Dr. Jeffrey Weinstock Explains Vampire Suicide

by Troi Watts

 

Were you excited for Dr. Jeffrey Weinstock’s talk on Vampire Suicide but just couldn’t make it to the lecture? Did you attend but wish you knew even more? No need to be disappointed anymore as you can read all about it right here! Dr. Weinstock came all the way from Central Michigan University to enlighten Ball State students on why vampires commit suicide. This lecture was actually a sort of rehearsal for Dr. Weinstock as he explained that it will be the keynote address at the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival in Romania. Anyone who was in attendance can tell you that his rehearsal was so well-done that it’s sure to be successful at the festival.

Dr. Jeffrey Weinstock has been an English professor at Central Michigan University since 2001, teaching a variety of courses that cover American literature and pop culture topics. A native to Washington, D.C. and Maryland, Dr. Weinstock completed his undergraduate education in English at the University of Pennsylvania, his graduate education in American Literature at George Washington University, and stayed on at George Washington University to complete his PhD. He has published numerous books and essays and has received various awards for his work. For example, his latest publication, The Age of Lovecraft, was the co-winner of the 2016 Ray & Pat Browne Award for Best Edited Collection in Popular Culture and American Culture. Needless to say, Dr. Weinstock has worked long and hard to become an expert in all things gothic.

But where did Dr. Weinstock’s interest in monsters begin? I took the time to ask him this and other questions in an email after the lecture. In his own words, he has always had an interest in “the dark side.” Even as a kid, he loved spooky stories, which presumably introduced him to his favorite monster (“if you can call them that”): ghosts! His interest in ghosts drove him to write his doctoral dissertation on the “issue of spectrality” and his first book on how American women in the nineteenth and early twentieth century wrote ghost stories as a form of social commentary.

When asked why he decided to give a lecture on vampire suicide, Dr. Weinstock explained that he was asked to be a part of a collaboration for an upcoming book, Suicide and the Gothic, edited by Andrew Smith and Bill Hughes. When he was considering what particular subject he could discuss, vampires popped into his head. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he couldn’t stop thinking about them and the fact that vampires in films commit or contemplate suicide frequently. This is in line with the usual process he goes through to pick a topic. He typically starts with a question or problem of some sort and uses strong primary sources to research that question or problem. For example, when coming up with the topic of vampire suicide, Dr. Weinstock asked himself, “[W]hy do vampires commit suicide with such regularity?” and researched from there. Of course, a key component to this process is whether or not the topic interests him (I mean, who wants to research something that bores them?). Vampires absolutely fall under the “interesting” category.

Dr. Weinstock’s lecture started with a general breakdown of the main reasons that vampires contemplate, attempt, or commit suicide in films and literature: out of remorse, ennui (a French term for “boredom”), or heroism. From there on Dr. Weinstock discussed each point in-depth, providing examples from pop culture to demonstrate his points.

Regarding remorse, he said that sometimes vampires cannot come to terms with the monster that they have become, finding the fact that they must drink blood in order to survive to be evil or immoral. Varney the vampire, from the series by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest, displays this aspect; Varney throws himself into Mount Vesuvius in an act of suicide because he could no longer tolerate what he had become and wanted to end his existence.

Ennui is centered around the idea that vampires feel as if they can do basically anything they want and, being immortal, have plenty of time on their hands. But what happens when they get tired of partying and living? They turn to suicide. The example of Adam from Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive was used in this section of the lecture. Adam, being several centuries old, has become bored with and can no longer tolerate life. He has lost interest in going into the outside world due to the fact that he dislikes what humans have done to it. He contemplates suicide (going so far as to have a wooden bullet made so that he may shoot himself) for these reasons.

Heroism was the final motivation for vampire suicide discussed by Dr. Weinstock. In certain situations, vampires may take it upon themselves to give their lives in order to save the people they care about (usually humans). To better demonstrate this aspect, Dr. Weinstock brought up the movie, 30 Days of Night by David Slade. In this film, a town in Alaska is invaded by vampires, leading Eben Oleson to become a vampire in order to protect his wife, Stella. Once the battle is over and the vampires have fled, Eben stands in the sunlight in order to kill himself as he does not want to become the monster that the other vampires were.

