One thing I love about studying monsters is that stories have quite literally always contained them. There is arguably something universal, or near-universal, about imagining these unique, often antagonistic beings and situating them among their non-monstrous counterparts. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, is the first story we know of that was written down instead of transmitted orally. Etched first in a language called Akkadian (and then in other languages), on stones that have become faded and smooth so that some parts of the story are now indecipherable, the tale of Gilgamesh (technically a poem) tells us about a warrior, Gilgamesh, and the difficulty he experiences when losing his friend Enkidu and facing the reality of his own mortality – a difficulty that at some point in our lives, we’ve probably all been able to understand. After all, the thought of dying is scary.
On Gilgamesh’s initial journey with his bestie, Enkidu, one of his goals is to slay the forest monster Humbaba – a task that is framed in different lights, depending on which version of the story you read. I find it fascinating that both the monster and the monster hunter exist in the world’s earliest written story, and this complicated binary persists through the ages, up to both early and contemporary horror films. It is interesting, I think, to consider what we can learn from monsters, monster hunters, and the relationship between the two beings. Various monster theorists take up the subject of the monster and the monster hunter, but the topic is not central to most Monster Theory. To be honest, it’s not a relationship that’s proven central to my work so far – part of the reason why I want to give it some attention tonight. I argue in this piece that the role between the monster and the monster hunter is rarely simple, and that we have much to learn from their relationship, and how it transforms through space and time.
I didn’t grow up fat.
I was a hefty baby—a 9-pounder, to be precise—and at different points in
my childhood, a chubbier, sometimes stockier kid, but never fat, per se, and for the first half of
my 20’s, I was 5’3” and 125 lbs, give or take – a frame that we offhandedly
consider average in our society, but that is actually well below the average female
frame. And while I’ve heard that it’s
fairly “normal” to be a size 16-18, four years after gaining most of my weight,
my emergence into a larger body is still a sometimes strange, uncomfortable, jarring
experience, and I’ve only recently started to identify as “fat.” Once I realized that I officially qualified
(it’s kind of like realizing you’re an alcoholic, which I discovered so many years
ago—suddenly, you just know), I wasn’t too
hesitant to call myself what I felt I was, on twitter, and now on my blog. It can be intimidating to try to appropriate,
to try to re-claim a term that’s been used for years to oppress larger women and
shame overweight people, but it’s also liberating to say “this is me—not the
whole of who I am, but part of how I identify, nevertheless.”
There are probably a lot of reasons why Wicked was my favorite book to read with my students during my Reading the Monster course. This assertion may be surprising, on the one
hand, because Wicked doesn’t fall
under the traditional “horror” umbrella like many other texts on the syllabus. And, as is obvious from reading this blog,
I’m an avid fan and proponent of what might be called, more specifically,
“art-horror”—the creation of fictional horrific events, morphed into cinematic
and literary experiences. Conversely,
there’s so much imagination, and so much problematization (a la fiction) packed
into Wicked, that Gregory Maguire’s book
provides plenty of fodder for speculation, discussion, and debate, even as it
delights, challenges, and entertains—all on a fairly consistent basis. What’s
more—and this may be a far from ancillary point—I taught Wicked after my dreaded comprehensive examination was (more or
less) over, so I had more time to put toward lesson planning and making the
text particularly engaging to students.
The emerging result, for me, was a stronger interest in a text that I
already enjoyed, but that I didn’t fully appreciate until reading a second time.
W. Scott Poole quotes Judith Halberstam, who calls the monster a “meaning machine.” This observation seems to suggest that the monster is always overdetermined – that the monstrous body in a particular work can mean a variety of things in any given time and place. Poole agrees with Halberstam when he argues: “The subject of monsters contains too much meaning” and goes on to observe that “the very messiness of the monster makes it a perfect entry into understanding the messiness of American history” (xv). In Monster Theory, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen lays out the seven theses of the monster, and his first theses is that “the monster body is a cultural body” (4). Cohen also believes that we can read the monster, but the monster’s meaning always has a basis in the culture that surrounds it. While Poole asserts that monsters are indisputably real—created by material circumstances and producing material consequences – Calafell, who bases her readings heavily on Poole and Cohen, find the monster a useful metaphor for describing problematic identity relations in the United States; she seems to embrace both a metaphorical reading of the monster and the contention that monsters can be very real, at times.
