The Monster as War Machine by Mabel Moraña: Book Excerpts

The Monster as War Machine, the latest book by Mabel Moraña, was published in January 2018 and launched at the 2018 MLA convention. Hailed as a “tour de force” and “a far-ranging, audacious, erudite, and exquisitely written examination of monsters and the monstrous” by the experts, this book “spans the broad sweep of history, from the Classical and Medieval Periods to the present. It moves deftly between Europe and North America, on the one hand and Latin America, on the other, both in terms of its subject matter and the authors it considers. It bridges the divide between canonical literature and popular forms of expression. It brings together philosophy, literature, history, and anthropology, deftly combining insightful textual analysis and an almost surprising range of theories, to demonstrate how central monsters are and always have been to our social and political lives, to our thought, and to our literature and cinema, manifesting themselves in similar yet different ways across time and space.”

Monster as War Machine

Below is an excerpt from the preface:

In its eight sections, The Monster as War Machine attempts to cover the broad theme of monstrosity from a historical, philosophical, biopolitical, and aesthetico-ideological perspective. The breadth of its task and the intellectual ambition that guides it undoubtedly point to much more than this study could achieve, given the extent of the ground to cover and the unevenness of the terrain. In this sense, the book appeals to the reader’s indulgence and curiosity, that he or she may be inspired by what this analysis is able to suggest in order to develop new paths and to correct its bearings when necessary.

After an introduction that establishes the foundations of a critico-theoretical approach that could contribute to a poetics of the monster, the book sets forth on a necessarily selective historico-cultural itinerary that covers the colonial period to the present, pausing at moments/texts that are representative reflections on the monstrous and its literary and filmic expression. At key moments, mainly in “The Monster in History,” the study pauses to reflect on foundational European works and traditions that were essential for the emergence of the neo-Gothic, as well as for the modern resignification of horror, sublimity, and the like. In this way, even though Latin America constitutes one of the foci of this investigation, the study drifts toward other cultural spheres without which we would never understand the transnationalized and transhistorical trajectory of the monster.

“Monsters and the Critique of Capitalism” concentrates on the tropes of monstrosity utilized by both Marx and post-Marxism in connection to their analysis of world systems and their social and cultural effects. This chapter attempts to offer a vision of the way in which this “Gothic Marxism” has been read and interpreted, particularly with regard to the use of figures like vampires, cyborgs, zombies, and ghosts, which are integrated into the critique of political economy. Although the Deleuzean concept of the war machine came well after Marx, the uses of monstrosity that frequently appear throughout Capital, the Communist Manifesto, and other writings reveal lines of thought that are compatible with Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas about the dynamics of power and resistance and the way in which subjectivity is affected by the rearticulations of hegemony and sovereignty.

Expanding toward other areas of Western thought, the chapter dedicated to “Monsters and Philosophy” explores some specific concepts and developments around the ideas of the sinister, the abject, difference, the normality/anomaly binary, the notion of event, sublimity, anamorphosis, and posthumanism, the relations between monstrosity and machine, monstrosity and gender, etc. Because it has been a persistent concern of modern thought, the theme of the monstrous and the semantic field associated with it can only be approached in a cursory way, as an introduction to innovative and productive conceptual strategies for the exploration of the role of horror and monstrosity in settings impacted by power struggles both at political and cultural levels.

Then, extending this line of inquiry, “Monstrosity and Biopolitics” reflects on some modulations of biopolitical thought in which the monstrous is consolidated as a fertile catalyst of the conceptualization of hegemony and (bio)resistance and in connection to the metaphorization of the popular, the common, and the social. Because the body is one of the principal components of the aesthetico-ideological assemblage of monstrosity, from both the psychoanalytic perspective and from the point of view of cultural archaeology, different biopolitical orientations offer a broad spectrum of hermeneutic strategies and provide a language directed toward discussion of the monster and its particular forms of social interaction and political activity.

“Monstrosity, Representation, and the Market” is concerned with the spectacularization of monstrosity, which is to say, the carnivalization of the discourse of anomaly and fear in relation to the dynamics of supply and demand that make a symbolic commodity a fetishized and marketable product. In its various forms, the monstrous competes with multiple aesthetic registers for the attention of mass audiences who witness the unfolding of its countercultural message and the emotions it unleashes. From freak shows to David Bowie, passing through the figure and the performances of Michael Jackson and the cinematic works of George Romero (which reformulate the representation of the zombie and its politico-ideological meanings), the topic of consumption is articulated to the mass forms of interpellation generated by monsters. As a representational and interpretative tour de force of collective experience and social consciousness, the attributes of monstrosity have filtered into all discourses, staging difference and making simulacra and artificiality into glamorous forms of the epiphanic. Monstrosity’s repressed, extravagant, grotesque, and delirious contents push up against the system’s limits of tolerance and defy its ordering principles, suggesting something beyond dominant rationality.

The chapter titled “Monsters on the Margin” studies the radical hybridity that the monstrous supposes in relation to the processes of the formation of the popular subject and the expressive devices through which collective subjectivity expresses its fears, anxieties, and desires in peripheral areas, particularly in Latin America. The topic of corporeality (the individual body, sexualized, subjected to violence, indigence, and marginalization, the colonized and subalternized collective body from colonial days to modernity, its enslaved, migratory, deterritorialized, resistant, subverted, fragmented, and disorganized constitution) is an element in discussions about the monster in all its multiple manifestations. Moreover, in the case of postcolonial societies, corporeality constitutes an imperative, both due to the network of meanings in which it is inscribed, linked to labor, exploitation, and sacrifice, and for its metaphorical value. Indeed, corporeality refers to the body surpassed or diminished by the state, the prolific corporeality of the multitude, the sick or mutilated body, the juridical body, the corpus delicti, the body politic. From this organicist fixation, this chapter explores the relation between the real monstrosity of authoritarianism and exploitation, as well as the popular imaginaries that illustrate the precarious positions of each segment of society in relation to systemic violence. Multiple stories and images allegorize the relation between the communitarian body and the monstrous body as well as the symbolic mediations that emerge from popular narratives to allegorize social conflict. Chupacabras, jarjachas, pishtacos, and sacaojos inhabit a dark domain that expresses the feelings that real violence unleashes in rural and even urban communities. The stories of their apparitions and crimes are unable to overshadow testimonies of the real history of torture, genocide, and territorial devastation to which indigenous, peasant, and Afro-descendant communities have historically been subject.

Finally, the “Coda” brings together some general elaborations on the different topics dealt with in the book, attempting to articulate critico-theoretical directions that can be instrumental in the recuperation of debates and positions on the monstrous and its significance in the world today.” —The Monster as War Machine, xii–xvi

Title: The Monster as War Machine
 Mabel Moraña
Publisher: Cambria Press
ISBN: 9781604979862
554 pp.  |   2018   |   Hardback & E-book
Book Webpage:

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