Green Ink: Monster Plants in Sinophone Fiction

By Astrid Møller-Olsen

A monster plant is a sinister thing, it thwarts knowledge and reverses the rules – you don’t eat it, it eats you; despite its roots, it moves about. A monster plant is monstrous because it behaves like a human; in it, we see the worst sides of ourselves: our greed, lust, violence. Or so it used to be…

But in our age of human-made climate change and environmental unpredictability, the so-called Anthropocene, plants have morphed from the radical (pun intended) ‘Other’ who can destroy us, to the one who might save us. Significant botanical others are not confined to the pages of Nature writing – vegetal characters are not only a subject for science fiction but walk abroad in a variety of literary contexts.

What can we learn from these unruly creatures? Can being curios about what it means to be a plant help us understand what being human might come to mean in the future? (Already there is an imbalance in this question – estimates calculate that this planet is home to nearly 400.000 plant species – clearly, being a plant is a lot of things).

Can thinking and writing with the green ink of botanical organisms help us reimagine the individual in an entangled world where no one is an island, where every body crawling on the ripples of the planet is itself a landscape for other, smaller beings? What can plants tell us about the ways in which we know –the shape and the form of knowledge? Might writing in green ink change the meaning of that writing all together?

Image: “Hong Kong”, Astrid Møller-Olsen. An image of a tree planted in a blue pot with the roots bursting out of the pot.

In my project “Green Ink,” I am inspired by the monster as a figure that devours the organised realm of definable concepts and boundaries and excretes a fragmented, yet strangely interlinked, world view. I combine theories of the monstrous with critical plants studies’ insistence on the vegetal perspective in an impossible, but productive, attempt to bypass the patterns of prejudice inherent in the human mind.

I examine human-vegetal interactions and interrelationships, dissect plant-like humans and humanoid plants, as well as explore the completely new fictional species that populate contemporary Sinophone writing. Such monsters are rooted in both local and global traditions, they participate in a variety of discourses from genre fiction to ecocriticism, and they disrupt and outgrow every tradition, discourse, and genre they inhabit.

In the study of literature, plants have traditionally been categorised as either poetic metaphors or providers of exotic or romantic backdrops for narrative action. Although this strictly aesthetic perspective may have been adequate in the past, the contemporary global changes to the environment  –and the consequent renewed literary interest in botanical and natural structure and modes of being- –demand a more nuanced and theoretically informed approach. Fortunately, such work is emerging from a variety of different disciplinary perspectives such as critical plant studies, monster theory, feminist posthumanism, and science fiction studies.

In 2013, a group of American literary scholars published the pioneering anthology Literary Plant Studies introducing Rodopi’s Critical Plant Studies Series, the aim of which was to “initiate an interdisciplinary dialogue, whereby philosophy and literature would learn from each other to think about, imagine, and describe, vegetal life with critical awareness, conceptual rigor, and ethical sensitivity” (Marder). The volume, edited by Randy Laist, first cast the green light on plant characters and plant narrators in (primarily Anglophone) literature from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park over Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony to Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. In 2017, The Language of Plants edited by Monica Gagliano, John C. Ryan and Patrícia Vieira further explored “a biocentric form of literary criticism” that would “seriously regard the lives of plants in relation to humankind in terms that would look beyond the purely symbolic or ‘correlative’ dimension of the vegetal” (xii) from an interdisciplinary angle, and in 2020 Natania Meeker and Antónia Szabari published their joint monograph Radical Botany, adding a Franco-American perspective to the discussion.

Parallel with these endeavours in botanical literary criticism and philosophy, the study of botanical monsters in horror fiction constitutes another important strand in the project of critical engagement with literary plants. In this growing subfield, researchers find that horror plants naturally tick many of the monstrous boxes described by Jeffrey J. Cohen in his influential text “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” from 1996. Horror plants seek Frankensteinian revenge for the ill we have done their home planet, they portray deviant sexualities, indulging in excessive auto- or multi-partner reproduction, and they inhabit the limits of knowing as their way of perceiving the world will always illude us despite the best efforts of critical plants studies.

