- Introduction:Monster Studies
There are lines which are monsters … A line by itself has no meaning; a second one is necessary to give expression to meaning. Important law.—Eugène Delacroix (The Journal of Eugéne Delacroix, 199)
the typography (and grammato logy) of the monstrous "Monsters," Jeffrey Jerome Cohen argues in his introduction to Monster Theory: Reading Culture (1996), "always return" (20). Among other creatures, Cohen focuses on two (re)visitants that span the Middle Ages to the present day: from the giant ogre of Mont Saint Michel that King Arthur slays to the xenomorphs of Ridley Scott's Alien film franchise. King Arthur, Cohen contends, is doomed to (re)slay the ogre with each interlinked retelling of his legend: in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain) (1136), in the poet Wace's verse history of England Roman de Brut (1155), which draws heavily on Monmouth, in Layamon's Brut (The Chronicle of Britain) (1185–1216), which, as it draws on Wace, also echoes Beowulf's fight with Grendel, and in Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (1485), to offer only four reslayings and re-tellings.1 Moreover, the gene that characterizes monsters' recursiveness as a popular cryptozoological species in history, literature, and mythology sees the ogre routinely appearing prior to and after these medieval (re)incarnations. Similarly, in the Aliens trilogy (1979–1992), Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) battles the xenomorph queen and her ever-expanding brood, an acid-blooded, parasitic species that spawns prolifically. In true monster fashion, in which monsters be-monster more of their kind, the monster-verse of seemingly unkillable aliens has produced more progeny since the 1996 publication of Cohen's Monster Theory: a fourth film appeared in 1997, and Scott has more recently released two prequels (Prometheus in 2012 and Alien: Covenant in 2017). Additionally, this monstership of movies propagates an ever-expanding fleet of comics, novels, role-playing games, and video games. The trilogy becomes a tetralogy, then monstriferously voluminous.
The articles in this special issue on "monster studies" have more concrete origins and fewer and decidedly less frightening incarnations than the Mont Saint Michel ogre and the Alien xenomorphs, but they nonetheless have gone through several transformations – all of which speak [End Page 1] to the field of "monster studies." The field, in brief, explores monsters and monstrosity from an array of methodological and theoretical perspectives across the humanities and sciences.
In September 2016, I began a research project in English literature with Shalini Nanayakkara and Yashvi Khatri that was an expeditionary exercise to explore the centre and the circumference of monster studies. We were going to write a proposal for an undergraduate teaching anthology that I was tentatively titling Monster Studies: Literature, Culture and Theory of the Monstrous. I began the project with Northrop Frye's 1957 essay "Preface to an Uncollected Anthology" of Canadian literature in mind. As he envisions the preface for a future anthology, Frye explores the scope and process of representing the history as well as the diversity of genres and themes in Canadian literature. His anthology project is freighted with – even haunted by – the wider issues of the institutionalization of literary studies, canonization, and periodization that attend anthologization. Our project was more far-reaching than Frye's: we would write a preface as part of a book proposal for a reader of monster literature, theory, and culture. Our proposal would include a preface, table of contents, and other documents that, I hoped, would let us identify the preliminary pedagogical and research terrains that would have to be traversed to corral, collect, and anthologize monsters. At the time, I imagined the anthology itself as spectral, a textual being that may never come into existence, but I believed that writing a proposal for a ghost book would instructively inform my research and teaching interests in monster studies.
Shalini, Yashvi, and I began to compile a bestiary – a list of monster and creature types – as we read through books, essays, and articles across the historiography of monster studies. Monster studies is a relatively new phrase for an old academic field...