thought arising from them: the recognition that social revolution and sexual revolution are inseparably linked and necessary to each other. From Marx we derive our awareness of the dominant ideology—the ideology of bourgeois capitalism—as an insidious all-pervasive force capable of concealment behind the most protean disguises, and the necessity of exposing its operation whenever and wherever possible. It is psychoanalytic theory that has provided...

    • 6 FANTASTIC BIOLOGIES AND THE STRUCTURES OF HORRIFIC IMAGERY
      (pp. 136-147)
      Noël Carroll

      The objects of art-horror are essentially threatening and impure. The creator of horror presents creatures that are salient in respect to these attributes. In this, certain recurring strategies for designing monsters appear with striking regularity across the arts and media. The purpose of this chapter is to take note of some of the most characteristic ways in which monsters are produced for the reading and viewing public. This chapter could be subtitled “How to make a monster.”

      Horrific monsters are threatening. This aspect of the design of horrific monsters is, I think, incontestable. They must be dangerous. This can be...

    • 7 PARASITES AND PERVERTS: An Introduction to Gothic Monstrosity
      (pp. 148-170)
      Jack Halberstam

      In The Silence of the Lambs (1991) by Jonathan Demme, one of many modern adaptations of Frankenstein, a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill collects women in order to flay them and use their skins to construct a “woman suit.” Sitting in his basement sewing hides, Buffalo Bill makes his monster a sutured beast, a patchwork of gender, sex, and sexuality. Skin, in this morbid scene, represents the monstrosity of surfaces and as Buffalo Bill dresses up in his suit and prances in front of the mirror, he becomes a layered body, a body of many surfaces laid one upon...

  4. Part II. Monsterizing Difference

    • 8 MONSTROUS STRANGERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD: The Monstrous Races
      (pp. 173-191)
      Alexa Wright

      The arnstein bible is a large, heavy book in two volumes.¹ It was handwritten in ink by a German monk, Lunandus of Arnstein, in the late twelfth century. Parts of the text are skillfully illuminated in color, which suggests that the Bible was originally created for public display.² But the most interesting and intriguing feature of this ancient book is the collection of sketches on the flyleaves at the back of the second volume. There are several full-page drawings showing cosmographic charts; simple, geometrical world maps; a diagram of related types of human endeavor with philosophy at its head; and,...

    • 9 BLOOD, JEWS, AND MONSTERS IN MEDIEVAL CULTURE
      (pp. 192-210)
      Bettina Bildhauer

      Whether they are three-headed dragons, one-eyed giants, dog-headed men, or long-haired locusts, monsters have fascinatingly deformed and hybrid bodies. This physical visibility is so obviously a characteristic of the monstrous that it is implied rather than examined by modern critics. “The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body” is the first of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s slick “seven theses” on monsters, which acknowledges their embodiedness only to sweep it away as a purely cultural construct.¹ While recent “freak” and “disability” studies, such as Rosemarie Garland Thomson’s work, recognize that the “extraordinary bodies” under investigation were often labeled “monstrous” in the Middle Ages,...

    • 10 HORROR AND THE MONSTROUS-FEMININE: An Imaginary Abjection
      (pp. 211-225)
      Barbara Creed

      All human societies have a conception of the monstrous-feminine, of what it is about woman that is shocking, terrifying, horrific, abject. “Probably no male human being is spared the terrifying shock of threatened castration at the sight of the female genitals,” Freud wrote in his paper “Fetishism” in 1927.¹ Joseph Campbell, in his book Primitive Mythology, noted that

      there is a motif occurring in certain primitive mythologies, as well as in modern surrealist painting and neurotic dream, which is known to folklore as “the toothed vagina”—the vagina that castrates. And a counterpart, the other way, is the so-called “phallic...

    • 11 THE MONSTER AND THE HOMOSEXUAL
      (pp. 226-240)
      Harry Benshoff

      In the 1970s, in a series of essays exploring the horror film, critic Robin Wood suggested that the thematic core of the genre might be reduced to three interrelated variables: normality (as defined chiefly by a heterosexual patriarchal capitalism), the Other (embodied in the figure of the monster), and the relationship between the two.¹ According to Wood’s formulation, these monsters can often be understood as racial, ethnic, and/or political/ideological Others, while more frequently they are constructed primarily as sexual Others (women, bisexuals, and homosexuals). Since the demands of the classical Hollywood narrative system usually insist on a heterosexual romance within...