Monster plants fracture the logic of human mastery over nature and expose the Anthropocene as an “epistemological crime-scene stained with erasures of plant consciousness” (Bishop 2018, 7). By blending vegetal, human, and animal characteristics, they force us to abandon the hierarchy of the Great Chain of Being that situates plants at the bottom of a ladder that rises through various “lesser” animals to human beings at the top (Miller 2012, 466). As a subgenre, plant horror “marks humans’ dread of the ‘wildness’ of vegetal nature – its untameability, its pointless excess, its uncontrollable growth,” and function as an unwelcome memento mori reminding us that “while humans may occasionally become food for predatory animals, we all, whether buried in the ground or scattered on the earth, become sustenance for plants” (Keetley 2016, 1).

Inspired and informed by this corpus of literary plant research, my project looks at vegetal-anthropomorph characters that have come out of the closet of horror as a genre and as a type. Such characters can still usefully be approaches as monsters because, even without the horror, they retain an ability to complicate preconceptions and probe what it means to be human, to be plant, or just to be. Some of my monsters are still vengeful, on behalf of the planet or against the imperialism of taxonomy. Some are benevolent, seeking to reintegrate humankind into the natural world we believe to have abandoned. Some are just beings, going about their business, nurturing plants, and falling in love with humans, or the other way round.

Image: “Hong Kong”, Astrid Møller-Olsen. The image depicts a huge plant growing on/in the wall of a building, with huge roots stretching down the stairs below the building.

Bio

Astrid Møller-Olsen is international postdoctoral research fellow at Lund University (Sweden) posted at University of Stavanger (Norway) and the University of Oxford (UK), in a position funded by the Swedish Research Council. She has a background in both comparative literature and Chinese studies and has published on fictional dictionaries, urban forms of narrative memory, and sensory approaches to the study of literature. Her current research is a cross-generic study of plant-human relationships in contemporary Sinophone literature from science fiction to surrealism.

https://www.sol.lu.se/en/person/AstridMollerOlsen

https://xiaoshuo.blog/

Check out also her podcast series on Sinophone fiction.

Works cited

Bishop, Katherine E. (2018). “’When ‘tis Night, Death is Green’: Vegetal Time in Nineteenth-Century Econoir.” Green Letters 22, no. 1: 7-19. DOI: 10.1080/14688417.2017.1413990

Cohen, Jeffrey J. (1996). “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Gagliano, Monica; John C. Ryan; Patrícia Vieira (2017). “Introduction.” The Language of Plants: Science, Philosophy, Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Laist, Randy (2013). “Introduction.” Plants and Literature: Essays in Critical Plant Studies. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Marder, Michael (n/d). “Critical Plant Studies.” Brill.com, https://brill.com/view/serial/CPST. Accessed 9 Aug. 2019.

Meeker, Natania and Antónia Szabari (2020). Radical Botany: Plants and Speculative Fiction. New York: Fordham University Press.

Miller, T.S. (2012). “Lives of the Monster Plants: The Revenge of the Vegetable in the Age of Animal Studies.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 23, no.3: 460–479.

Keetley, Dawn (2016). “Introduction: Six Theses on Plant Horror; or, Why Are Plants Horrifying?” Plant Horror: Approaches to the Monstrous Vegetal in Fiction and Film, edited by Dawn Keetley and Angela Tenga. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

In Defence of the Thing with the Aviator Sunglasses

E-mail correspondence between Erika Kvistad and Line Henriksen after the recording of the Monster Talks podcast episode Digital Horror.

March 2021.

Image description: Drops of blood made from red cardboard and attached to red string strewn across tin foil.

Line

Hi Erika!

