2015-2016: Monsters and Monstrosity
The word ‘monster’ derives from the Latin monstrum, meaning “something marvelous;” and ultimately from the verb monere, “to show and to warn.” In coordination with the multi-year celebration of the bicentennial of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the IHR fellows program for the 2015-2016 academic year will investigate what the eruption or suppression of the monstrous shows us about ourselves and our possibilities as humans, and what the warnings, disruptions, and abjections of the monstrous show us about our restless cultural imaginary.
The concept of monstrosity should be understood here as widely as possible—as a metaphor for the anxiety that accompanies category crisis, for the longing for purity and the fear of hybridity, for the traumas of corporeality in relation to the intellect, or for the attempt to come to terms with alterity and ontological detritus or to define evil in a secular age. If monsters are the mirror of ourselves—a frightful potentiality or an enlightening insight into what we might be or become— then this annual theme seeks to explore the nature of subjectivity gone awry.
We invite humanities scholars from various disciplines at ASU to apply for the IHR fellowship to conduct research projects from multiple disciplinary and transdisciplinary perspectives that illuminate and enrich our understanding of how monstrosity, abjection, and the ugly inform the practices of culture, history, and memory. Projects might explore whether monstrosity is marginal to normativity or constitutes its secret; they might look at whether monsters are a form of anti-hero, a model for the strong or weak subjectivities of the age, a metaphor for forces we cannot control, or a safely fanciful object for the cathexis of the collective id, ego, or supergo. They might also theorize monsters as representations in art, literature or other cultural products, and they may or may not respond to recent theoretical work analyzing the phenomenon of monstrosity.
Related questions might include:
• What is the social meaning of the aesthetics of the monstrous or abject?
• What are the limits of Enlightenment philosophy (or the philosophical heritage of another age) and how do they relate to or circumscribe boundaries of human possibility?
• How do literature, culture, and myth negotiate the parameters of acceptable and unacceptable alterity through the monstrous?
• What kinds of subjectivities—weak, strong, obsessed or detached—make monsters possible?
• How are monsters heroes and how are they villains?
• How does the idea of the irrational monster relate to the theory of a rational society?
• How does engagement with the transhuman or parahuman define the human?
• In what ways do dominant narratives of progress foster their own disruptive (or monstrous) visions?
• How do the aesthetics of the grotesque—the imagination of Golums, Pantagruels, Draculas, Shreks, Grovers or Chewbaccas—reveal a utopian as well as dystopian imagery?
• What are the predictive possibilities of monsters and monstrosity? How have the monsters of the past become the norms of the present?
• How is the monstrous or the ugly a form of play, and how is it a form of warning?