Deformities and Monsters : Complicating Images of the Other in Early Modern Europe
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Monsters have always lurked in the recesses of humankind's imagination, populating the darkness of caves and the corners of maps. They embody the unknown and the unexplainable while simultaneously reflecting these anxieties back at us in manifestations that are perversely familiar. Even now, in our modern popular culture, these uncanny monsters proliferate the media we consume: In Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), the xenomorph hisses and kills from the shadows, but only after gestating within a human host; David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977) baby is horrifically deformed, yet cries eerily like a regular child. As Timothy Beal points out in Religion and its Monsters (2002), monsters are "personifications of otherness within sameness," endowing them with a paradoxical power just beyond human rationalization. Their similitude both disgusts and intrigues. Thus, for as long as we have imagined monsters, humans have maintained an intense fascination with them. This paper seeks to understand this fascination by investigating the significance of monsters in early modern Europe: their origins, cultural relevance, and interpretation by viewers.