So in our Monster Talks podcast episode on digital horror stories we talked a bit about what we ended up calling ‘the Thing with the aviator sunglasses’: the creature that haunts the narrator of the untitled Jezebel story by Melwithoudiner5. We were a little tough on the Thing – perhaps too tough? As part of the podcast episode, I narrated and recorded the story and came to a newfound appreciation for the Thing as it disrupts the narrator’s everyday, domestic life, demanding to know if the man of the house is home, because it has prepared something (what???) for him (to eat???). We later learn that the narrator’s boyfriend and the neighbour, Jim – a former police officer – keep information about the Thing secret from the narrator and conspire to find ways to keep it out of the house without the narrator knowing. Could the Thing with the aviator sunglasses be extending an invitation more than a threat – or an invitation in the threat – with the question: “Is Scott home?”

Erika

Hi Line! Yes, it’s definitely one of those stories where it’s not just the anomalous Thing, but the situation surrounding it that’s weird. In some ways the storyteller is setting up a classic Gothic scenario: the heroine is in new domestic surroundings that she’s not quite settled in yet, there’s an unclear and mysterious threat involving her boyfriend, and, most importantly, a secret is being kept from her. Jim’s injunction not to talk about it again is interesting – it obviously suggests that the Thing might gain power from being seen or thought about or talked about, a little like in Algernon Blackwood’s Weird horror story “The Willows”, where the only way to escape these beings is not to think about them. But of course it’s also a not-uncommon communal response to trauma, that you just don’t talk about it.

When the narrator tells Jenny about the incident, she immediately gives the phone to Jim, even though, as we later find out, the original incident happened to Jenny – “late one night when they’d just had their first child”. So in both cases the men take responsibility for interpreting it/defending the house from it/closing down discussion of it, but the Thing apparently shows up only to women, and apparently women in some kind of liminal state – with a new home or a new child. And it seems to want to do *something* to the men. Although I can’t imagine what’s actually on that foil-covered plate.

Continue reading “In Defence of the Thing with the Aviator Sunglasses”

She-Monsters of the Anthropocene!

Celina Stifjell

Image credit: Boris Kasimov. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Find the image here.

Image description: Underwater sculptures at Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park. The sculptures are shaped like humans standing in a circle, facing outwards, and holding hands. The sculptures have the same greenish hue as the water they are immersed in, and they are covered by what looks like alga.

Monster studies and the blue humanities share a common interest in examining the ontologies and ethics that determine encounters between human and more-than-human forms of life. Where monster studies seek to challenge the structures of sameness and difference that determine categories such as the “human” or “nonhuman,” the blue humanities searches for more fluid metaphors to reconcile historical and materialist perspectives and to describe encounters where human bodies and “bodies of water” flow into each other (Neimanis 2017).

In this meeting place between more-than-human bodies, where anthropocentric perspectives fall short, we find many maps and myths depicting the ocean as monstrous, ranging from Olaus Magnus’ fantastic Carta Marina to Homer’s descriptions of Scylla and Charybdis in the Odyssey. Here, I believe we can also find good metaphors to explore both the transformative capacities of water and the ambiguous bodily boundaries that make up the monstrous. Yet so far, I have seen few attempts to bring these two fields together.  

In my own blue humanities PhD project, I therefore seek to explore sea monsters as figurations for unstable Anthropocene oceans. Specifically, I am looking into speculative feminist narratives featuring humans who become one with the water, who eschew bodily integrity and normative notions of futurity in order to merge with the oceanic environment and transform into something more than human. Inspired by Melody Jue’s latest book, I believe that these stories about adaptation and transformation might help estrange us from anthropocentric ways of looking at the world by offering a new “amphibious perspective” on our ever-changing environment (2020). 

I first started thinking about the transformative and strange-making capacities of water after watching a screening of Trondheim-based Sámi artist Sissel M. Bergh’s short film #tjaetise (water) during my first month as a PhD student. Part of the series knowhowknow, this visual poem explores modern and traditional ways of knowing the sea through contrasting film clips—trawler nets, drones, brittle stars, walks on the beach—overlaid with an unearthly soundscape. Toward the end, it shows a woman dressed as the coastal goddess Gorrijh Gujne as she walks out into the sea, the camera fixed on her staring (then bulging) eyes as she plunges into the water and slowly transforms into a fish. 

