Communication and Construction of Monstrous Embodiment
June 15-16, 2012

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Conjoined Twins in the News

This post isn't strictly tied to the theme of sensualising deformity, but given the extraordinary nature of the case and the time of year I felt that it warranted sharing. A pair of conjoined twins of the most rare degree, dicephalic parapagus, where two fully formed heads share a single body, including internal organs, have been born in Brazil.

The amazing thing about this is the fact that both the babies and the mother are alive and, we can assume, healthy. Obviously whether their condition will impact on their development remains to be seen, but at the moment it is simply wonderful that these two boys have survived to term and have been born without any apparent complications.

Perhaps the more disturbing note here is the article's insistent emphasis on separation, which has arisen in spite of the fact that doctors admit it to be impossible; separation in this instance would be "removal", selection one of the children to deliberately kill. That the conversation is taking place despite both twins exhibiting normal brain function and with no visible threat posed by one twin to the health and survival of the other is somewhat unsettling to say the least, but not surprising. To what degree does the assumption that separation is a given play in to legitimate medical concerns, and to what degree does it reflect the same anxieties of human form and human subjectivity which have always plagued conjoined twins?

Today, however, with the twins born only a few days before Christmas and Hanukkah, and right in the midst of the winter holiday season, we'd just like to wish them, and you, all our best. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

“Just a wooden stake”: (de)sensualising Dracula

Hopefully, you are already enjoying your holidays and long winter nights with a good book or an interesting piece of writing. For those of you passionate about vampires and Gothic literature, take a look at Elizabeth Miller's intriguing article Coitus Interruptus: Sex, Bram Stoker and 'Dracula' which dissects Stoker's timeless classic by reflecting on numerous interpretations and critical works which highlight the novel's overwhelming sexuality. Introducing the article, Miller writes that readers of 'Dracula' have been repeatedly assured that the novel is "all about sex" where "every sexual practice has been thrust upon its pages" like necrophilia, fellatio, homoeroticism, bestiality, incest, pedophilia, sexually transmitted diseases and others. Miller argues that:
Words have been twisted to yield new meanings, passages have been examined out of context, and gaps in the text have been declared intentional omissions. Furthermore, critics comb every aspect of Stoker’s life looking for evidence for their particular brand of psychosexual analysis, sometimes even inventing “facts” to support flimsy theories. The preponderance of such readings of Dracula demands re-assessment.
Basically, Miller invites readers to imagine 'Dracula' where a 'wooden stake is just a wooden stake' and 'blood is merely blood'. While Miller does not deny the existence of eroticism and sensuality in the novel, she argues that certain readings' insistence on certain sexual contexts may lead to "reductive textual nit-picking" and could be a consequence of projecting modern sensibilities and discourses of sexuality onto a Victorian text (for example, numerous readings of the scene of Lucy's staking which most popularly refer to phallic symbols, sexual violation and many others). Taking Miller's article and other readings into account, it seems that the extent of sexual contexts, practices and overtones present in 'Dracula' remain shrouded in speculation and mystery. Finally, Miller tellingly concludes the article:
But in the flush of excitement to validate the novel, to give it relevance in a postmodern world, one can too easily fall victim to distortion or even the creation of information to support a theory. That is where, in the view of this writer, we should pull back. For sometimes a wooden stake is just that—a wooden stake.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Holiday Blog Break in December

We're not sure about you but we are certainly shocked to find that November is almost over already! Due to the usual winter holiday madness, we're sorry to say that we won't be able to maintain our usual blog post schedule. There will therefore be fewer posts throughout December and early January, especially around Christmas/New Years Eve. Hopefully you won't really notice because you will all be too busy having a wonderful holiday season yourselves!

However, by mid-January we will be back to our three-posts-a-week(ish) schedule, and I'm sure we will have many new articles, films, and online finds to share. Just don't forget about us completely - if we find anything fantastic or have any exciting news over the holidays we'll be sure to pull ourselves away from the mulled wine long enough to keep you in the loop!

Just a reminder that the deadline for paper abstracts is 31 January 2012, and that we will continue to reply to all submissions and queries (though you might see a slower response time). Once the deadline has passed and we have put together a schedule, we can look at posting specific information about fees, registration, travel, accommodation, and the like. So keep watching this space!

Once again, we are so grateful to have received such a wonderful reception of our conference, and such fantastic support all around! Thank you all for your interest and your kind words. Although it's still well in advance we'd like to wish you all a fantastic (and fantastically grotesque) holiday season and a wonderful new year!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Sensuality as Disability - Victorians and Precocious Puberty

Since this week (22 November to be precise) marked the start of Disability History Month here in the UK, we thought that it was a  good time to draw your attention to a special issue of Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies from 2008, which explores the subject of "Critical Transformations: Disability and the Body in Nineteenth-Century Britain". Best of all, the issue, guest edited by Mark Mossman and Martha Stoddard-Holmes, is available free online in full.

Pieter Paaw, "Skeleton and Skull of a
Child." (1633), © University of Toronto
Library, 2003 
The journal offers a number of interesting articles exploring the intersection of gender and disability, such as Joyce L. Huff's "The Domesticated Monster: Freakishness and Disability in Fitz-James O'Brien's 'What Was It?'". Yet what is perhaps most interesting within the context of this conference (and this blog) is the inclusion of M. Jeanne Peterson's "Precocious Puberty and the Victorian Medical Gaze".

Peterson's article considers the responses on the part of Victorian medical reports to cases of precocious puberty and the way that they were tied to anxieties surrounding conceptions of gender, bodily normalcy, even the state of childhood itself. In so doing, she demonstrates, to quote Mossman and Stoddard-Holmes's introduction to the issue, "the fecundity of visual and structural disruptions of “normal” masculinity and femininity for narratives of pathology and normalcy." The introduction goes on to note that the article
"work[s] on the continuum on which the normal and the extraordinary both reside, noting the various points (and convergences) of discomfort, apprehension, attraction, and wonder these “extraordinary cases” produce"
In consciously choosing to place early-onset puberty within the discourse of disability, Peterson acknowledges that her decision may raise some questions, given that,
"precocious puberty would seem more a case of early ability rather than disability. But early puberty can also be understood as deviance, as straying from norms of bodily development. In the phenomena of early puberty doctors found amazement, desire, and dread."
In Peterson's study, then, the precocious development of physical markers of puberty, those undeniable indicators of the body's eroticism, its sensuality, become in and of themselves an illustration of disability. This definition of the preciously pubescent body would seem to bind Victorian constructions of disability, of exceptional bodies, to the sensual body in a way which is often overlooked. Sensuality here stands at the very core of disability, in stark contrast to a traditional conception in which the senses,  if not deliberately removed, are at the very least forgotten.

