American Studies
Film Studies
Television Studies
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Game Studies

Animal Monsters: The Animal Other and What It Means to be Human

"Monster theory" (as Jeffrey J. Cohen has it) may be categorized into two (not necessarily mutually exclusive) camps: the monster as the Other (arguably championed by Robin Wood's early writings on American horror cinema) and the monster as a liminal figure (exemplified by Cohen's theses on monstrosity). Animal monsters such as the great white shark in Jaws (1975) would, at first glance, fall into the former category, while the bio-engineered, human-sized and human-shaped cockroaches in Mimic (1997) would belong in the latter category. Regardless of categorization, however, both Jaws's great white and Mimic's roaches are considered monstrous and, as such, they symbolize various fears. Scholars have variously argued that the shark "reflects a disguised hatred of women and the preoccupation of our society with sadistic sexuality" (Rubey 1976: 20), becomes "a full-blown male nightmare" (Caputi [1978] 2004: 35), or serves as a symbolic tale of America's failures in Vietnam, which narrates an "obvious wish fulfillment narrative of the annihilation of a murderous, devious and implacable enemy" (Torry 1993: 27). Mimic's cockroaches, on the other hand, have been interpreted as mere tools in the struggle between masculinity and femininity (Belmont 2007: 364–365) and as vehicles which communicate fears surrounding "current advances in scientific technology centering on issues of fertility and infertility" (George 2001: 171), while simultaneously (re-)telling the (typically American) 'civilized humanity masters the unknown'-narrative re-framed as New Yorkers conquering the city's subway tunnels. Such interpretations demonstrate how animal Others are embedded in anthropocentric discourses, whereby the non-human is first and foremost a function of the human. The monsters are afforded no autonomous role, but merely seen to function as vehicles for conceptualizing, understanding, and knowing the human.

Drawing on recent scholarship in critical animal studies, ecocriticism, the posthuman, digital cinema, and eco-cinema, while also showing an awareness of classics such as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's reflections on "becoming-animal," Donna Haraway, Val Plumwood, and Sigmund Freud's incessant use of animal metaphors, this project will explore the meanings of animal monsters. Far beyond simple villainous Others, the project will argue, these 'monsters' often come to embody not only ecological questions but also the fundamental question what makes us human. Indeed, the most progressive uses of animal monsters, as this project will show, try to strip away their semantic layers in an attempt to represent (or, rather, present) the animal as-is and thereby challenge human dominance.

Publications

"When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth? Digital Animals, Simulation, and the Return of 'Real Nature' in the Jurassic Park Movies," On_Culture: The Open Journal for the Study of Culture no. 2 (2016), online.
"'They are a fact of life out here': The Ecocritical Subtexts of Three Early-Twenty-First-Century Aussie Animal Horror Movies," in Animal Horror Cinema: Genre, History and Criticism, ed. Katarina Gregersdotter, Nicklas Hållén, and Johan Höglund (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 37-57.

Presentations

"Animal Horror" in the Lecture Series "Horror in Visual Media" at the University of Klagenfurt, Klagenfurt (Austria), December 7, 2016
"Dawn of the Zoocene? When Humans Lose Control (in Zoo)" at the 21st World Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association, University of Vienna, Vienna (Austria), July 23, 2016
"Becoming the Shark and/vs. Controlling the Shark: Jaws Unleashed and the Animal Avatar" at the symposium "Beasts of the Deep: Sea Creatures and Popular Culture," St. Mary's University, Twickenham, London (UK), June 4, 2016
"'You must never listen to this!' vs. 'Don't you let her look!': The Sounds (and the Lack thereof) of Eating Humans in Grizzly Man and Frozen" at "Soundscapes and Sonic Cultures in America," the 42nd Annual Conference of the Austrian Association for American Studies, University of Graz (Austria), November 8, 2015