I find similar scenes in speculative narratives about women and the sea across different media and genres. There is Joan Slonczewski’s ecofeminist utopian novel A Door into Ocean, with its oceanic planet and symbiont Sharers; and Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film The Shape of Water, with its fish-monster romance and reverse fairy-tale transformation. There is Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, a novel that imagines shape-shifting coral-like aliens and a marine biologist who turns into a mermaid; and there is a host of other Afrofuturist texts, from the electronica-mythology of Drexciya to Rivers Solomon’s novella The Deep, that imagine underwater societies formed by the water-breathing descendants of enslaved African women. 

I follow Elizabeth DeLoughrey in referring to these diverse narratives as “submersion stories” (2015). According to DeLoughrey, submersion stories are oceanic narratives about interspecies encounter and transformation that offer a hopeful alternative to apocalyptic imaginaries of the world’s oceanic future. The term originally comes from her reading of New Zealand writer Keri Hulme’s short-story and poetry collection Stonefish—an indigenous reflection on the ordinariness of sea level rise and multispecies kinship—but it seems to fit perfectly as a heading for my odd corpus of feminist, queer, and monstrous texts 

One of the things I like most about these texts is the alternative they offer to long histories within science fiction media of imagining the ocean as an alien realm beyond human history and concern (Alaimo 2014)—from Stanislaw Lem’s inscrutable sentient ocean in Solaris, to H.P. Lovecraft’s xenophobic sea-dwelling nightmare in “The Call of Cthulhu.” I also like that submersion stories’ emphasis on women’s perspectives shifts the focus away from the masculinist narratives that have tended to dominate literary and filmic representations of the sea, from heroic figures like Odysseus or Robinson Crusoe to modern explorers like Jacques Cousteau or James Cameron—all of them participating in a “poetics of adventure” as old as the Western literary tradition itself (Cohen 2010). 

By contrast, women tend to be the ones left behind on shore. Otherwise, they are the monsters lurking in the deep, dark waters below the ship, from abovementioned Scylla and Charybdis and the Sirens that precede them, to Grendel’s mother and (the perhaps less threatening) Melusine. Just like the supposed non-normativity of women’s bodies has led to comparisons with the monstrous (Shildrick 2001), their apparent fluidity and unruliness has caused comparisons to the dangers and unknowability of the sea.  

In submersion stories, this comparison is not contested but rather compounded with indigenous and posthuman critiques that point to the fault lines of human narratives and ideals. It is important that the protagonists here are not conquering heroes and explorers aboard ships, but rather female sea monsters who refuse the call to sacrifice in order to become “part of your world”—as the song goes in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Instead of becoming human, they choose to cross borders and become portentous monsters, signalling futures of transgressive femininity, playful queerness, and more-than-human worldmaking.  

In troubled times, I think the world needs more of these lively and sometimes messy metaphors and stories for learning to swim against (or maybe with) the tides. For Donna Haraway, whose work is thought alongside jellyfish and other Chthulucene monsters, telling new stories adapted to change is a way of “staying with the trouble” of multispecies entanglements and futures (2016). This phrase, almost a slogan for monster studies and the environmental humanities, has already been invoked several times on this blog. I choose to repeat it here to emphasise its value as a rallying point for different fields interested in more-than-human worlds. As I continue to work on my dissertation, mixing metaphors and methodologies, I can only hope to find more stories about adapting to submersion and more studies that recognise the promises of sea monsters.  

Bio 

Celina Stifjell is a PhD student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, where she is part of the HAVANSVAR blue humanities initiative and the Environmental Humanities research group. Her in-progress dissertation is due autumn 2022 (but she keeps getting distracted by theoretical tangents).  

Works Cited 

Alaimo, Stacy (2014). “Feminist Science Studies: Aesthetics and Entanglement in the Deep Sea” in G. Gerrard ed. Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 

Cohen, Margaret (2010). The Novel and the Sea. Princeton: Princeton University Press.  

DeLoughrey, Elizabeth (2015). “Ordinary Futures: Interspecies Worldings in the Anthropocene” in E. DeLoughrey, J. Didur and A. Carrigan, eds. Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities. New York and Abingdon: Routledge. 