Monday, 21 November 2011

XXY: Meditating Beauty

We already posted on the upcoming Biomedical Ethics Film Festival taking place in Edinburgh from the 25th to 27th of November (this weekend!), which will feature numerous films exploring the topics of medical ethics and alternative bodies.

In today's blog post, we would like to recommend a fascinating film which deals the human body, rights of an individual and the oppressive medical gaze: the 2007 Argentinean film XXY written and directed by Lucia Puenzo. This coming of age drama about Alex, a 15 year old intersex teenager, is a deeply moving and atmospheric tale focusing primarily on love, family and acceptance. The film is also a meditation on beauty, as the story is permeated by images of the seaside, various sea animals, and human bodies, creating a stunning natural visual mosaic. The film has received widespread critical acclaim and won a series of awards. In the words of one film critic, Emanuel Levy, the film reportedly broke a cultural silence or taboo surrounding intersex, but did not “unfold as a medical or clinical case, or even documentary based on facts or medical realism.” Instead, the film offers an emotional and penetrating exploration of teenagers' lives, their parents, nature, a small community and ultimately - humanity.

Click here to view the trailer for this enchanting story.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Examining Connections: Postcolonialism and Disability Studies

Bringing a critical disability studies perspective into postcolonial literature presents a particular critical challenge since postcolonial and disability Studies frequently differ, intersect and/or overlap. Mark Sherry's intriguing article (Post)colonising Disability examines this complex intersection, by questioning categories of disability, postcolonial subjects, concepts like hybridity, ambivalence, exile, diaspora and others - within disability studies. The paper argues, in Sherry's words, ''that researchers need to be far more thoughtful and careful in theorizing of this relationship. Postcolonialism should not be understood as simply a metaphor for the experience of disability; nor should the terms “colonialism” or “disability” be rhetorically employed as a symbol of the oppression involved in a completely different experience.''

After discussing the definitions of postcolonialism and disability, Sherry examines the extensive metaphorical connections present in both discourses by closely looking at specific scholarly works and their connotations and finally offers more productive approaches to these issues, to increase awareness of using complex metaphors and thus avoid conflating certain concepts.
Sherry concludes that disability studies "need to examine the subtle forms of resistance that can be theorized in more complex ways than a simple model of unilateral oppression would suggest'' and postcolonial literature needs to focus more on issues of embodiment, creating a "more theoretically rigorous approach to both the study of postcolonialism and disability."

The recommended article is free access; however, if you have problems opening it, feel free to contact us, we love hearing from you as well as share! The same goes for any of our recommended readings!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A Monster Observatory

One of our keynotes, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, shared this fantastic link with us via his Twitter account, and we wanted to pass it along to our readers as well (share and share alike - it's a good motto).

With a name like A Monster Observatory and a tagline that runs "Cultural Teratology: Freaks, Monsters, the Grotesque", it should be pretty clear why we've taken an interest in this blog. However, if you needed convincing, we would refer you to the most recent post as of today, "Thinking About Monster Theory (Seven Theses)" - ten points if you can guess what it is about.

The site is managed by Dr Ian McCormick, and so far features a wealth of posts on mangled torsos, disability and the fourth plinth, and conjoined twins amongst other topics - in other words, every fascinating aspect of monstrosity, disability, and the grotesque body. If you're reading this blog, then A Monster Observatory probably deserves a spot on your bookmarks toolbar.

We'd also like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that we do acknowledge all inquiries and submissions, so if you have sent in a proposal or a question and haven't heard back, do get in touch. Likewise if you think there's something that our blog readers might find interesting or useful - articles, books (ideally available online), art or museum exhibitions, other blogs, even other conferences. You can send it our way via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter (all information on the sidebar to your right). Pick your poison - we'd love to hear from you on any platform!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Monstrous Mothers in Old English Literature

If you are passionate about Old and Middle English Literature and monstrosity, take a look at Dana Oswald's illuminating article Unnatural Women, Invisible Mothers: Monstrous Female Bodies in 'Wonders of the East', reflecting on the Anglo Saxon mother as an 'object of shameful excess' which 'exceeds the understanding of literate monks and noblemen' and is rarely featured in Old English literature. More specifically, the article addresses mothers in Wonders of the East, an Old English prose piece written around AD 1000, which either remains invisible or function as gender hybrids, challenging 'the integrity of the sexed and gendered body and also reconfigure the very nature of reproduction and maternity.' Wonders of the East is a text populated with monsters, especially those posessing human and animal characteristics like fauns, sirens and hippocentaurs - still considered as human, 'visibly monstrous through lack, excess or hibridity.'
Oswald writes on monstrous mothers:

Their monstrosity relies upon their sex and gender status, and therefore, by definition, men cannot be part of their communities. Although motherhood is suggested and then occluded frequently in this text when we are told monsters are born in the East, such is not the case for the two female monsters in 'Wonders'. Rather, I argue that their specific kinds of monstrosity rely on their possession of bodies that are both masculine and feminine, and indeed, on the very dangers such hybrid bodies suggest. Although the text does not say so explicitly, it subtly suggests that, because there are no male members in these exclusively female communities, perhaps what is most monstrous about these women is that to become mothers, they do not require men.

Dana Oswald is also author of Monsters, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval English Literature, where she reflects on monstrosity and Wonders of the East, Beowulf, Mandeville's Travels, Morte Arthure, Sir Gowther and many others.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Code of the Freaks: forthcoming feature-length documentary

We were quite interested to hear about the upcoming film, Code of the Freaks. The feature-length documentary being developed by a group of film-makers based in Chigago aims to explore the depiction and construction of disability in Hollywood movies. Their website sets out the film as "an irreverent project" seeking to "stimulate critical discussion among diverse movie lovers. Tracing themes of representation from the 1920's to the present, we examine how movie images shape the public's understanding of disabled people":
Production still from Code of Freaks
"Audiences have internalized these coded images. Their narratives are ultimately projected onto disabled people in everyday life. It’s hard to find a disabled person who doesn’t have an absurdly ridiculous story about experiences with total strangers while simply walking down the street. These experiences to a great extent mirror what the public learns about disability through movies.
Our goal is to produce a feature-length documentary that will deconstruct, lampoon, and critique uses of the disabled character in film... Our process involves conducting these discussions with diverse disabled and non-disabled audiences to learn just how images of disability shape the social consciousness of disability."
The project also involves several events, public discussions organised around themes illustrated by Hollywood film montages cut with critical questions. Each month, the project's blog will feature a clip about a selection of films, and a trailer is already available online.