    • 12 THE UNDEAD: A Haunted Whiteness
      (pp. 241-271)
      Annalee Newitz

      When racial difference cannot be talked about in a narrative—or is willfully ignored—one way it gets covertly described is as a difference between “dead” and “living” cultures, or more fantastically in the difference between dead bodies and animated ones. As anthropologist Marianna Torgovnick has pointed out, whites often distinguish themselves and their nations by laying claim to progress and the future, implicitly relegating the importance of all other racial groups to antiquity, the “savage” past, and dead civilizations.¹ This racist logic of progress holds that people of color are frozen in time, unchanged since the origins of human...

    • 13 INTOLERABLE AMBIGUITY: Freaks as/at the Limit
      (pp. 272-286)
      Elizabeth Grosz

      Any discussion of freaks brings back into focus a topic that has had a largely underground existence in contemporary cultural and intellectual life, partly because it is considered below the refined sensibilities of “good taste” and “personal politeness” in a civilized and politically correct milieu, and partly because it has required a new set of intellectual tools, which are still in the process of development, to raise it above being an object of prurient speculation. I am interested in the question of human freaks not simply for voyeuristic reasons—although these must no doubt play a part—but also because...

  5. Part III. Monsters and Culture

    • 14 MONSTERS AND THE MORAL IMAGINATION
      (pp. 289-294)
      Stephen T. Asma

      Monsters are on the rise. People can’t seem to get enough of vampires lately, and zombies have a new lease on life. In 2009 and 2010, we had the release of the usual horror films like Saw VI and Halloween II; the campy mayhem of Zombieland; more-pensive forays like 9 (produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov), The Wolfman, and The Twilight Saga: New Moon; and, more playfully, Where the Wild Things Are (a Dave Eggers rewrite of the Maurice Sendak classic).

      The reasons for this increased monster culture are hard to pin down. Maybe it’s social anxiety in the...

    • 15 INTRODUCTION TO RELIGION AND ITS MONSTERS
      (pp. 295-302)
      Timothy Beal

      “To a new world of gods and monsters!” declares Dr. Pretorius in James Whale’s 1935 movie The Bride of Frankenstein. Pretorius, eager to create a female counterpart for the first monster, is counting himself and his co-creator Henry Frankenstein among the gods, and their creations among the monsters. Pretorius makes his divine aspirations clear in biblical terms, identifying himself with God in the creation story of Genesis¹: “I also have created life, as we say, in God’s own image. . . . Follow the lead of nature, or God . . . male and female created he them . ....

    • 16 THE SELF’S CLEAN AND PROPER BODY
      (pp. 303-329)
      Margrit Shildrick

      In order to shed more light on the predicament of the monstrous in Western thought, my purpose in this chapter is to investigate further the precarious place of the body, and to bring it into relation with dominant conceptions of the self. During the last few years, both feminist scholarship and postmodernist philosophy have opened up afresh an interest in monstrous corporeality that moves far beyond a well-established clinical concern—where therapeutic modi-fication is the major issue—to an altogether more discursive reading. Like the well-established configuration of matter and mother, to which it is also supplemental in the Derridean...

    • 17 HAUNTING MODERNITY: Tanuki, Trains, and Transformation in Japan
      (pp. 330-357)
      Michael Dylan Foster

      In front of restaurants, bars, and saké shops throughout Japan, one often finds a ceramic statuette of a wide-eyed, cheerful beast known as a tanuki. Standing upright and adorned with a straw hat, the tanuki is portrayed as a jovial hedonist; he has a rotund belly, a jug of saké in one hand, and is particularly distinguished—if you look carefully—by an enormous scrotum. On the streets of a modern city, the tanuki radiates a sense of good-natured camaraderie and traditional welcome.¹ But the ubiquitous, lighthearted image of the tanuki is only one manifestation of this particular yōkai, or...

    • 18 INVISIBLE MONSTERS: Vision, Horror, and Contemporary Culture
      (pp. 358-373)
      Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock

      It takes a village to make a monster.

