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Introduction:  monstrous irruptions

cultural geographies
18(4) 431­–433
© The Author(s) 2011
Reprints and permission:sagepub.
DOI: 10.1177/1474474011414619

Deborah P. Dixon
Aberystwyth University, UK

Susan M. Ruddick
University of Toronto, Canada

As Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park note in Wonders and the Order of Nature (1998), their
book was very nearly the only historical treatment of monsters to appear in 50 years, a testament to the manner in which progressive accounts of science had consigned such creatures to the
periphery as mere fiction or superstition. In counterpoint, and in fascinating detail, they scour
diverse archives to recover sudden irruptions of the marvelous. Daston and Park present a preEnlightenment Europe wherein the monster enacted a kind of closure, sealing the ruptures of
social discontent. Demanding interpretation, it was an extrinsic sign that served to confirm and
preserve the existing social order, its precise meaning always tailored to prevailing, local circumstances. As such, these were inherently political as well as scholarly creatures. Beyond this
invitation to legibility, however, their singular character evoked a powerful, visceral response:
‘As portents signifying divine wrath and imminent catastrophe, monsters evoked horror: they
were contra naturam, violations of both the natural and moral orders. As marvels they elicited
wondering pleasure: they were praeter naturam, rare, but not menacing, reflecting an aesthetic of
variety and ingenuity.’1
The famous monster of medieval Ravenna, for instance, served to seal off the points of rupture
and discontinuity posed to the doctrine of the divine right of Kings when Louis XII and Pope Julius
both lay claim to rule over the Italian principality of Ravenna.2 The victory of Louis over Julius,
after a series of protracted skirmishes between1494 and 1559, was sealed by a portent from God,
the birth of a severely deformed child. It would seem surprising today that a child (who likely survived only a few hours after birth) would become so notorious. But the child’s deformed body
became text, a potent symbol warning of the threat that the nascent Italian city-states posed to the
rest of Europe. Her/his lack of arms came to signify a lack of generosity of the Italians, her/his
wings a sign of fickleness, her/his hermaphrodite sexuality indications of lust and bestiality; the
deformed claw like foot a grasping greedy nature; the misplaced eye a love of material things; and
the horn an overwhelming hubris. At a time and place when the divine right of kings was the hegemonic explanation for the organization of rule over states and principalities, this child’s body

Corresponding author:
Deborah P. Dixon, Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth SY23 3DB, Wales, UK

Downloaded from at UNIV FED DO RIO DE JANEIRO on April 16, 2016

in that this semiotically-laden term emerged as the necessary ‘constitutive outside’ of a western.432 cultural geographies 18(4) became a kind of bridging device. the hybrid and the ambiguous. there are ‘monsters’ that continue to perform a unifying function. not of maintenance. a thing ‘with paws’7 that invites the destabilization of prior discourses. brutal.6 It is. the monstrous can be considered a relatively recent phenomena. the monster at UNIV FED DO RIO DE JANEIRO on April 16.5 There is a latent modernism in this monster – but one perhaps that does not heed the warnings of Mary Shelley’s (1818) Frankenstein. so to speak. but also the wonder and horror it evokes work to reveal the insatiability of ever more quotidian forms of social order.’4 Crucially. The monster that patrols the boundaries of unstable discourses is still very much alive. these monstrous engagements do not enact the closure that was performed by their medieval counterparts. Or. but that God had favored one king over another. It appears within Karl Marx’s vampiric capitalism and Walter Benjamin’s angelic host. A modernist desire to categorize ideas. Far from disappearing with the onset of the Enlightenment. Gallacher and Cloke. or at the very least that has taken center stage. We have the ‘promising monsters of symbiogenisis’8 of Donna Haraway. such wonders became subject to systematic. it is not localizable in the form of a specific being. as numerous historians have since pointed out. for example. the spontaneous. These monsters portend instability and change: but. modern science. buttressing thought against the unstable conditions that emerge at their edges. cabinets of curiosity become natural history exhibits. and the emergent discipline of teratology.sagepub. patrolling the horizons of particular discourses.3 Indeed. we are witness to increasing inquiry into the manner in which modernity makes. We have come to rely on the monstrous to undertake a different kind of labor. maintaining divinity firmly at the center of understanding. it is the monstrous that has emerged in its place. then. But. The Modern Prometheus. Jacques Derrida’s monstrous arrivant and Michel Foucault’s abnormal. identified ‘mutants’ as a crucial means of analysing the natural order of living organisms. Iraq and North Korea. As Foucault observes. there is no longer the fear that something is awry with the natural order of things. a warning about the limits and product of human imagination and scientific hubris gone awry. a monstrous thing. in other words. now more often relegated to the realm of entertainment. a sign and a ‘proof’ that victory was not simply attributable to better military power. Our longing for monstrous irruptions takes a hopeful form. but rather a hope for a shift in our moral order whatever the outcome may be. and subsequently lives with. for Deleuze. The monster becomes emblematic of that which exists outside of the norm. If we look to the following articles by Dixon. But as the monster has been increasingly suppressed as a serious object of encounter. wherein a purified form of truth-finding developed at the expense of non-materialist understandings of the world. ‘What defines the monster is the fact that its existence and form is not only a violation of the laws of society but also a violation of the laws of nature . and the Derridean monster who properly defies domestication. from the Greek teras. when looking to the ensemble of knowledges and practices making up Enlightenment science. namely religion and the occult. practices and things has proceeded through the simultaneous rejection of the anomalous. 2016 . . . Certainly. the monstrous continues to haunt critical social theory as well as the popular imagination. meaning monster. but upheaval. the sense of one worldview being replaced by another with the emergence of rationalism and empiricism begins to fracture and fissure. in the maintenance of contemporary hegemonic fictions in such constructs as the ‘axis of evil’ mythologized under the Bush regime as the presumed confluence of interests between Iran. species and ecosystems. but an affective Downloaded from cgj. and within Gilles Deleuze’s conglomerates as well as Slavoj Žižek’s all-consuming Law. the monstrous inhabits a wide-ranging territory. With the Enlightenment. its own monsters. scientific inquiry: menageries become zoological specimens. but consequently natural form of the unnatural. a kind of renewal.