Despite the fact that they are monsters, vampires have a wide range of emotions and motivations that could eventually lead them to contemplate, attempt, or commit suicide. Not all vampires have evil intentions. Some are remorseful at the knowledge of what they have become, while others become heroes and protect humans. As Dr. Weinstock has shown, even the ones who are just trying to enjoy their immortality have it rough.

Works Cited

Weinstock, Jeffrey. Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, PhD.                                                                              https://www.jeffreyandrewweinstock.com/   Accessed 19 April 2017.

Weinstock, Jeffrey. “Re: Questions for the DLR Blog Post.” Received by Troi Watts, 8 April         2017.

Weinstock, Jeffrey. “Vampire Suicide.” DLR Presents, The Digital Literature Review, 31            March 2017, Ball State University, Muncie, IN.

 

 

“Traveler’s Notebook: Monster Tales”: A Video Game to Encourage Cultural Empathy

by Kaley Rittichier, Ball State University

“Traveler’s Notebook: Monster Tales” is a two-player digital game in which players travel the globe encountering monsters, piecing together stories, and acquiring new skills. They can travel to Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, North America, and South America. Each one of these locations has monsters specific to that location; these monsters exhibit something about their cultures. The goal of the game is to foster in children empathy for different cultures through monsters, who are engendered by their cultures.

This game is a product of a Ball State Immersive Course, created by a multidisciplinary group consisting of myself, nine other undergraduates, and a mentor. The game was inspired by a certain form of narrative gameplay which is exhibited in the board game Tales of the Arabian Nights. To us, the interesting aspect of the board game was its ability to represent the culture that appears in the renowned book of the same title. The question arose as to whether this same idea could be stretched further to include more cultures. This is how we began our project.

Using monsters as the theme wasn’t decided at the beginning, but a few weeks into the project. We decided on monsters as a theme because a) they are especially interesting to kids, and b) we realized that monsters have a quite unique unifying aspect to them, in that, although each culture has its own monsters, there can be, not only differences from, but also similarities to the monsters of other cultures.

It is important to note the level of empathy that we hope to achieve. There has been much research devoted to fostering empathy, especially in children,, none of which sets it up as an easy task. It  can’t be achieved simply by hearing a few facts about a culturally different  person/group. It is, therefore, important for us to note that we simply want to put a foot in the door regarding this

phenomena and give kids the idea that different people have different customs and views. This goal may seem small, but the understanding is crucial to a child’s ability to more fully empathize with people.

Jeffery Cohen, in his paper “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” offers terrific arguments about how monsters represent the culture that they reside in, specifically the cultures’ fears and customs. Cohen argues that a lot of the fear of monsters can come about because they challenge customs. This gave us some dimensions to work with when it came to writing the stories. On the one hand, the writers were able to have the monsters demonstrate their cultures through the way a player must deal with them. An example from the game is the way in which the player is supposed to deal with the Kappa. The Kappa, a monster from Japan, exhibits certain features of that culture by requiring customary mannerisms, such as traditional Japanese bowing to show respect.

The other way we can familiarize the kids with the cultures is through the fear that brought about the monster. An example of this is the New Zealand monster Taniwha. This monster shows the fear small villages had. The monster could be viewed as being good/helpful to the villagers because it would protect the village. The fear exists in that it might turn bad/hurtful, especially if villagers do not do certain things. This demonstrates to players some of the fears of living in a small village, leaving the players to wonder what it would be like to be one of the villagers.

One of Cohen’s main theses is  “The Monsters Dwells at the Gates of Difference” (7); that is, monsters represent differences, which makes them scary. This can obviously be seen as a drawback to our project. If we are showing other cultures through what is scary about them, are we just further instilling the scariness of otherness? Yet the stories in the game are written so as to showcase the sameness of a lot of the monsters. Some might be scary in different ways, but none of them are necessarily scarier than the others. All of the monsters incite fear, demonstrating a unity amongst the differences.
You can play–and find more information about–the game, including our paper in Game Learning Society (GLS), at:

www.travelersnotebookgame.com

Work Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Cultureedited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. University of Minnesota Press, 1996. pp. 3-25.

