chapter  1
37 Pages

Monsters as We Know Them: A History of Named Monsters

Over the course of written history, it has been demonstrated that that which is deemed ‘monstrous’ is fundamentally ‘other’. Human identity was, and still is, formed through an important relationship with the notion of Otherness manifested in the idea of the monster. The monster, in terms of cultural representation, regularly traverses border-scapes of subjectivity in cultures that at times recognise, and at others, reject, essential diff erence. In modern history, the cultural values of particular societies were consistently defi ned in relation to the tenets of the monstrous. Those who transgressed the limits of the acceptable were repositioned within the framework of the ‘abnormal’ and subsequently identifi ed as monsters. From witch trials in the fi fteenth and sixteenth centuries to twentieth century tabloid headlines featuring criminals and terrorists as monsters, the monster has been repeatedly imagined in opposition to the ‘human’. This process of othering that has so long been a part of our conceptualisation of the monster, blocks our most basic cognitive strategies for understanding diff erence. Where another’s actions are inconceivable from a subjective point of view, we remove them from notions of ‘human’ experience. Thus, many human fi gures, historically, and in contemporary society, are viewed as having ‘abdicated their humanity’ by choosing to partake in transgressive behaviours (Asma 2009: 8). Invariably, this has been seen to reveal that every human has the potential to become a monster. Read another way: we all have a monster within.