The film will no doubt offer a fascinating exploration into the larger cultural representation of disability as well as the Hollywood depictions, and hopefully will raise some discussion about the mutual influence that the two have on historical and contemporary constructions of disabled bodies. We would be especially interested to consider what role the sensualisation/eroticisation of extraordinary bodies might play in these filmed representations, if at all, and its significance.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Curious Pursuits Exhibition, Manchester

For the Victorianists amongst you, we would like to direct attention to a new Art Historian collective based in Manchester, Porter & Jenkinson. Their mission statement should prove intriguing not just to scholars focusing on the nineteenth century, but also artists, art historians, and those interested in the medical humanities:
Vegetable Lamb from The Museum of Garden History, London
"Art Historian collective Porter & Jenkinson aim to showcase the best contemporary art of a curious and unusual nature. Through exploring the dark, strange and depraved themes of the Victorian era they curate exhibitions of works that respond directly to these ideas. They intend to bring to the foreground these forgotten aesthetics and to explore the responses and reactions in contemporary society."
Porter & Jenkinson's first exhibition, Curious Pursuits, will be taking place from the 2-29th February 2012 at the Portico Library in Manchester, and they are still accepting submissions until 31 December if you happen to be of artistic skill. If you are not so lucky, it should still prove a fascinating exhibition, well worth a trip to Manchester if you're not based in the area.

If Manchester seems a bit far to go, then their website - while still relatively new - is already exhibiting some interesting content, and we look forward to seeing what other finds they will post next.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Male Monsters and Phallic Panic

What is the role of monsters in contemporary culture and cinema? How do we connect them to current issues of sexuality (sensuality) and gender?
Barbara Creed explores these issues in Phallic Panic: Film, Horror and the Primal Uncanny (2005) through figures like Frankenstein, Jack the Ripper, Freddy Krueger, the Fly, Dracula and others, using Freud's notion of the 'uncanny' and focusing on sources of horror like the woman, death and the animal.
Panizza Allmark reflects on the idea of phallic panic in her illuminating review of the work:
The uncanny male monster arouses dread and horror and unsettles the symbolic order. Thus he disturbs identity, disintegrates meaning and is a point of resistance and rebellion. This is what Creed terms as 'phallic panic'. It is generated from an uncanny form of anxiety about the disruption of the phallocentric symbolic order in which the monster is constructed by and within. Hence, significantly, Creed highlights that the male monster sometimes registers a cry not of the victim but of the monster itself. It is a cry that alludes to the fragile concepts of masculinity. Significantly, it is a cry that resonates a phallic panic.
This fragility of masculinity and its constructions is reflected in the work's questioning of phallic power ans shown in horror films. Annelike Smellik examines these issues in her Senses of Cinema review of the work:

Through a type of analysis that is typical of early 1990s film theory, Creed advances her main argument that the horror film questions phallic power by undermining the notion of a coherent, stable, and civilised masculinity. By collapsing boundaries between inside and outside, man and woman, man and animal, life and death, the horror film points to the possible collapse of patriarchal civilisation or, at least, to the desire for such a collapse. The horror film thus foregrounds the knowledge that civilisation is a myth. This raises an uncanny form of anxiety that she terms “phallic panic”. For Creed, the horror film discloses a fundamental anxiety about phallic masculinity in contemporary society.

Smelik's review also discusses the binary oppositions present in the work, concluding that 'although Creed obviously argues that the horror film questions and even undoes this binary opposition, the book unwittingly ends up reinforcing it.' However, the work also 'brings horror back to the primal uncanny' and thus represents a useful source for reflecting and discussing the modern male monster, the psychoanalytical approach, issues of masculinity, castration anxiety and power relations as depicted in horror films and popular culture.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

A Hallowe'en Treat: Surgeon's Hall Museum, Edinburgh

If you happen to be in the Edinburgh area this weekend, we recommend that you stop in to the Surgeon's Hall Museum to explore their fantastic collections and exhibits. It is their last open weekend this year, which is appropriate, since today and tomorrow are potentially the best possible days for exploring an exhibit about pathological anatomy, or the history of surgery, or Sherlock Holmes and his real-life counterpart, Charles Bell. They will still be open during the week, which means you are also welcome to visit on Hallowe'en itself. The museum is open from 12-4 Monday to Friday, and the weekend openings should start again in April.

The Surgeon's Hall Museum, Edinburgh
The Surgeon's Hall Museum also runs many special events and lectures in the stunning William Playfair building, so if you are local or planning a trip to the area, you might consider exploring their website to see whether they have anything exciting coming up (recent examples include the Pathology: A Day in Medical Detection event in October, while November and December feature tours on the history of medicine pre-anaesthesia and a talk on Scottish anatomists). You can also follow them on Twitter for updates and some fantastic links about the history of medicine.

If you aren't in Edinburgh, that doesn't mean you can't partake of the fun: come to the conference in June where we will be organising an opportunity to explore this amazing museum.

Have a deliciously monstrous Hallowe'en!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A Grotesque Aesthetic? The Anatomia Collection

Joseph Maclise, Pl.III "Dissection of the
Neck and Thorax, Heart and Blood Vessels"
Surgical Anatomy (1856).
We would like to draw your attention to an absolutely fabulous resource provided absolutely free by the University of Toronto - perfect for researchers in the medical humanities, or anyone with an admiration for exquisite anatomical art. Please indulge yourself and explore The Anatomia Collection: 4500 anatomical plates from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, digitised and free to the public. The plates range in date from 1522-1867, and are fully indexed using medical subject headings (MeSH).

If you have perused our blog thoroughly, you might already have noticed that the gorgeous sketch depicting the face and skull of conjoined twins which we have selected as our header image is a section of a plate from Joseph Maclise's Surgical Anatomy (1856), all of the plates from which are available through the Anatomia Collection. This particular image was chosen not simply because of what it represented, but because Maclise's style itself, in this plate as throughout his body of work (pun fully intended), seems designed to elicit a highly sensual reaction.

His sketches often depict the hooks, strings, and instruments used to expose successive layers of flesh, vessels, and organs, remnants of the intrusion of medical probing which are typically erased from anatomical sketches. And also unlike many medical sketches, which hide the faces of their subjects, or else strip them of their identity, Maclise's "dissected figures", to quote the collection's description of the text, "seem almost life-like, with real faces, usually of young men with fair hair."