The DLR’s Gala: You Don’t Want to Miss It!

by Troi Watts

The Digital Literature Review will be holding our annual gala on April 26th from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in room 301 of the Student Center. The gala will be a celebration of the completion of the fourth edition of the Digital Literature Review. This year’s theme of monsters will set the stage for our gala activities. What will you see at this monster mash?

Come learn how the Digital Literature Review is created! Our publicity, design, and editorial teams will be giving presentations that will demonstrate this year’s process. Publicity will discuss their successes with promoting our various events and managing our social media presence. Design will display the spooky artwork they have created for our special events and this year’s edition. Editorial will talk about the process of choosing and editing submissions. We want to inspire faculty members and current students to join our DLR team and help us create more awesome editions in the future. Come hear about the professional experience you could gain and see if that’s something you’d be interested in.

Get a sneak peek of what will be included in this year’s journal! Every member of the DLR team will be giving a presentation over the research they’ve been doing this year, meaning you’ll learn all the deep, dark secrets of popular monsters, like zombies, while getting a new perspective on creatures that you might not have considered monsters previously. Learn about the complexities of being a monster while you listen to a presentation that examines cancer as a monster in the popular novel-turned-movie, A Monster Calls. Go deeper into mythological tales, like Medusa, and ask yourself, who are the real monsters in these stories? As you can see, both film and literary monsters will be covered, from Mad Max and Spirited Away to the Chronicles of Narnia series, so there’s something for every monster enthusiast. These presentations are sure to be thrilling, and you’ll get a chance to meet members of the DLR team personally.

There will be food! We’re not monsters; we just like to talk about them. Munch on yummy snacks as you peruse student presentations—that is, if you can stand eating while listening to an analysis of the gory events of the horror film The Witch or while hearing about the cannibalistic dining habits of wendigos.

Come to the Digital Literature Review’s gala on April 26th! We’d love to have company as we celebrate the completion and launch of our fourth edition. It’s sure to be a spookily fun time.

 

Human to Beast: Transfiguration in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

by Emma Hartman

The first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Buffy for short, contains many stand-alone episodes–mostly featuring metaphorical monsters and demons–which parallel issues that teens may encounter in real life. Each of the twelve episodes in the season feature either a creature who was at one time a person or a person who will become a creature during the course of the episode. The most obvious example of a creature born from a human is a vampire, and these are seen in almost every episode of Buffy. However, the episodes that feature a non-vampire transformation include students who are possessed by hyenas, a man who turns into a ventriloquist dummy, and a girl who turns invisible. Through the manipulation of the human form into an undesirable state, the episodes demonstrate the danger of losing one’s humanity. By tying moral standards to the maintenance of a human form, the episodes warn of divergence from acceptable behavior. In addition, the episodes suggest that one’s humanity is always at risk of becoming warped and defiled because every transformation is caused by an uncontrollable outside force. In turn, the monster transformations in the first season of Buffy serve to elevate the status of humanity and to justify Buffy’s mission to rid the Earth of the monsters’ reign and influence.

In the episode “The Pack,” students sneak into an off-limits hyena exhibit and are possessed by the demonic hyenas when they stumble onto an ancient symbol written on the floor by the zookeeper. When these students return to school, they behave like hyenas, travelling in a pack and laughing at their classmates. This episode first warns of the risks of breaking rules: specifically sneaking into places where one doesn’t belong. Secondly, it reflects a common issue in high school: bullying and teasing. “The Pack” exaggerates this phenomenon by having the bullies not only mock people, but also eat them. By conflating the way that hyenas behave with the way that high school bullies behave, “The Pack” compares poor treatment of others with becoming animalistic or primitive, and thus warns against regression. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen states of the first werewolf in Western literature that “the horribly fascinating loss of Lycaon’s humanity merely reifies his previous moral state” (13). In the same way, the students’ transformation into hyenas solidifies their previous moral state. This transformation serves to define a certain standard of behavior as essentially human by associating it with the human form, while divergent behavior is seen as bestial.

