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Monstrosity: The Human Monster in Visual Culture

Monstrosity: The Human Monster in Visual Culture
Alexa Wright

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From the 'Monster of Ravenna' to the 'Elephant Man', Myra Hindley and Ted Bundy, the visualization of 'real', human monsters has always played a part in how society sees itself. But what is the function of a monster? Why do we need to embody and represent what is monstrous? This book investigates the appearance of the human monster in Western culture, both historically and in our contemporary society. It argues that images of real (rather than fictional) human monsters help us both to identify and to interrogate what constitutes normality; we construct what is acceptable in humanity by depicting what is not quite acceptable. By exploring theories and examples of abnormality, freakishness, madness, otherness and identification, Alexa Wright demonstrates how monstrosity and the monster are social and cultural constructs. However, it soon becomes clear that the social function of the monster - however altered a form it takes - remains constant; it is societal self-defense allowing us to keep perceived monstrosity at a distance.Through engaging with the work of Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva and Canguilhem (to name but a few) Wright scrutinizes and critiques the history of a mode of thinking. She reassesses and explodes conventional concepts of identity, obscuring the boundaries between what is 'normal' and what is not.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 | Monstrous Strangers at the Edge of the World: The Monstrous Races
Chapter 2 | Beyond the Boundaries of Society: Wild People and Feral Children
Chapter 3 | Bodies and the Order of Society: The Greek Ideal, the Monster of Ravenna and Physiognomy
Chapter 4 | Monsters in Proximity: Freaks and the Spectacle of Abnormal
Chapter 5 | A Monstrous Subject: Representations of Joseph Merrick, the ‘Elephant Man’
Chapter 6 | Monstrous Images of Evil: Picturing Jack the Ripper and Myra Hindley
Chapter 7 | Modern Monsters and the Image of Normality: Ted Bundy and Anders Breivik

Author Info

Alexa Wright is Reader in Visual Culture at the University of Westminster. She is also a practicing artist who works with video, sound and interactive digital media


'Alexa Wright offers an intriguing meditation on the survival of some classical rhetorics of monstrousness in medieval and especially modern visual cultures. Well illustrated and lively, this book will appeal to anyone intrigued by the history of monsters.'
Jeffrey J. Cohen, Professor of English, George Washington University

'Alexa Wright’s thought-provoking new book takes the study of human monstrosity from its earliest manifestation in Pliny’s Monstrous Races right up to an analysis of contemporary mass murderers. Using a plethora of illustrations, Wright investigates Foucault’s contention that the human monster has vanished from view to be replaced by monstrous character and behaviour to show how iconography still remains crucial to our ability to place and contain those who deeply disturb us. The great strength of Monstrosity lies in the author’s deft handling of complex and scholarly images and analysis alongside the expression of her own fascination and puzzlement. The questions 'What is truly human?' and even 'Who am I?' are never far from the surface.'
Margrit Shildrick, Professor of Gender and Knowledge Production, Linköping University, and author of Embodying the Monster

'With Monstrosity, Alexa Wright offers a provocative and fresh understanding of the monster, the cultural figure that has haunted the human imagination from antiquity to the present. Human monsters, Wright demonstrates, are the unusual and unexpected beings which are on the very edges of the human and onto which we have projected and continue to project our own meanings, fears and fantasies. Alexa Wright’s unique contribution to the recent conversation about human monsters comes from her perspective as a photographer. Approaching the human monster from the visual perspective as she does allows Wright to consider the complicated human dilemma about knowing what we see and seeing what we know.'
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Professor of Women’s Studies, Emory University


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Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd.

ISBN: 9781780763361
Publication Date: 29 May 2013
Number of Pages: 256
Height: 216
Width: 134
Illustrations: 40 integrated bw

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