Joseph Maclise, Pl. 2 "Arteries, Veins, and
Nerves of the Thorax and Neck" in Richard Quain's
Anatomy of the Arteries of the Human Body (1844)
The description goes on to suggest that, "endowed with great dignity, the figures resemble the romantically noble heroic figures in his brother's paintings" (his brother being the artist Daniel Maclise). The assertion that Maclise endows his figures with dignity and romantic nobility is not necessarily untrue, but a scan through his work will reveal bodily contortions that seem more indicative of violent ecstasy, even torture, scattered throughout the romantic heroes. Amongst these evidently "life-like" figures also rises the gaunt, unavoidably lifeless face of one man, who simultaneously evokes images of decay, even of intense starvation.

Maclise's detailing of the feathered hair clinging to skin even as it is pulled apart to reveal each layer beneath, of the instruments that rip and tear as much as they slice, leaving ragged flaps as a grotesque frame, all of this casts a reflection of the dissected corpse on the page (or screen) onto the body of those observing it. As much as some images may evoke dignity and heroics, Maclise's overall style draws attention to a grim sensuality of dissection that is absent from many medical sketch. As he exposes the mystery of muscles and bones and blood vessels, his drawings render the subject/body monstrous; twisted, tortured, ecstatic, open bodies intimately tied to the living observer through an evocation of shared sensuality.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Peter Hutchings on Horror Film

Passionate about horror film and monsters? We have more resources for you, once again by one of our distinguished keynotes. Peter Hutchings is a Professor of Film Studies at Northumbria University and author of numerous books, articles, chapters, lectures, papers and projects concerning film, horror, monsters and numerous others. For example, his book The Horror Film considers the genre itself and the reasons behind its success with worldwide audiences, potential academic marginalization, controversies and difficulties in defining the genre itself. He explores various issues like vampires, serial killers, sounds, performances, race, class, gender, slashers and post-slashers and offers new perspectives on this fascinating genre. Another useful resource is his Historical Dictionary of Horror Cinema, which follows the evolution of horror film from the early 20th century to present day, offering us a glimpse into zombies, werewolves, vampires, ghosts as well as actors, artists, directors, make-up artists and numerous others whose visions helped shape horror film. If you are interested in his thoughts on genre, take a look at his article on Genre Theory and Criticism available online. Reflecting on his own work and his newest book in preparation on British horror, Hutchings has stated:
Presenting yourself as a specialist in horror has occasionally caused eyebrows to be raised. But for all the disreputability associated with it, horror has been a significant aspect of commercial film production since the 1930s and is an especially notable presence in British film history. Looking at horror with an unprejudiced eye reveals an area of creative activity that is vital and unpredictable and which raises important questions about cultural values and hierarchies.
He concludes by reflecting on horror as a genre, which he considers inexhaustible and ''one of the most internationalized of genres which can potentially shed light on contemporary debates about the globalization if culture''. If you are interested in this fascinating field of research, you might also enjoy his article Uncanny Landscapes in British Film and Television (open access!), where he discusses Britishness, abandoned landscapes, savage, pagan and ancient landscapes and numerous others! And finally, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to write to us!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Fourth Plenary Speaker: Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

Earlier in the month we wrote a blog post about Rosemarie Garland-Thomson's fantastic new book, Staring: How We Look. We are therefore very honoured to be able to announce today that Prof. Garland-Thomson, Professor of Women's Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, will be attending the conference in June as the fourth plenary speaker, joining Prof. Margrit Shildrick, Dr. Peter Hutchings, and Prof. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. Together, these four speakers bring with them research expertise in all areas that the conference hopes to explore.

Video is copyright Emory University, 2010
Prof. Garland-Thomson's work has explored the extraordinary body in different contexts and from a variety of perspectives, from historical and cultural conceptions of freakery to contemporary reactions to and constructions of disability. Her most recent work explores our conflicted engagement with the impulse to look, and she has also put together a short video briefly discussing some of these ideas. This year (2011-2012) she also stands as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Once again, we as the conference organisers would like to thank everyone who has responded so positively to the event and given their support, whether it be as keynote speakers or future delegates (we have already received some fascinating abstracts)! We are both excited and honoured to be involved in this project, and we cannot say how much look forward to working with you all.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Monster in the Machine

Those of you focusing on the Early Modern period may already be familiar with Zakiya Hanafi's The Monster in the Machine: Magic, Medicine, and the Marvelous in the Time of the Scientific Revolution (Duke University Press, 2000), but for those of you who aren't, you may find it interesting. Hanafi explores the evolution of sacred monsters into monstrous automata in early modern Italy, but her discussion touches on a conceptualisation of monstrosity that spreads far beyond these regional and chronological specifics. Particularly interesting is her discussion of the relationship between the monstrous body and the monstrous automaton, in which both rely on an understanding of monstrosity not as, to use her own words, "any specific thing", but as "a category that becomes constituted in different ways according to different cultural and historical contexts".

Henri Maillardet's Automaton at
The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia
The discussion of a historical relationship between monstrum and automaton raises interesting questions regarding notions of the sensualised or de-sensualised monster, especially regarding Hanafi's description of mechanised monstrosity itself:
"What makes an automaton monstrous is not the arrangement of its parts (although the automaton is often formed to represent a monster, a highly significant convergence). That is to say, that disposition of its limbs is not what makes it rare and extraordinary; that is not what makes it a monstrum. Rather, it is the fact that matter formed by artificial means and moving of its own volition would seem to be endowed with spirit... The horror and fear provoked by appearances in nature of monstrous births moved over into the horror and fear provoked by our own artificial creations"
Such an idea of the monstrous automaton seems inherently disembodied and yet intrinsically tied to a kind of artificial embodiment. Interestingly, it also seems to cast out once again the role of the senses in not only the reaction to the monstrous, but also in the conceptualisation of monstrosity. Although it may not necessarily have been an intentional directive of the text, in exploring the bonds between the development of monsters and the scientific revolution in Italy Hanafi draws attention to a sterilisation of the monstrous which is characteristic of many categories of monstrosity across cultural and historical boundaries.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Medieval Monstrosity and the Female Body

If you are passionate about the fascinating field of medieval monstrosity and the female body, take a look at Sarah Allison Miller's Medieval Monstrosity and the Female Body, recently published in the Routledge Studies in Medieval Religion and Culture series. The work reflects a growing interest in the monstrous within Medieval Studies, exploring the critically and philosophically challenging monstrous female bodies which resist reductive or simplistic conclusions. It is precisely this complexity that is highlighted in Andrea Schutz's review of the work published in The Medieval Review:

Women are the monsters of origins, the monsters without whom no one exists. Where most studies of medieval teratology give voice to the monster as other, Miller argues that the monstrous female body is not other at all, but the matrix of the normative body, which must then forever deal with its own contributions to and participation in female monstrosity. As such, monstrous female bodies offer a continuous resistance to being read simply or uniformly; characterized as unstable and read as danger, women's bodies force the readers into acknowledgment of the instability and danger of those same readings.