“Out of Mind, Out of Sight” also deals with a form of bullying in high school: ostracization. In the episode, a student named Marcie turns invisible because no one, not even her teacher, pays attention to her. This episode provides social commentary on the effects that seemingly inconsequential acts can have on others. It also creates awareness of what it feels like to be completely alone by making it physically impossible for Marcie to be acknowledged by anyone. Similar to the episode “The Pack,” this episode exaggerates a common high school phenomenon. Her isolation causes Marcie to become homicidal towards those who caused her to lose her body, and thus she becomes a monster in her own right. Marcie inspires fear not only because of her invisibility and her violence but also because she evokes a category crisis. Marcie inhabits the border of existing/not existing and human/other. Both category crisis and border policing are central to the concept of the monster as Jeffrey Cohen outlines it in his essay, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” (Cohen 6). Because Buffy still considers Marcie to be partially human, Buffy cannot kill her. However, Buffy must stop the monstrous Marcie from trying to kill fellow students. Marcie’s state creates unease because her transformation argues that to be a human with worth and dignity, one must be acknowledged as such by peers.

In “The Puppet Show,” a demon hunter named Sid is turned into a ventriloquist dummy and will not be released from this curse until he manages to kill the Brotherhood of Seven, demons who harvest organs in order to obtain human bodies for themselves. This episode demonstrates an interesting contrast to previous themes. Not only is a human transformed into something almost human but disturbingly divergent—a wooden doll, but also the demons will stop at nothing to become human themselves. This episode elevates the status of humanity through the coveting of the human body by demons and by the dummy, whose goal is to regain his own human form. It establishes the human form as ideal and divergent states as other and to be avoided. After it is revealed that Sid started with a human body and was forced to become something else, he is portrayed sympathetically. However, because the Brotherhood of Seven start as demons and want to become human through the sacrifice of living people, they are established as monstrous. This episode reinforces the elevated status of the human body, and thus other episodes about transfiguration become more effective in their message. Buffy is able to justify her mission to preserve the human race when she helps Sid recover his coveted human form, although it is too late to save his life, and when she stops the demon from appropriating a human body for himself.

Through various forms of transformation, the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer demonstrates a “correct” and “incorrect” way to behave towards others by turning issues that teens often grapple with into metaphorical storylines. The human body and humanistic behavior are linked together visually, and thus moral divergence can easily be illustrated. Through the hyena transformation, it is demonstrated that wrong actions can negatively impact one’s own welfare as well as that of others. The invisible girl serves to show the poor treatment of others and attempts to raise awareness about the effects of ostracization on people. Finally, the Brotherhood of Seven, who murder in order to obtain a human body, illustrate just how dangerous it is to exist on the outskirts of humanity. The demons also demonstrate the dangers of association when they cast a spell on Sid, the demon hunter, which causes him to also lose his human body. Together, these episodes work to promote normative humanity, including morally pure behavior, and by association also promote Buffy’s mission to vanquish all vampires and demons from the Earth in order to restore its peace as well as its morality.

Works Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Regents of the University of Minnesota, 1996, pp. 3-25.

“Out of Mind, Out of Sight.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, directed by Bruce Seth Green and Joss Whedon, The WB, 1997.

“The Pack.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, directed by Bruce Seth Green and Joss Whedon, The WB, 1997.

“The Puppet Show.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, directed by Bruce Seth Green and Joss Whedon, The WB, 1997.

Telekinesis as the Female Abject in Stephen King’s “Carrie”

by Leah Heim

Stephen King’s Carrie is an unlikely book, even for a man whose novels feature ax-wielding nurses and killer clowns. Though it is King’s debut novel, Carrie handles subject matter that some authors don’t dare to touch even in their most mature creations, such as religious fanaticism, ambiguous moral decisions, and the vacuum of terror that is teenage existential angst. These topics, however, look practically tame in comparison to one of Carrie’s earliest-introduced themes: menstruation. King opens the novel with the infamous shower sequence in which Carrie, a will-be telekinetic, has her first period, prompting her classmates to chant and throw feminine products at her. This episode is one of many torments that Carrie endures, building to the dramatic climax of the book, when Carrie, after being covered in pig’s blood at prom, uses her telekinesis to take revenge on everyone who has wronged her. (It’s worth mentioning that even this destruction and death seem less startling than that first shower scene; why does the natural process of menstruation seem more outrageous than murder?) While the shock value of such an opening scene cannot be overstated, Carrie’s period serves as more than a plot device. Rather, it is the literal appearance of the uniquely female abject, something that Carrie will increasingly experience in the form of her developing telekinesis. By accepting her relationship with this form of abjection, Carrie becomes a compelling figure of female empowerment.