Anthony Perkins is Norman Bates. Point blank. There are no two ways about it. Except, of course, when he isn’t Norman Bates. And what an unusual experience it is to envision someone else fulfilling the role, especially since it’s been years since I’ve seen the Gus Van Sant remake. The beauty of the comprehensive exam is that I can select the books I put on my lists (based on a unifying theme), and I was really excited to add Robert Bloch’s Psycho. Of course, I’ve seen the original movie many-a times, but I’ve never read the text, and like any horror fan, I was immediately interested in how the novel would compare with the film. I decided, then, to do what I did with The Shining. In “Let’s Not Overlook Anything” I blogged about the Shining in small increments and spent a considerable amount of blog space discussing one or two scenes. I decided I would do the same with the text Psycho – blog a little bit about each section as I read it. So this is my “insanely long series,” my observations about Bloch’s Psycho. And my first observation is that Bloch’s Norman Bates is fascinating.
I read Stephen King’s Misery earlier this summer for my comprehensive exams. Then, I let the book rest for a while and didn’t do much with it. It juxtaposes fascinatingly with the film, which depicts an Annie Wilkes who’s incredibly true to King’s story, courtesy of the monumentally talented Kathy Bates. And, like the film, it explores concepts like female madness, and madness depicted as monstrosity, but in more depth than the film does. Wilkes is at least a somewhat complex character who King—and his protagonist, Paul Sheldon—come close to virtually humanizing at times, despite her atrocious actions. But the fact remains: Annie Wilkes is a madwoman, and she’s depicted as a monstrous madwoman. I thought I’d use this post to look at more of Annie’s personality, and what the madwoman—and the monster woman—is, if we take Annie as an example of both. So, let’s do this. Continue reading “Objects of Abjection: The Mad Monster in Stephen King’s Misery”→
On the rare occasion that I write about a novel – especially a classic novel – on this horror site, I balk at the prospect. Reviewing a movie – even analyzing some of its salient components – is fairly easy, but how does one “review” a classic work of literature? To what extent am I just writing a paper? Who am I to say whether Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a great piece of literature? Haven’t preceding generations already decided that? And what in God’s name am I going to say about this novel that is original? Such hesitant speculation deterred me from writing for about a day after I finished the text, but since I haven’t written for my beloved website for over a month, and since I just read frickin’ Frankenstein, it was hard to justify my lassitude on a permanent basis.
When I read the first Chapter of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein today (which was a delightful experience filled with melody and profound thought) it occurred to me, yet again, that I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula earlier this summer and never wrote about it. Sigh. Such negligence seems remiss for a horror blogger, I told myself. This is especially true because I don’t write about many classic horror novels. As a self-professed lover of literature (or, a so-called lit nerd), many of the novels I commit myself to aren’t horror novels (because one must engage in some soul-warming optimism to counter the darkness), so I focus on scary short-stories (and of course, movies) for this blog. And to me, there is much merit in this approach; it is, after all, easier to critique – or analyze, or review – a short story than it is to do the same with a thick, 300-some page novel. (As such, I have immense respect for book bloggers who manage to eloquently sum up hefty volumes in elegant, relatively concise blog posts.) But because I don’t read many horror novels, when I finish a classic novel in the horror pantheon, I have to carpe diem and write about it. So I’ve decided to write about my experience reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and compare it to some cinematic adaptations spawned by the work. Continue reading “Taking a Bite Out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula”→
So I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ll admit: I downloaded an old computer game I used to play in high school, and I’m hooked all over again. This is my plug for RollerCoaster Park Tycoon: Once you start building virtual amusement parks, you’ll never stop. But I did read Hell House, by Richard Matheson, while I was on my blogging hiatus. Perhaps I seek to get in touch with my youth; I also flew through Hell House in high school and was mesmerized. I’ll admit, this time around, the story was less captivating. Maybe I’m old and jaded. But, the book is still a pretty good scare. As I sat alone downstairs at night reading it, I looked around anxiously lest any insidious spirits eye me up and prepare to pounce. As far as haunted house stories are concerned, Hell House provides an intricate plot with intense action and characters who are relatable, although some are more likable than others. Continue reading “Will Hell House Scare the Hell Out of You?”→
The local cinema was showing a Turner Classic Movie Dracula double feature: Tod Browning’s 1931, black and white version of Dracula, and the 1931 Spanish version of Dracula. Of course there was no question; I was going to attend the event. I’ll be honest: I brought my trusty notepad with me, and I tried to scribble some comments in the pitch black theater while I was watching Bella Lugosi prey on the necks of fair young maidens. Now I love a good black and white movie, if done well. The 1963 version of The Haunting is one of my favorite horror movies, and I’ve been dying to see The Innocents. But I’m hesitant to say that I’m a huge Dracula fan. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy seeing Bella Lugosi arch his eyebrows – but something about the film seemed incomplete. The script was catchy, with quotable lines, but Browning’s film lacked the character development I find central to a truly well-made film.