As Schutz points out, the very beginning of Miller's book sets a premise for seeing the female body ''as a thing which transgresses the very constructions which make bodies monstrous", resulting in a female body imbued with meaning rather than devoid of it. Miller applies Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's monster thesis "the monster always escapes" ("Seven Monster Theses", Monster Theory: Reading Culture) to "show that the stable readings required by normative medieval theory are themselves frustrated by the very bodies defined as monstrous."
Exploring virgins, motherhood, gynecology, monstrous births, theology and numerous others, the work present a useful and fascinating contribution to feminist critique, monstrosity and Medieval Studies.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Rhetoric of Monstrosity

Kathryn M. Brammall's article 'Monstrous Metamorphosis: Nature, Morality, and the Rhetoric of Monstrosity in Tudor England' (usually accessible through various institutions / universities) offers an interesting analysis of the rhetoric of monstrosity and reasons behind a surge of interest in monsters and monstrous births emerging in mid-Tudor England. Brammall highlights the importance of early modern attitudes towards monsters themselves, 'precisely because they materialize in so many different contexts'. She particularly focuses on mid-Tudor England, where the social, political and religious challenges were ''partially responsible for the increasing interest in monsters'', resulting in numerous tracts detailing monstrous births. Furthermore, Brammell offers a succinct analysis of those tracts, their veracity and the complex political and religious context of such accounts. Monstrous births were freuqently seen as signs of God, resulting in numerous interpretations and speculation. Brammell highlight the example of Ponet who interpreted monsters by connecting them to problems in contemporary England:

The first monster, a conjoined twin with two heads and two partially joined bodies, was in Ponet's estimation a symbol of the succession of one legitimate ruler, Edward VI, by two distinct governors. It was possible to interpret the division in two ways: as that between Catholic and Protestant or that between English and Spanish, whose respective representatives were Mary and Philip. Either interpretation was acceptable to Ponet, since each served his main purpose: the denunciation of the queen. The confusion caused by both the return to Rome and the Spanish marriage -Ponet suggested, resulted in a divided populace, one in which two parts were thrust together without reason or justice. The division inevitably emasculated the body politic.

Apart from Ponet's interpretation, Brammell also focuses on ballads describing various monsters, where the authors ''interpreted the individual physical deformities in terms that focus the reader's attention on universal sin'', firmly rooted in the reality of Tudor England.
Ultimately, writers of this period relied heavily on the rhetoric of monstrosity and images of monstrous births to confront what they considered to be sinful and corrupt in their society. Transgressing and blurring boundaries between inner and outer, physical and psychical ''deformity'', the period's writings on monsters remain a fascinating and contradictory field of inquiry.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Medieval Monsters Illustrations

Medieval art, literature, folklore and imagination was populated with various anthropomorphous creatures, beasts, sirens, werewolves, demons, dragons, griffins, hybrids, ogres, vampires and numerous others, which reflected a fascination with unusual, challenging and anomalous bodies.
If you are interested in this imaginative world of wondrous beings, take a look at the British Library's Medieval Monsters illustrations accompanied by short descriptions as well as an interesting slideshow. These images reflect the wide variety of creatures that populated the medieval imagination and offer a glimpse of the rich and varied monstrous embodiments of the period.

Here is an illustration from the site featuring sirens, accompanied by the following text:
In most Bestiaries, these animals are interpreted in relation to Christian morality: the creatures themselves were not as important as the moral truths revealed in their explication. Sirens, for instance, were said to have the upper body of a human and the lower body of a bird or fish (or even a combination of the two); they sang beautiful songs to lull sailors to sleep, and then attacked and killed them. The moral: those who take pleasure in worldly diversions will be vulnerable to the devil.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Encountering Unexpected Bodies

For a discussion on extraordinary bodies, freak shows, monsters and staring, check out Rosemarie Garland Thomson's concise and informative article 'Staring at the Other' which traces unusual embodiments from ancient times to present day. The article highlights the shifting terminology attached to these unexpected bodies (monsters, freaks, prodigies, disabled) dependent on socio-historical context as well as the nature of people's interest in them (manifested usually in the phenomenon of 'staring'), ranging from adoration, hostility, reverence and repulsion. Reflecting on freak shows and the changing meanings surrounding the anomalous form, Thomson writes:

Freaks were spectacular public displays of novelty that entertained viewers who gladly paid to stare. Droll and fascinating freak figures were created from the unusually embodied by way of exaggeration, irony, and theatrical staging. What we now consider the medical dermatological condition of vitiligo, for example, was parlayed into the act of Spotted Boys. Giants and Midgets appeared juxtaposed together to highlight their differences. Fat Ladies titillated with cute diminutive stage names such as Dolly Dimples. The ordinary microcephalic black man became the exotic Missing Link dressed up in an ape suit. Spears and loincloths transformed albino twins into Wild Men of Borneo. Amputees became Armless Wonders by cutting out paper dolls, penning calligraphy, and drinking tea with their toes. The freak show validated curiosity and authorized public staring at bodies that departed from the ordinary by embellishing differences to make money.

