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Cover of Monster Theory
November 1996
University of Minnesota Press

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Monster Theory

Reading Culture
Edited by: 
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

Monsters provide a key to understanding the culture that spawned them. So argues the essays in this wide-ranging collection that asks the question, what happens when critical theorists take the study of monsters seriously as a means of examining our culture? In viewing the monstrous body as metaphor for the cultural body, the contributors consider beasts, demons, freaks and fiends as symbolic expressions of very real fears and desires, signs of cultural unease that pervade society and shape its collective behaviour.

Through a sampling of monsters as a conceptual category, these essays argue that our fascination for the monstrous testifies to our continued desire to explore the difference, prohibition and the everchanging "borders of possibility". Topics treated include the connection between Beowulf, Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll's Hyde; the fascination with Chang and Eng, the "Siamese twins" in 1830s America, and what it has to say about anxieties regarding the recently "united" states; the idea of monstrosity in Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles"; the use of monstrosity in medieval anti-Muslim polemics; and an exploration of the creation myth embedded in "Jurassic Park."


Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is professor of English and dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.