Research Reboot: Academic Writing Month (take 2)

Good Morning–and welcome to day 7 of Academic Writing Month (and National Novel Writing Month). Tomorrow, the Fiction Reboot will return with an interview of Diana Pharaoh Francis, writer of Fantasy Adventure–but for today, I give you the fruits of yesterday’s #AcWriMo: Introducing the Edited Collection.

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Birthing the Monster of Tomorrow owes its conception to a unique collaboration. We, the editors, come from two different fields—or, more correctly, from four, as we each teach and research at the intersection of disciplines. Andrea Wood, a film and media studies scholar, also works with queer theory and women’s and gender studies. I am a medical humanist scholar of the eighteenth century, whose work explores both medical history and literary fiction. Though both housed in an English department, neither of us expected to have much in common. What could work on Gothic fiction, neurology and reproductive technology communicate to the study of horror films, zombies and the queering of romance? The now-obvious connections revealed themselves slowly at first, but we were both investigating elements of reproduction broadly conceived—the ways in which cultural and physical replication could inspire both hope and fear.

This collaboration began as a conference panel, delivered at Monsters and the Monstrous in Oxford, UK. From here, we sent out a CFP, entertained a very enthusiastic response, and collected 16 quite brilliant papers. And that, friends, is quite a few. Unique in its breadth, this collection has more to offer than a single disciplinary study could provide. Over the last few days, I have been drafting the introduction (which will be thoroughly reworked and expanded by Dr. Wood, whose stylistics, clearsighted focus and attention to detail are second to none.) In the spirit of #AcWriMo, I will put a snippet of this work below–five more pages should see my contribution completed, two more days should finish the entire manuscript for delivery to the reviewing publisher.

Happy writing!

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Introduction:

There are several things that cause monsters.

The first is the Glory of God.

The second, his wrath.[1]

–Ambroise Paré, On Monsters and Marvels [1573]

Monsters […] are not meaningless but meaning-laden; the monstrous is constitutive, producing the contours of both bodies that matter […] and, ostensibly, bodies that do not.

— Bettina Bildhauer and Robert Mills, The Monstrous Middle Ages

 

Monsters continue to fascinate us—as well as to plague and haunt our imaginations. The psychic landscape is peopled with them; the social fabric is woven of them. This persistent, paradoxical repulsion and fascination with monsters and the monstrous begins, however, with causation. From the work of sixteenth-century surgeon Ambroise Paré (whose own collection gathered case histories from earlier centuries yet), we have been concerned above all with monstrous origins. From whence do monsters come? What is their genesis—and more importantly—their reproductive potential? With the “birth” of the monster comes a particular anxiety about its self-replication, generally through perceived “unnatural” means. The link between the monstrous and fears of reproduction are present from early modern narratives through nineteenth-century fears of degeneration, and into our contemporary fascination with apocalyptic zombie films, epidemics, trans-species generation and colonization. While the incarnation of the monster manifests through different vehicles across these periods, it is clear that, regardless of its form, anxiety is rooted in concerns over its fecundity—its ability to infect, to absorb, to replicate. Recognizing with Bettina Bildhauer and Robert Mills of The Monstrous Middle Ages that “Monsters […] are not meaningless but meaning-laden” this present project seeks to explore the ways in which monstrosity speaks about “bodies that matter” (2). However, the aim of this collection is to focus specifically on the body’s reproductive potential and upon the threat and hope of futurity such monstrous reproduction represents. While interest in monsters and the monstrous is not new in scholarly discourse, studies on monstrous reproduction have tended to be either discipline or period specific, and many are now dated. Interdisciplinary in scope and inclusive of multiple historical and cultural contexts, this book includes articles from the perspective of film and media studies, literary studies, history, medicine and women’s and gender studies. Our project seeks to build upon pre-existing work while engaging more directly with the reproduction of the “monstrous,” as well as with monstrous reproduction(s), which threaten to eclipse the future, cast uncertainty on the present, and re-imagine the past.


[1] From the French: Les causes des monstres sont plusieurs. La première est la gloire de Dieu. La seconde, son ire. Paré, Ambroise. Des monstres et prodiges. Ed. Ceàrd, Jean. Genva: Librairie Droz, 1971.

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