      By this, I mean that nothing or no one is intrinsically or “naturally” monstrous. Instead, as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen points out in “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” the monster’s body is always “pure culture,” the embodiment of culturally specific fears, desires, anxieties, and fantasies.¹ What follows from this is that ideas of monstrosity and the forms that monsters take will differ across time and from place to place. This stands to reason—what scared people (and what they hoped for) in, say, twelfth-century Slovenia will obviously differ from what scares people (and what...

    • 19 MONSTER, TERRORIST, FAG: The War on Terrorism and the Production of Docile Patriots
      (pp. 374-402)
      Jasbir K. Puar and Amit S. Rai

      How are gender and sexuality central to the current “war on terrorism”? This question opens on to others: How are the technologies that are being developed to combat “terrorism” departures from or transformations of older technologies of heteronormativity, white supremacy, and nationalism? In what way do contemporary counterterrorism practices deploy these technologies, and how do these practices and technologies become the quotidian framework through which we are obliged to struggle, survive, and resist? Sexuality is central to the creation of a certain knowledge of terrorism, specifically that branch of strategic analysis that has entered the academic mainstream as “terrorism studies.”...

    • 20 ZOMBIE TROUBLE: Zombie Texts, Bare Life, and Displaced People
      (pp. 403-420)
      Jon Stratton

      This essay is about the relationship between zombies and displaced people, most obviously refugees, asylum-seekers, and illegal immigrants. It is founded on a realization that the underlying characteristics of zombies are similar to those attributed to displaced people: that is, people predominantly from non-Western states striving for entry into Western states. The essay begins from the recognition that during the 2000s, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of films released featuring zombies. At the same time, zombies have begun to appear in other media. A video game series called Resident Evil, which includes biologically mutated flesh-eating undead,...

  6. Part IV. The Promises of Monsters

    • 21 BEASTS FROM THE DEEP
      (pp. 423-438)
      Erin Suzuki

      Why do so many monsters ply the deep waters of the Pacific? The Pacific has been a breeding ground for all kinds of fictional beasts bearing apocalyptic significance, from Moby Dick to Godzilla. While Cold War–era monster movies spoke to historically specific anxieties around nuclearization, imperialism, and containment, spectacle-driven summer blockbusters from the early 2010s—specifically Peter Berg’s Battleship (2012), Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013), and Gareth Edwards’s remake of Godzilla (2014)—revisit these monstermovie tropes not only to reconsider such issues in a twenty-first-century context but to overcome them with future promises of transpacific partnership between the...

    • 22 OF SWAMP DRAGONS: Mud, Megalopolis, and a Future for Ecocriticism
      (pp. 439-458)
      Anthony Lioi

      In her classic Purity and Danger, anthropologist Mary Douglas defines ritual pollution as “matter out of place” and concludes that such pollution can be a door to whole cosmologies: “Where there is dirt, there is a system.”¹ Accordingly, she distinguishes between “dirt-affirming” and “dirt-rejecting” cultures based on their reaction to ritual pollution.² To affirm dirt is to recognize that impurity is inevitable, and to offer it a carefully defined place that recognizes and contains its power. To reject dirt is to imagine that it can be separated from what is sacred, and to finalize that separation by annihilating pollution from...

    • 23 THE PROMISES OF MONSTERS: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others
      (pp. 459-521)
      Donna Haraway

      “The Promises of Monsters” will be a mapping exercise and travelogue through mindscapes and landscapes of what may count as nature in certain local/global struggles. These contests are situated in a strange, allochronic time—the time of myself and my readers in the last decade of the second Christian millennium—and in a foreign, allotopic place—the womb of a pregnant monster, here, where we are reading and writing. The purpose of this excursion is to write theory, i.e., to produce a patterned vision of how to move and what to fear in the topography of an impossible but all-too-real...

    • 24 POSTHUMAN TERATOLOGY
      (pp. 522-540)
      Patricia MacCormack

      This chapter will explore ways of thinking posthuman teratology. Teratology has referred to the study of monsters and monstrosity in all epistemic incarnations, though most often in medicine and physiology. Two inclinations resonate with two effects encountered in relations with monsters. Irrefutable and irresistible wonder and terror have led, in the life sciences, to a compulsion to cure or redeem through fetishization, making sacred or simply sympathetic. The effect that monstrosity has upon the “nonmonstrous” is an inherently ambiguous one, just as monsters themselves are defined, most basically, as ambiguities. The hybrid and the ambiguous hold fascination for the “nonmonster”...