Abjection, as put forth by Julia Kristeva in her 1980 essay “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection,” is the situation in which a human being encounters something that makes him or her question the definite lines of their identity. In Kristeva’s words, “[t]he abject is not an ob-ject [sic] facing me, which I name or imagine. Nor is it an ob-jest [sic], an otherness ceaselessly fleeing in a systematic quest of desire. . . . The abject has only one quality of the object—that of being opposed to I” (Kristeva 1). While people have encounters with the abject every day, women in particular possess a special relationship with it. Monthly menstruation is only a small offshoot of another abjected state, pregnancy, during which a woman has an alien mass growing inside of her body for nine months straight. Therefore, there exists a subsection of the abject that is uniquely female, and it is this form of abjection that Carrie discovers in the locker room shower.

While menstruation is Carrie’s first encounter with the female abject, it is not her last. Her physical maturity brings another development into her life—the ability to move objects with her mind, or telekinesis. Though Carrie’s personal situation is unique, she is not the first woman in popular fiction to acquire this power, as evidenced by Dr. Jean Grey of The X-Men, Matilda of Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name, and Eleven of the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things—just to mention a few. In fact, one is faced with a plethora of memorable female telekinetics, while male telekinetics seem to mostly fade into the background. Barbara Creed, professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Melbourne, offers an explanation for this within the lens of feminist analysis by saying that Carrie’s telekinesis (and, by logical extension, that of other female telekinetics) represents a woman whose powers to create and destroy have not yet been socially harnessed (Rice 200). Telekinesis then assumes an allegorical function in these stories: it is a weapon with which women symbolically fight patriarchal repression.

However, I posit that one notices more female telekinetics because telekinesis is itself a form of abjection. Through this power, a person has the ability to extend themselves into the world around them and manipulate objects at will; in Carrie, turning on sprinklers with her telekinesis even allows Carrie to taste “iron in her mouth, cold wet metal, the taste of water drunk from the nozzle of a garden hose” (King 187). As such, telekinesis is the ultimate blurring of lines; Carrie’s power is the ultimate form of the abject. It makes cultural sense, therefore, that women—those eerie, bleeding creatures—have broader access to it.

Consequently, when Carrie uses her telekinesis to wreak havoc on her classmates and her town, she is immersing herself unabashedly in her own form of the female abject. Kristeva calls this process of embracing the abject jouissance: “One does not know it, one does not desire it, one joys in it [on enjouit]. Violently and painfully. A passion” (Kristeva 9, emphasis and bracket original). One of the classic examples of jouissance is breastfeeding, where a mother finds joy and empowerment in the blurring of boundaries that occurs when she nourishes her child from the milk of her own body. Mirroring this experience, Carrie rejoices in her abjection when she takes control of her telekinetic ability, and she similarly finds liberation and strength in jouissance, enough for her to destroy the entire town.        

In light of this, it becomes apparent that telekinesis in Stephen King’s Carrie serves not only as a symbol of the power of the unharnessed woman, as suggested by Creed, but as a literal representation of the uniquely female abject. Such a view of telekinesis finds a parallel in the experience of jouissance, during which women celebrate the female abject and discover their own distinctive form of power. In a patriarchal society, this is all quite spooky—thus, the often horrifying portrayal of telekinetic women. Such a trend nods warily to the unfamiliar depths of female strength derived from the female abject.

No wonder so many men want to be nice and hold doors open.

Works Cited

King, Stephen. Carrie. Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1974.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Translated by Leon S. Roudiez, Columbia University Press, 1982.

Rice, Carla. Becoming Women: The Embodied Self in Image Culture. University of Toronto Press, 2014.

Consequences of Selfishness: Historical Allusions within Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

by Jessica P. Ramos, University of Florida

“A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquillity… If this rule were always observed… Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed.” (Shelley 53-54)

Despite centuries having passed since the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), its handling of human nature has ensured its place within the literary canon. In the novel, Victor Frankenstein is found under mysterious circumstances by the captain of a ship, Robert Walpole. He is nursed back to health and eventually entrusts Robert with the story of how he came to be where he is, revealing that it all started with a scientific experiment to give life to the nonliving. In the middle of his story, he breaks free from his narrative in order to directly address Robert, who is listening to him. The above quote is taken from this address; the placement and meaning of the chosen allusions emphasize a possible motive behind Victor’s sharing of the story with Robert, while also implying a grander message from Shelley to her readers.