The article ends with an examination of contemporary discourses surrounding monstrous embodiment, contextualized with the advent of technology, progress of medicine and the 'potent medium of television spectacle' which aimed to place these bodies back into the spotlight.
Is the wondrous freak gone altogether in our society? How can a historical approach to extraordinary embodiment inform our modern sensibilities? Thomson tellingly concludes that the unexpected bodies have been 'edited out of the human community like textual errors in the path of automatic spell checkers.'
If you are interested in this scholar and her landmark works in the field of disability studies, visit her official page featuring many helpful links and videos!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Horror and the Monstrous Feminine

For an exploration of the monstrous feminine and horror, take a look at Barbara Creed's 'Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection'. Most of you will be able to access this text through your university / institution.
This fascinating article explores horror films, experiencing 'the abject', horror sub-genres and various socially-constructed notions of the horrific mediated through images of the monstrous body, blood, vomit, pus and excrement. In Barbara Creed's words:

The horror film abounds in images of abjection, foremost of which is the corpse, whole and mutilated, followed by an array of bodily wastes such as blood, vomit, saliva, sweat, tears and putrefying flesh. In terms of Kristeva's notion of the border, when we say such-and-such a horror film 'made me sick' or 'scared the shit out of me', we are actually foregrounding that specific horror film as a 'work of abjection' or 'abjection at work' - in both literal and metaphoric sense. Viewing the horror film signifies a desire not only for perverse pleasure (confronting sickening, horrific images, being filled with terror / desire for the undifferentiated) but also a desire, having taken pleasure in perversity, to throw up, to throw out, eject the abject (from the safety of the spectator's seat).

Creed offers succinct readings of films such as the Exorcist, Carrie and Alien, as well as the mythological female monsters such as the Sphinx and the Medusa, mediated through concepts like the phallic mother, castration anxieties, female fetishism and numerous others.
Finally, Creed considers the central ideological project of popular horror films to be the 'purification of the abject', bringing about the confrontation with the abject' like the corpse, bodily wastes, the monstrous-feminine in order to eject it and 're-draw the boundaries between the human and non-human.'
If the above-mentioned concepts of blood, gore, monstrosities and 'ejecting the abject' touch upon your areas of interest, this text might prove inspiring indeed!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

H.R. Giger's Biomechanical Aesthetic

Passionate about Alien films? Fascinated by the sublime beauty of the Alien creatures? Interested in the complex interplay of the senses, transgressions and fetishist imagery present in this type of artwork? Then take a closer look at H.R. Giger, the fascinating artist whose works inspired the Alien films and explore his surreal world of shifting shapes, mechanics, fetishes and sensualised body parts.

H.R. Giger is an acclaimed Swiss surrealist artist, painter, sculptor, designer and interior architect whose art is usually described as 'Biomechanical aesthetic' defined as 'a dialectic between man and machine, representing a universe at once disturbing and sublime'. This universe represents a unique exploration into the human body, sexuality, (de)form(ation), polymorphous creatures and their ecstatic and sensual merging with technology. Fetishist tentacles, fetuses, orifices, ruptures, skeletal structures and various fluids constitute a part of this rich space of alterity and possibility.

The best resource for Giger's works is his official website, which offers a glimpe into his immense creativity, from articles and discussions on Alien films, images of Giger bars, sculptures, furniture, books, music and theatre. It also includes an informative biography revealing more about his life and art.

The website also offers a link to the Giger Museum, which aims to engage (or challenge) our senses more directly. Situated in the medieval Château St. Germain in Gruyères, Switzerland, it houses the greatest collection of his works from 1960s to today. If you are unable to visit this magical place, the elaborately and engagingly designed websites might serve as a compensation.
Finally, I warmly recommend the 'Short films' section of the Museum website, containing numerous tributes to Giger and featuring some of his brilliant works.

Feel free to share your impressions on this fascinating artist and his creations and how this may relate to your interests / conference ideas on any of our pages!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "Giants"

Julius Koch, Le Geant Constantin
Image courtesy of
As you can probably imagine, we are looking forward to the forthcoming Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters, ed. Jeffrey Weinstock, with great anticipation (it's hardly a stretch of the imagination to say that if you're reading this blog, you are too, and if you weren't before, you most definitely are now. Or at least you should be). To be totally honest, we simply cannot wait for it to be published.

Time travel was attempted (and subsequently abandoned), things were learned that cannot be unlearned, and our respective psyches were threatened with total destruction. As a result, we had no choice but to resign ourselves to the doleful realisation that, like mere mortals, we would have to wait.

But that wait has been made less torturous by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (who, just a small reminder, will be flying all the way from Washington D.C. to Edinburgh, Scotland to be a keynote at our conference along with Peter Hutchings and Margrit Shildrick). On the In the Middle blog, he was ever so kind last month to post a draft of his entry on giants, to which we now direct your attention:
The giant pervades every level of society, from popular culture and folklore to self-consciously artistic literature and scholarly discourse. With some notable exceptions, the giant is strongly gendered male. He often figures the masculine body out of control, demarcating a cultural boundary not to be traversed. The giant is foundational. The world may have been created from the body of a giant, as in Norse fable; or the body of the earth may spawn giants, as in classical tradition. He is so elemental that humanity cannot escape his abiding presence.
Keep an eye out for the encyclopaedia itself - definitely going to be a good book to have on the shelf. 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Constructing The Hottentot Venus

Those of you interested in nineteenth century freak shows and the complexities of exhibiting 'cultural otherness', or the (de)humanization of the 'freak' and / or 'specimen', will certainly come across the diverse and often conflicting views on Saartjie (or Sarah) Baartman also known as the Hottentot Venus.

Stripped of her cultural context, Baartman was exhibited as one of the most popular 'freaks' in the nineteenth century, whose body was exposed to curious viewers as a spectacle of 'cultural otherness'. Baartman was presented to viewers in a cage, dressed in a tight fitting costume which emphasized her distinctive shape. Her breasts, buttocks and hypertrophied genitalia became the nineteenth century symbol for excessive and deviant female sexuality and inspired numerous primitivist ideologies which equated her with an animal. This voyeuristic exhibiting of her body continued long after her death, resulting in numerous discourses on gender, sexuality, race, colonialism and ethnocentrism.

In case you have access to it, you might find useful Sander L. Gilman's influential and frequently quoted article entitled 'Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine and Literature' (Critical Inquiry 12, Autumn 1985) where he explores the representations of individuals in art which is frequently 'iconographic' in character, in which specific individuals represent particular 'classes' of people, especially when they are perceived as 'the other' and different to 'Western white male' concepts of normality. In referring to the Hottentot Venus, the article provides an exploration of racial stereotypes and their relationship to constructions of deviant sexuality. More specifically, Gilman discusses the 19th century fascination with Baartman's overtly sexualized 'anomalous' body parts, explaining it in the following terms:

Sarah Baartman's sexual parts, her genitalia and her buttocks, serve as the central image for the black female throughout the nineteenth century. And the model of de Blainville's and Cuvier's descriptions, which center on the detailed presentation of the sexual parts of the black, dominates all medical description during the nineteenth century. To an extent, this reflects the general nineteenth-century understanding of female sexuality as pathological: the female genitalia were of interest partly as examples of the various pathologies. (...) Sarah Baartman's genitalia and buttocks summarized her essence for the nineteenth century observers, or, indeed, for the twentieth century one.