Haraway, Donna (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham & London: Duke University Press.   

Neimanis, Astrida (2017). Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic. 

Shildrick, Margrit (2001). Embodying the Monster: Encounters with the Vulnerable Self. London: SAGE. 

Writing With

By Aino-Kaisa Koistinen and Line Henriksen

This blog-post is a companion text to the podcast episode Writing With.

Ethos Lab 1
Image description: Table filled with paper, writing utensils and mugs. You can see the hands of the people sitting around the table, holding pens and papers. Photo by Marie Blønd for ETHOS Lab.

Aino-Kaisa:

In academic writing, citations are the obvious sign of who you are thinking with and thus also writing with. Yet, there are always influences and companions in writing and thinking (and feeling) that remain uncited due to the limitations of the academic format. This is why we wanted to make a podcast about our writing companions; the ones we write with that remain uncited, but are maybe heard between the lines (a cat, a ghost, the ghost of the cats of the past)? 

Writing is about making worlds, and it is therefore important to consider, who inhabits those worlds. Who are invited as companions in those worlds? If I write about writing with a cat, who am I writing it for? What is the use of my writing for the cat? As I explain in the podcast, I have recently been living, writing and thinking with a cat, which has raised some pressing questions about what I have come to call cat-writing, inspired by Haraways (2003, 3) “dog writing”. Can words ever describe the attempt to live ethically with a cat – and not just any cat, a particular cat that I live with, Sotku – and the problematics of having to sacrifice others for her to survive? 

Yet, as a human being, I express myself with writing, reaching out to the world with words. The writing must continue, then, as cat-writing; with the cat, about cats, about writing with cats. Even though the cat herself always escapes, always refuses to settle into words. 

As the Monster Network, we have also written texts together. In this process of co-writing, different writing companions – such as disciplinary and theoretical backgrounds, bodily/material realities and life histories – are brought together, even though we all spring from more or less similar interests and indebtedness to, for example, feminist/queer/postcolonial/more-than-human theories. This multiplicity of writing – how one’s “own voice” is always more than one – is what evokes the monstrous in writing. 

Different methods and methodologies can also be used to perhaps tease out the monster, to craft the Frankensteinian creature into existence.

Line:

There is, indeed, a lot of debt in writing (as with all things). The writing ‘I’ owes a debt to past generations who created and sustained (though altered through repetition) the language used to express oneself in, as well as to future generations, who may or may not read the text. As Derrida suggests in Specters of Marx, one must learn to live in the company of such ghosts, as well as acknowledge this debt to the past and to the future as they haunt the present. In this sense, the writing ‘I’ speaks in multiple voices, is being spoken by the ghosts who came before and who come after. 

While preparing the workshop ‘Writing Monsters’, Katrine Meldgaard Kjær and I discussed the figure of the exorcist – to the point of writing ‘exorcises’ rather than ‘exercises’ in our blogpost for this website. The exorcist, not least within popular culture, serves as a figure that gets rid of ghosts and demons, rids not least the female subject of multiple voices, makes sure she no longer speaks in tongues, in languages she has no right to know. There’s a violence in the exorcism, which is excused on the grounds of the humanist understanding of the subject as necessarily singular, as speaking in only one true voice. Katrine and I came up with the figure of the ‘intrasist’ as someone doing the opposite of the exorcist: an intrasist does not get rid of creatures that haunt the speaking, writing subject, but summons them, makes them appear not in order to be exorcised, but to be acknowledge, lived with, as a means of paying back our debt to them (this can never be fully done). A monster writing method may, then, be imagined as a summoning, an intrasism, a thinking with the other voices, not least those that contradict what we thought we wanted to say, or that speaks in tongues impossible to interpret, or that screams till our throats hurt, because what they want to say, what they want to speak through and with their host, is beyond any language, any known means of expression, still to come. 

