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


Despite a growing interest within the medical humanities in those bodies which have historically been categorised as "monstrous" or "deformed", much of the scholarship continues to be devoted to either – as in Disability Studies –the experience of having an abnormal body in contemporary culture, or to the images and the experience of encountering monstrosity, deformity, and freakery from a historical perspective. There is yet to be a study that investigates both the outside and the inside experience of deformity as a trans-historical concept.

This conference aims to fill this gap. It will direct an interdisciplinary gaze towards the spaces where the experience and representation of the deformed or monstrous body meet, not only in medical or scientific accounts, but also in literature, film, and the visual arts. We hope to explore these representations specifically with regards to the deformed body’s sensuality and sexuality, aspects of being which it has traditionally been denied. 

We hope to receive papers considering the relationship between deformed bodies or medical “monsters” and their senses, sensualities and sexualities, and the way in which this is bound up with and/or purged from their social, cultural, and artistic historical context. We are inviting speakers from a wider range of backgrounds with the intention of dividing the panels, papers, and round-table discussions into three central strands: 

Johannes-Lazarus Baptista Colloredo
Image taken from Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine,
George Gould and Walter Pyle, 1901.
Sensed Diagnostics

This strand will encompass papers that explore historical and contemporary accounts of medical examinations of deformity and these writers’ experience or ‘sense’ of the monstrous body. 

Conceptualised/Sexualised Monstrosity

This strand will primarily explore philosophical and literary fetishisation of monstrosity and/or deformity and the relationship between deformity, sexuality and the senses in philosophy and critical theory.

(De)-forming and Aesthetics

This strand will investigate formations of a sensual deformed body in literature, cinema and the arts, and examine aesthetic portrayals of the sensual experience of bodily transformations. 

Together these three strands will further develop the connections between the medical and artistic perceptions of deformity and open up a debate about the position of monstrosity in historical and contemporary debates of sensuality and sexuality.

The conference 
will create an interdisciplinary space which welcomes academics from all backgrounds and career-levels and from disciplines as diverse as literature, philosophy, history, media and art studies, critical and cultural theory, history of science and the medical humanities. We will contribute a more interdisciplinary and yet very specific new perspective to the larger scholastic conversation which is rapidly growing in interest. 


Joseph Merrick c. 1889

© Royal London Hospital Archives and Museum

Although it is still some time away, we are already looking forward to the days after the conference and thinking of ways to maintain the community developed during the event.

The conference itself will specifically be structured in order to best facilitate an ongoing conversation regarding the themes, questions, and issues raised about deformity and monstrosity; the inclusion of round-table workshops to close out each day is intended to encourage discussion between delegates, speakers, and all participants regarding central topics or ideas which recur throughout panels and papers. This will allow further time for interactions between delegates, and should hopefully lead to collaboration and networking which we hope will be continued after the conference is over.

One of the ways we would like to accomplish this is through the establishment of a mailing list network for those postgraduates, academics of all career-levels, and independent researchers who share an interest in the themes and questions raised and addressed by the conference papers. This network would encompass all those who submitted to the conference (should they wish to be included), not only those in attendance, and would hopefully grow in time to become a comprehensive community of like-minded researchers. Its aim would be to facilitate the continuation of the dialogue established during the conference, and to provide further opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of information and ideas internationally as well as across disciplines.

The Sensualising Deformity blog will also play a key role in the aftermath of the conference: relevant news, calls for papers or contributions, links to new books or articles on related topics, as well as interesting websites, exhibits, performances, films, etc. will be posted here regularly. We hope that over time the blog will become a helpful and comprehensive resource for all things pertaining to the monstrous or deformed as well as an external hub for the mailing list network.

The Sensualising Deformity Blog's header image is taken from Joseph Maclise's Surgical Anatomy (1856), courtesy of the University of Toronto's Anatomia Collection© The University of Toronto Library.