This fascination with her body parts and her subsequent treatment as a preserved specimen additionally commodified her body, constructing it as simply another item to be collected and displayed. Dehumanized in medical reports, dissected and once again exposed after death, her voice remained largely obscured.
Another interesting article which highlights the importance of contextualization is Sadiah Qureshi's article 'Displaying Sara Baartman, the 'Hottentot Venus' (History of Science, Vol.42, 2004) which points to the processes involved in Baartman's objectification, politicization, exhibition and preservation. By examining these processes, it is possible to new perspectives on her story as well as 'historicize her tale'. Considering Baartman's agency, Qureshi writes:

A significant factor is the lack of agency Baartman inevitably possesses in any retelling of her story, since all the surviving records are accounts of her, rather than diaries or letters from her. Consequently, it is precisely the difficulty in recovering her agency that makes her amenable to employment as a cipher, even her minimal presence being enough; unfortunately this only constitutes further to her dispossession.

In the end, what can we know of Baartman's person? It seems to be an ever-evolving pursuit: by exploring the construction of the 'Hottentot Venus', critically reflecting on numerous existing discourses surrounding her (the sea of publications and biographies) as well as and contextualizing Baartman's story, it is possible to open new perspectives (and questions) on the life and experiences of this remarkable woman, whose real name still remains - unknown.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Plenary Speaker: Prof. Margrit Shildrick

"Lunatica", Fernando Vicente. From the series Vanitas
Copyright Fernando Vicente, 2008.
The Sensualising Deformity conference organisers are delighted to announce that Margrit Shildrick, Professor of Gender and Knowledge Production with Tema Genus at Linköping University in Sweden, will be joining Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, from George Washington University, and Peter Hutchings, from Northumbria University, to deliver a keynote lecture at the conference this June. 

We are honoured and excited to be bringing together such truly brilliant minds, each of whom offers a distinct perspective on the topic of monsters, monstrosity, and monstrous embodiment. They also reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the conference itself; despite their different research backgrounds, each have contributed significantly to our understanding of monsters and monstrosity, and are sure to add great depth and nuance to our discussions of sensuality and the anomalous body during the conference.

We look forward to offering a forum in which our speakers can communicate and engage with what we are positive will be an equally wonderful group of participants from across departments and disciplines, and encompassing the full range of the academic career spectrum.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Grotesque Bodies

If you are passionate about film and television monsters, featuring explicit gore, graphic violence and depictions of various taboos, Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media might have the right ingredients to satisfy your particular appetites. To be more specific, Intensities No. 4, December 2007, offers a special edition entitled Mysterious Bodies, containing a range of brilliant essays on alien bodies, vampires, ‘Gothic’ body parts, sex and violence in the Muppet Show, the dead bodies of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and many others.

Gerard de Lairess, Plate T.55, "Abdominal Organs, Uterus
and Placenta of  a Pregnant Woman" from Govard
Bidloo's Anatomia Humani Corporis (1685)
Images are copyright the University of Toronto Library
The edition includes an article by Peter Hutchings entitled ‘Grotesque Bodies and the Horror of Comedy in League of Gentlemen’ which deserves special mention, especially for its illuminating comments regarding the show’s dark humor, acceptability, graphic depictions of decomposing, dissected grotesque bodies and its distinctiveness resisting simplistic explanations and contextualization.

Opening the article, Hutchings writes:
The comedy show 'The League of Gentlemen', which first appeared on British television in 1999 and ran until 2002, was probably not to everyone’s taste. Themes explored through three series and a Christmas special included murder, kidnapping and imprisonment, incest , monstrosity and deformity, masturbation, transvestism and transexuality, dead children, cruelty to animals, the imbibing of urine, erotic asphyxiation, vampirism, voodoo, implicit cannibalism (a rare moment of restraint), limb grafting and a plague of nosebleeds. Add nudity, some violence and gore, the occasional use of the word 'fuck', and an obsessive fixation on bodies marked in various ways as grotesque, and you end up with a most unusual recipe for TV comedy.
This ‘unusual recipe’ produced a clever work whose very cleverness, in Hutchings' view, shielded it from ‘accusations of vulgarity and coarseness and made it a suitable object for critical praise.’ The show, comparable to Monty Python, intelligently invokes comic and horror traditions creating a rich fabric of cultural references. Hutchings also reflects on the characters’ physical grotesquerie, which served as a starting point for the show’s characterizations, driven by obsessive desires and impulses and the role of transvestism where the male performers frequently play the roles of both male and female. The article concludes with an illuminating examination of the grotesque bodies in terms of horror, parts of which deserve to be quoted in full:
Cornelis Huyberts, Thes: 7, tab. 2 (Brain with pia mater,
arm of a child, hydatiform mole, fetal membranes,
lips), from Frederic Ruysch,
Opera omnia anatomico-medico-chirurgica 
In this veritable parade of attractions, grotesque bodies provide some continuity, with body-anxiety a major theme, albeit one that is modulated in different, generically specific ways as the show progresses. The deployment of grotesque bodies, defined in relation to both comedy and horror traditions, also helps to articulate the peculiar televisual character of a show that seems very much to be defining itself in terms of the limits of what can actually be shown on television. (…) Repeatedly, the emphasis is on what we cannot see, with the limits of our vision of ten associated with partially glimpsed bodies. We cannot see the source of the infected meat (although we might presume that it is human flesh), we cannot see the monster above the shop, we cannot see Barbara in all her transsexual glory. Instead the show alludes to extra - televisual generic worlds that are not fully representable within television itself, with those allusions drawing the attention of an audience – or at least a generically knowledgeable audience – precisely to what they are missing. 
Finally, the monstrous, dissected, infected, distended, distorted and transgressive bodies featured in this article remain rich in allusions and contradictions, leaving us wondering, intrigued by their distinctiveness as we fill the gaps with our own imagination. Whether your exploration of monstrous bodies as depicted in both film and in television concerns gender politics, sexuality, horror, humor, the grotesque, gore, explicit violence, fetishism, breaking taboos and numerous others, the articles featured in this edition might inspire criticisms or simply - spark your research interests and encourage your imagination.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Cute & Creepy Exhibition in Florida

Sadly for us, all of the organisers of the Sensualising Deformity conference are based in Edinburgh, which means we cannot attend the absolutely fantastic and grotesque Cute and Creepy exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts at Florida State University in Tallahassee. But we can help encourage others to attend in our stead, and hope that they will bring back tales of their creepy experiences. The exhibit will be held between 14 October and 20 November of this year, so there's plenty of time yet to plan your trip; perhaps your family or friends might enjoy a trip to Disney World while you nip off for some monstrous pop surrealism?