Aino-Kaisa: 

The idea of intrasism is really intriguing, and I think that the practice of cat-writing can also be seen as a form of intrasism. Living with a companion animal, a carnivore, summons up the complex histories and possible futures between humans and their companion animals – as well as the messy entanglements of love and violence that these relationships entail also in the present. In this sense, cat-writing is what Donna Haraway (2016) might call “staying with the trouble” in the present. Perhaps, monstrous writing is also something that, as a process, asks us to be mindful of the troubles that occur in the present, at the present moment of the writing? 

Line:

I definitely think that monster writing can be understood as the ethical urgency of ‘staying with the trouble’, that is, staying with troubling, haunting voices rather than exorcising them. I also like the idea of cat-writing as intrasism; the voices we speak or attempt to speak are not necessarily human, and our writing companions may be teaching us how to challenge the borders and boundaries between the human and the nonhuman as we write. That would, perhaps, be the cat as intrasist. 

Sotku (28.10.2020, revising a document): 1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq1qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq

“Sotku working as a writing companion.” In the image, there is a laptop with a bright screen in the background and, in the foreground, a cat’s head that blocks the keyboards and some of the screen. Image: Aino-Kaisa Koistinen.

Readings:
Haraway, Donna J. (2003), The Companion Species Manifesto. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.


Haraway, Donna J. (2016), Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

Spider Conversations I (or: TERRIFYING SCARY CREATURES WILL ATTACK YOU!!!!)

By Ingvil Hellstrand, Donna McCormack and Line Henriksen

In 2013, a conversation about spiders and monstering helped spawn the start of The Monster Network. As part of our unruly origin story, we revisit our thinking and conversation after the Somatechnics Conference – Missing Links (2013) in this blog post. This was an event where Line, along with other organisers, brought together a panel that consisted of herself, Ingvil and Donna. We didn’t quite realise that this was the start of the Monster Network; we couldn’t predict the future, and the future was unpredictable, but this thread was the start of a dialogue that would grow beyond anything we initially thought about spiders.

Image description: small spider suspended against the backdrop of a window with blue sky outside and a bit of a curtain to the left. Photo by Line Henriksen. Made part of the conversation 26 August 2013

Ingvil, 25 June 2013 

A little story first: in the evening of the day we had our panel, I went to the bathroom in Wärdshuset Gamla Linköping (where the conference dinner was being held), and as I sat there a little spider came creeping up very close to my left foot. I was startled, and, not being particularly afraid of spiders, felt that it came a bit too close. And I remember thinking “please don’t let it crawl into my bag!”. However, the spider, having become aware of me at the same time as I became aware of it, stopped dead in its tracks. And I thought, “well, now, who’s monstering whom?”  

I liked the way our monsters came together at the same time as our presentations brought to the fore something about the monster not being just “monster”, as if there is something in the figuration of the monster that needs re-addressing. As in monster theory in general, the monster-figuration is useful for talking about difference and recognition. The ethical aspects of understanding the monster as something in proximity to ourselves is a very interesting discussion, partly because it requires a kind of self-reflexivity, but also because (and this is what I found so intriguing in our conversation), the monster itself is not a fixed or static thing. All of us ascribed agency and potential to “our” monsters; they were not just the symbolic Other that signifies what is not normal or normative, but they were agents in their own existence. Both Donna and I talked about how the non-human monsters take pride in being precisely that; not human. There is a double-bind here somewhere: that the monster, having gotten rid of its monstrosity and become more able to “pass” as human makes it simultaneously more eerie/uncanny and domesticated. The hopeful monsters in pop-culture contribute to make the monster into a subject, more than object (Heroes, Twilight, X-men, Battlestar Galactica) because we can recognise them as contemporary political (and perhaps ethical?) agents. At the same time, the unknowable monster, the impossible monster (smile dog) perpetuates the idea of the monstrous as something that cannot be grasped (neither bodily or as idea). The monster is somehow caught in between a kind of domestication in popular culture and a (conventional?) unknowability of the monster. How do you recognise the monster? And how does it recognise you?  

Continue reading “Spider Conversations I (or: TERRIFYING SCARY CREATURES WILL ATTACK YOU!!!!)”