4 M. NY: Cornell University Press. Richards. Grossberg.L. 1997. pp. The operative constructs remain the same – the monstrous invokes feelings of horror or awe. Daston and K. fusion or fission. and C. Eighteenth-Century Life. Donoghue. Abnormal. 15 April 1980. Eighteenth-Century Life. 295–337. Endeavour.B. pp. De Costa. <www. pp. 2002). ‘The Blade and the Claw: Science.A. A. Notes 1 From L. Yoder and P. Landes. expresses excess and lack. Park. 34–9. P. and D. E. ‘New Territories: Architecture and the Hopeful Monster’. D. 2004). Hopeful and Otherwise: Teratogeny. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Treichler (eds) Cultural Studies (New York: at UNIV FED DO RIO DE JANEIRO on April 16. p. 9(6). 2004). 1992). 2003).> 8 D. 2 See L. Transcendentalism.P. P. pp. ‘Monsters and the Problem of Naturalism in French Thought’. this issue). Social and Cultural Geography. Dixon. in P. 1999). 23–47. p. ‘A Political Anatomy of Monsters. ‘The Understanding of Monsters at the Royal Society in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century’. Wonders and the Order of Nature 1150–1750 (New York: Zone Books. 1998). Indeed. the world is replete with monstrous irruptions: an exhaled breath. Smith. 1–15. E.P. Knoppers and J. for example. 411–25.webdeleuze. 34(4). in L. These sites range from the incommensurable fusions of text and pictoral image (Speigelman’s Maus or Arakawa’s FullMetal Alchemy).F. Deleuze. C. 55–6. And. 377–411. 2008. 3 See. 21(2). ‘Leibniz’. Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press. but located none-the-less. 7 G. Dixon. 85(3). Haraway. for example. Isis. 322. 24(1). Monstrous Bodies: Political Monstrosities in Early Modern Europe (Ithaca. 21(2). Kors. 5 See. Aesthetics and the More-thanHuman’. pp. ‘The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others’. Lectures at the College de France (New York: Picador. 2000. Foucault. The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (New York: Harvest Books.C. and in the monstrous geographies of homelessness that are byproduct of institutional rationality – a monstrosity involving real malum and bonum that expresses the ‘spiritual interiority of evil at the institutional level’ (Cloke. 209. 57–68. the edges of a comic book. S. Nelson. Downloaded from cgj. and A. in the gap between the supposed spirit-possession of Derek Acorah (now infamous star of Most Haunted) and the corresponding screams of his co-star. it is perhaps not coincidental that it is geographers who have become sensitized to the site-specific nature of these encounters – not localizable as objects. Art and the Lab-Borne Monster’. 2009. 6 For example. Kreuter (eds) Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil (Oxford: Inter-disciplinary Press. Clark.sagepub. pp. ‘Creating the Semi-Living: On Politics. 1994. ‘The Faces of Eighteenth-Century Monstrosity’. Curran and P.433 Dixon and Ruddick condition – a condition which expresses the wonder or horror of a different kind of encounter emerging from multiple sites of engagement. 2016 . 1997. pp. the socalled detritus of an institutional practice. 601–11. Cours Vincennes. pp. pp. and Evolutionary Theorizing’.