Monsters: interdisciplinary explorations in monstrosity

Erle, Sibylle and Hendry, Helen (2020). Monsters: interdisciplinary explorations in monstrosity. Palgrave Communications, 6, article no. 53.



There is a continued fascination with all things monster. This is partly due to the popular reception of Mary Shelley’s Monster, termed a “new species” by its overreaching but admiringly determined maker Victor Frankenstein in the eponymous novel first published in 1818. The enduring impact of Shelley’s novel, which spans a plethora of subjects and genres in imagery and themes, raises questions of origin and identity, death, birth and family relationships as well as the contradictory qualities of the monster. Monsters serve as metaphors for anxieties of aberration and innovation. Stephen Asma (2009) notes that monsters represent evil or moral transgression and each epoch, to speak with Michel Foucault, evidences a “particular type of monster” (2003, 66). Academic debates tend to explore how social and cultural threats come to be embodied in the figure of a monster and their actions literalize our deepest fears. Monsters in contemporary culture, however, have become are more humane than ever before. Monsters are strong, resilient, creative and sly creatures. Through their playful and invigorating energy they can be seen to disrupt and unsettle. They still cater to the appetite for horror, but they also encourage us to feel empathy. The encounter with a monster can enable us to stop, wonder and change our attitudes towards technology and our body and each other. This commentary article considers the use of the concepts of ‘monsters’ or ‘monstrosity’ in literature, contemporary research, culture and teaching contexts at the intersection of the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

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