The site's home page offers different examples of the work, or the kind of work, that will be offered at the exhibit, and based on that alone there is no question that it would be of interest to this conference and anyone reading the blog, but as if to ensure no further doubt, curator Carrie Ann Baade writes,
To see beauty in the carnivalesque or macabre, in freaks and in monsters, is a matter of aesthetics. Most of us can agree on the artistic value of a Monet or Titian but this work is for a daring audience, an audience open to exploring the strange beauty and the ecstasy inherent in our culture's aversions.
Travis Louis, The Curse of the Goat, 2006.
There is something that makes us uneasy when confronted by the weird or the unusual. Those who can appreciate both have come to anticipate and enjoy unexpected sensations. Work of this nature is not going to be an underground movement any longer: the grotesque is going mainstream.
The website also offers a tantalising excerpt of Nancy E. Hightower's essay "Revelatory Monsters: Deconstructive Hybrids, the Grotesque, and Pop Surrealism" that is included in the exhibition catalogue, which is worth quoting in full:
We need monsters in our lives.
We like to fear them, to run hiding under the covers or clenching a lover's arm until the monster is destroyed or banished to far off lands. they are wonderful like that, refusing to ever completely disappear from our lives, affording us the opportunity for self-introspection if we take a moment to recognize that monsters don’t die because they are essentially us(Cohen 5). Once they are eradicated from our cultural memory, we go, too. And that monstrous, wondrous body is at the heart of the grotesque. From the playful grotteschiunearthed in the Domus Aurea to demons of the illuminated manuscripts that overflowed from the margins onto the actual text, the monstrous body has always threatened what our culture has desired to contain (or perhaps more accurately, trapped, vetted, and fixed to incorporate whatever impossible standards it has set up to differentiate us from them). But the monstrous body is also prophetic in nature.
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen argues that as a “construct and a projection, the monster exists only to be read: the monstrum is etymologically ‘that which reveals’ that which warns…like a letter on the page, the monster signifies something other than itself”. What sets up this kind of fulcrum is society itself: “The too-precise laws of nature as set forth by science are gleefully violated in the freakish compilation of the monster's body. A mixed category, the monster resists any classification built on hierarchy or a merely binary opposition, demanding instead a ‘system’ allowing polyphony, mixed response (difference in sameness, repulsion in attraction), and resistance to integration…”. These kinds of juxtapositions are what form the definition of the grotesque.
Greg Simpkins, Knightengale, 2008.
Of course, with such passages accompanying the examples of art included on the home page of the site, monsterphiles who, like us, don't live anywhere near the exhibition will be working out calculations in the vain hope that a trip to Florida this autumn might be within their budget (we feel your pain). But if you happen to be so lucky as to be in Florida, or close enough for a visit, we highly recommend visiting the exhibition.

If not, perhaps you will have to do as we are doing and wistfully pass on the information to any fortune-favoured friends you might have who could attend! In the meantime, console yourself, perhaps, with a closer look at the artists involved, whose work is engaging with monstrosity in such sensational ways.

Friday, 9 September 2011

British Medical Journal Teratological Memoranda

Images courtesy of the BMJ Publishing Group,
BMJ 1889, June 8; 1(1484): 1288–1289.
Those of you interested in teratology - 19th century especially - will probably already be quite familiar with the British Medical Journal's Teratological Memoranda, but if you haven't had a spare hour or two to browse through their older archives looking for reports of "human monsters", we would like to direct you to articles such as this, which describes the birth of three monstrous infants, a pair of conjoined twins and a limbless child whose birth is attributed to the mother having "seen a fish she never thought existed". Perhaps the most interesting thing featured in both reports is the woodcut included with each, that of the conjoined twins especially. 

In placing the figure of the twins against a black background, the gap between them and the band of flesh which binds them together are thrown into sharp relief; their faces seem closer, within kissing distance, because of the space between them. Their position seems transformed into a sensual one by the intense nearness, which is itself born of that crucial gap. Contrasted with the harshly tactile description given by the author of his involvement in their birth, focused on his probing hands and fingers, in this image it is the lack of contact which is the more sensuous.

The image of the limbless child, on the other hand, is memorable for the almost wistful expression depicted on the baby's face, its humanity over emphasised as if to counter the anomalous form below.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Audio Teratology

In the interest of inspiring discussion and debate, we draw your attention to some samples from The Teratologist music project, which released its third album, Cabinet of Curiosities Parts III & IV, this  June.

Descriptions of the albums include "an amalgamation of musique concrète, electroacoustic, harsh ambient and drone", "deep textures of acoustic and electronic composition", and "a[n] esoteric feeling generally stimulated by ritual music" - raising questions of how such industrial, electric, "harsh" music can be integrated with a project title that gestures towards a phenomenon that is more often soft, flesh-like, wrapped up within a body that is open or opening, moist, textured, palpable.

The samples do not pander to the senses, but deliberately offend them, evoking sensations that stand on the edge of paranoia, a rejection of sound which is an intrusion upon the flesh. The disembodied music forces a bodily response, tying the internal with the unnatural, external stimulus - eerily reminiscent of the teratologist himself, a figure of intrusion, of harsh metallic instruments who sought to inflict pain in his study of the monstrous body. In encompassing the discipline of teratology within a sensuous experience, what does such a project do to the monstrous specimen in the cabinet of curiosities itself, the figure which lies behind the music, which is denied any mention but remains an intrinsic part of it?

Questions, comments, disagreements, re-articulations - anything short of outright insults - are encouraged in the comments section.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Sensualising Deformity Blog

One of the long-term goals of the Sensualising Deformity conference is to bring together scholars and students around the world and across disciplines who share an interest in deformity, monstrosity, or freakery, and to develop a network that connects them together.

This blog is a central part of that aim, offering links to all things related to the conference themes, be they articles, seminars, exhibitions, websites, films, or general miscellanea. We also hope to post calls for papers and contributions for other conferences or collections that are being organised in the field.

For those who may not, for whatever reason, be able to attend the conference in June, we hope the blog will ensure that you are still welcomed as part of a network of like-minded individuals, and that you will find here a source of knowledge and ideas as fascinating as the conference itself!