Panel 3: Monsters, Art & Gender – 7 Dec 13:30-17:30

Marvellous unicorns, magical materials

Viviana Lebedinsky  

Among the various animal features that make up the fabulous imaginary horse-cervid creatures that are unicorns, we find ‘a single spiraled horn projecting from its forehead and often…a goat’s beard and a lion’s tail’ (The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language 1973:1399). My aim in this paper is not to examine these features in isolation but to contribute to the interdisciplinary field of monster studies by focusing on the unicorn horn and the relationship between the unicorn and materials.

What are the marvelous properties of the rarity that is the unicorn horn? What emotions do unicorns arouse, and what feelings are associated with the wonder that being in the presence of a unicorn horn evokes? Drawing on the work of Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park (1998), these are some of the questions I explore, focusing on the entanglements and complexities involved in the relationship between humans and unicorns and comparing these ‘wonders of nature’ to ‘wonders of art’ (Daston and Park 1998). I reflect on the transformations that unicorns, as ‘figments of the imagination’ (Ingold 2013), have undergone over time, across the globe, and explore the ways in which they are depicted in modern-day, as opposed to medieval, collections.

Drawing in the margins: my son’s arsenal of monsters – (autistic) imagination and the cultural capital of childhood

Rozanna Lilley

A mutant scarecrow, a monster clown, a basic zombie, a winged demon and other mashups meet in the inky marginalia produced during primary school ‘non-scripture’. This paper considers a corpus of 23 drawings done by my 11-year-old son, Oscar, over a three-week period in 2012. Through a series of interviews, the representational content and the considerable cultural capital required to imagine these monstrous figures is recounted. Two frames for investigating these images and their narrative explanations are considered. Because Oscar was diagnosed at three with autistic disorder, the first frame considers the intersection between autism and a purportedly impoverished imagination. The second frame is provided by children’s popular culture and the globalised, commoditised monsters designed to appeal to and construct developing masculinities. When a freaky cat battles a spider robot who will win? Can an anthropologically informed monster study help us to reconcile or at least better understand what is ethically at stake in these divergent frameworks of interpretation as we trace the sometimes monstrous contours of theorising about developmental difference, autism, neurodiversity, imagination and ‘outsider’ art? 

The ‘Other’ Woman: Living the Monstrous Feminine 

Katharine Hawkins

Barbara Creed wrote that the Monstrous Feminine is more than merely a female version of a male monster, her ‘Otherness’ is a direct result of her femininity. For decades, feminist theorists such as Creed have examined how patriarchal society has shaped (and been shaped by) essentialist narratives that associate non-maleness with abjection, horror and defect; the female monster emerging as a scapegoat of phallocentric anxieties. However, the nature of the Monstrous is liminal and ambivalent: there is more to the Monstrous Feminine than the spectre of gendered terror or a misogynistic slur. I argue that Monstrosity may be thought of not as a totalising stigma, but rather as a lived process akin to Braidotti’s nomadic subjectivity: an active, creative form of protest, parody and praxis that disrupts, rather than re-affirms gendered norms.

My doctoral thesis uses case studies of performance artists, body modifiers and self-titled ‘freaks’ as examples of this Monstrous process. In this paper, I will demonstrate how these spectacular, grotesque, and excessive performances of deliberate ‘Otherness’ constitute a feminist praxis of Monstrous Femininity that is productive, creative and evolving, rather than pejorative.

The caravan of prodigies of Angela Carter in Nights at the circus (1984)

Daniel F. Yago

When it comes to mythic and marvelous creatures, it is possible to identify a process of conversion of prodigious and wonderful figures of the past in monstrous and terrible figures in the western Modernity. Recent women literature has been conceding positive and creative values to these prodigies in an attempt to synthesize their uses in a critical relation to the patriarchy. The process of disenchantment of the stranger as a facet of this genealogy intersects with aspects of the advent of modern patriarchy, especially in what it refers to the ways of treating its alteritary figures. Recently, such intersection made monsters, freaks, prodigies and marvels described in the women’s literature occupy more potent and positive places, often metaphorical, to expose and re-signify various aspects of the female condition. This paper aims to think how Angela Carter and, more specifically, her oeuvre from 1984, Nights on the Circus, demonstrate dynamics of an inverse process to the abjection of the stranger: instead of being disenchanted, they are figures that re-enchant the world by means of a re-appropriation of its past prodigiousness. Our focus here is Fevvers, the winged aerialiste, and her entourage of wonderful women.