On Monsters : An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-10-14
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
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Monsters. Real or imagined, literal or metaphorical, they have exerted a dread fascination on the human mind for many centuries. They attract and repel us, intrigue and terrify us, and in the process reveal something deeply important about the darker recesses of our collective psyche. Stephen Asma's On Monsters is a wide-ranging cultural and conceptual history of monsters--how they have evolved over time, what functions they have served for us, and what shapes they are likely to take in the future. Asma begins with a letter from Alexander the Great in 326 B.C detailing an encounter in India with an "enormous beast--larger than an elephantthree ominous horns on its forehead." From there the monsters come fast and furious--Behemoth and Leviathan, Gog and Magog, the leopard-bear-lion beast of Revelation, Satan and his demons, Grendel and Frankenstein, circus freaks and headless children, right up to the serial killers and terrorists of today and the post-human cyborgs of tomorrow. Monsters embody our deepest anxieties and vulnerabilities, Asma argues, but they also symbolize the mysterious and incoherent territory just beyond the safe enclosures of rational thought. Exploring philosophical treatises, theological tracts, newspapers, pamphlets, films, scientific notebooks, and novels, Asma unpacks traditional monster stories for the clues they offer about the inner logic of an era's fears and fascinations. In doing so, he illuminates the many ways monsters have become repositories for those human qualities that must be repudiated, externalized, and defeated. Asma suggests that how we handle monsters reflects how we handle uncertainty, ambiguity, insecurity. And in a world that is daily becoming less secure and more ambiguous, he shows how we might learn to better live with monsters--and thereby avoid becoming one.

Author Biography

Stephen T. Asma is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago, where he holds the title of Distinguished Scholar. Asma is the author of many books, including Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums (OUP, 2001), and The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha. He lives in Chicago.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introduction: Extraordinary Beingsp. 1
Repulsion and Attraction
The Literal and the Symbolic
Ancient Monsters
Alexander Fights Monsters in Indiap. 19
Monsters Are NatureĂs Playthingsp. 26
Monstrous Bones
Natural History and Credulity
Monstrous Races
Hermaphrodites and Man-headed Oxenp. 39
In-between Beings
Reason and Superstition
AristotleĂs Monsters
Phantom Images
Monstrous Desirep. 51
PlatoĂs Monster
Monstrous Mother
Part 2
p. 63
GodĂs Lackeys
The Apocalypse
Do Monsters Have Souls?p. 74
Monsters and a Creator God
Baptizing the Monstrous Races
The Descent of Monsters
Alexanders Gates
The Monster Killerp. 94
˘I Have Known Much Peril÷
TolkienĂs Tragic Beowulf
Possessing Demons and Witchesp. 103
St. Anthony Fights the Demons
The Witch Hunter Illusion or Reality?
Monstrous Desires Revisited
Driving Out the Demons
Scientific Monsters: The Book of Nature Is Riddled with Types
Natural History, Freaks, and Nondescriptsp. 123
The Hydra
Eradicating the Fantastic
Responding to the Marvelous
A Mischievous Taxidermist
The Medicalization of Monstersp. 141
Monstrous Births
Pregnant Women Should Not Look upon Monsters
Monsters and the Mechanization of Nature
John HunterĂs Monsters
Geoffroy Saint-HilaireĂs Teratology
William Lawrence and the Headless Children
DarwinĂs Mutantsp. 163
Monsters and Transmutation
No Monstrous Jumps in Nature
Mutationism and Hopeful Monsters
Alberch, Gould, and the Return of the Monsters
Inner Monsters: The Psychological Aspects
The Art of Human Vulnerability: Angst and Horrorp. 183Fear and
Angst and Fear
Torture Porn
Creeping Flesh
Criminal Monsters: Psychopathology, Aggression, and the Malignant Heartp. 203
Monsters in the Headlines
Leopold and Loeb
Rage and Aggression
Monstrous Desire Revisited
Cold Detachment The Causes of Psychopathology
Judging and managing the Monsters
Monsters Today and Tomorrow
Torturers, Terrorists, and Zombies: The Products of Monstrous Societiesp. 231
Xenophobia and Race
Theoretical Xenophobia
Instinctual Xenophobia
Monstrous Civilizations
Pathological Societies
Monsters from the Oppressed Classes
Monsters of Ideology
Deconstructing Monsters
Future Monsters: Robots, Mutants, and Posthuman Cyborgsp. 255
Mutants and Robots
Disembodied Minds Playing God: Biotechnology
Are Monsters in the Eye of the Beholder?
Epiloguep. 278
Notesp. 285
Indexp. 333
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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