Though it is emphasized throughout the novel that Victor is more of a scientific man than a cultural one, the chosen allusions in this excerpt refer exclusively to events in history that had negative effects on culture. Using words such as “enslaved,” “would have spared,” “discovered more gradually,” and “not been destroyed” suggests that Victor disagrees with how these historic events have played out: though not a literal form of “enslavement,” when the Greeks became a part of the Roman Empire, many of their original copper sculptures were destroyed; Julius Caesar’s assumption of a dictatorship stripped the people of their democracy; the desperation to obtain new land in the Americas led to the mass death of the native people; ancient empires were completely obliterated in the quest for power. All of these examples portray the loss of culture due to the ambition of another sovereignty. The decision to focus on the cultural advances of society rather than the scientific suggests that one holds greater importance over the other, even in the eyes of this genius scientist. By comparing his situation to these iconic events, Victor suggests that his desperation to fulfill his own curiosity led to consequences that are just as historically poignant as those he alludes to, implying that his mistake is just as damning to the course of human history. In the sentence following this quote, Victor admits to “moralizing” within his own story, meaning that he is giving Robert his present opinion on the topic of passion in relation to collective society. At the same time, these allusions help set the foundation for the ongoing juxtaposition of science and nature throughout the course of the novel; science brings about ambition, stress, and selfish consequence, while nature and the liberal arts (often in the form of Henry Clerval) bring about tranquility, comfort, and peace of mind.

By breaking out of his role as storyteller and addressing Robert directly, Victor interjects his present thoughts regarding his past actions. Before this narrative interruption, Victor is recounting how he became so devoted to his desire to create life that he began ignoring everything else—including his family. When he resumes his storytelling, he admits to being “checked by [his] anxiety,” “oppressed by a slow fever,” and “nervous to a most painful degree” (Shelley 54). This emphasizes the negative effects of the reckless passion Victor entertained in order to satiate his curiosity. Before Victor begins retelling his story, he tells Robert, “the strange incidents connected to [my tale] will afford a view of nature, which may enlarge your faculties and understanding” (Shelley 25). This preface to his story solidifies the idea that the breaches in narration serve as direct addresses to Robert himself, but this only leads to another question: why must a character who hardly has anything to do with the main events of the story be addressed in the first place?

Victor’s narrative is framed by Robert’s letters in order to further imply a particular reading of the text. Robert’s opening letter states that “[his] life might have been passed in ease and luxury; but [he] preferred glory to every enticement,” therefore sharing the same passionate drive as Victor (Shelley 10). When he later gets to converse with the man, he admits that he wants a companion who is “wiser and more experienced than [himself], to confirm and support [him]” (Shelley 24). This desire to fulfill a single, long-term goal, while receiving confirmation and support from peers is not uncommon and is in fact a common facet of human nature. Like Robert, the readers of the novel are listening to the tale of Frankenstein; when Victor breaks his narrative to “moralize” with Robert, he is also addressing the reader and warning them to be careful of what they allow to have control over their lives. During a time when the Romantic love for nature was being replaced by the rapid development of science, Mary Shelley used this novel as a medium through which she could express her thoughts on the changing world around her. In Frankenstein, human curiosity leads to the destruction of the innocent, just as human selfishness led to the deterioration of human culture in her chosen historical allusions. By comparing curiosity to selfishness within the debate of nature versus industrialism, Shelley raises moralistic questions about human nature itself that remain unanswered even to this day.

Source:

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Monster Poetry with Brian Morrison

by Keith Jackson

If you were one of the unlucky ones that missed the Digital Literature Review’s monster poetry reading, you can still read about it here! The reading featured Ball State English Department’s very own Brian Morrison and his manuscript of poems on monsters. He works as an Assistant Professor of English at Ball State University. He agreed to be the star of this semester’s first “DLR Presents” reading, a themed event held once or twice every year, showcasing professional work from Ball State and abroad. Our second event was held last Friday (March 31st) with Jeffrey Weinstock, Ph.D. You can expect a blog about Weinstock’s talk on vampires soon!

Before the reading, I asked Morrison a few questions. He discussed his writing process, how he chooses what topics to explore, what his inspirations were for writing monster poetry, and the project he would be reading from. Morrison was very open in his answers, and I have provided a few below. I will discuss the actual reading a bit later on.

Morrison first talked with me about how he approaches a poem. He does not always know what he’s going to write about beforehand, but he focuses on an image, or sometimes a line, to start things off. The poem forms over time,  over the course of two or three drafts. The ones that he read for the DLR were the result of a project he had started a few years ago. He did not know exactly where it was going at first, but he followed the idea of ‘false history,’ which means that he rewrote classic stories or historical moments. For example, he began to rewrite movies, like Frankenstein, in which the creature is a farmer in the Midwest.

After monsters entered Morrison’s life, he never let them leave. Writing has been a way of life for Morrison, and he used it to help cope with a difficult childhood. Writing helped him navigate through life and make sense of how chaotic it can be at times. To some extent, he says he is still doing it now. Like most of us, his love of monsters stems from movies he had watched. When he was a boy, he and his father found common ground in their love of horror films. They both loved the genre and movies like Jaws, Predator, and anything with werewolves. They bonded in this way, watching monster movies. Brian still watches them, and writing about them has been the most fun he has ever had. This passion resonated well with quite a few of his poems.

Right off the top, the very first poem he read reminded me of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, the monster expert, and his seven theses. Though Morrison’s poems explored several ideas, at the forefront was the political climate in America. Cohen’s first theory in particular resonated strongly throughout the entirety of the reading. In the first theory, “The Monster’s Body Is a Cultural Body,” Cohen says the “monster’s body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy (ataractic or incendiary), giving them life and an uncanny dependence” (4). In this way, the monster exists to be read, to reveal, and to warn the reader. The monsters in the first few poems (which work together to convey one cohesive idea) manifest themselves in many ways. For example, in the second poem, fear morphs into a monster Ms. McCready keeps hidden in her basement, bringing it with her to city hall to vote. Though it is easy to blame Ms. McCready for allowing the monster she has only just revealed to influence her ideas, Morrison asks the question, “Can you blame them for caring more about the roads and the children? The taxes and the donors?” The monster Ms. McCready keeps in her basement represents a broader cultural anxiety – the anxiety of a country split into two poles.

Near the end of the reading, Morrison read the poem he had referenced in our discussions – the ‘false history’ poem about Frankenstein’s monster being a farmer in the Midwest. This was perhaps my favorite poem out of the whole collection, partly because of the setting (think rural and cornfields; think Indiana) and partly because this poem was false history. In the poem, which was hilarious and disturbing all at the same time, the monster expresses grief over his unruly appendages and the hard work of tilling a field. The life of a farmer is a lonely one, and Frankenstein’s monster is not devoid of emotion. He longs for friendly connection but knows he is a monster. The townsfolk shun him, consider him “Other,” something that does not belong. The poem closes as Frankenstein disperses his appendages throughout his fields to help the crops grow, ultimately accepting his role as farmer and nothing more.

Whether it is the monster we hide deep within us, the being that controls some of our deepest beliefs, or a twist on a classic story, Morrison’s poems were terrifyingly monstrous. The poems asked us to look within ourselves as a community and as a country. Within them, monsters were created to answer cultural fears and anxieties, to help make sense of the wacky world we live in. “Monsters ask us why we have created them” (Cohen 20). Morrison’s creations asked those in attendance to propose the same question: Why do we love monsters so much?  

 

Work Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Ed. Cohen. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 1996. pp. 3-25.

The Slasher: Evolution

by KJ Ross-Wilcox

From the Greek tales of the minotaur and the cyclops to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the horror genre has a rich history. For a century, one of the most common ways that horror has manifested itself is on film. Horror movies have been around practically as long as film has existed, with early examples such as Le Manoir du Diable (1896) and The Man Who Laughs (1928). Arguably horror’s most famous subgenre to date, the slasher film has only been around since 1960, when Alfred Hitchcock created the horror classic Psycho, which is considered to be the “immediate ancestor of the slasher films” (Clover 192). The formula Hitchcock created for the slasher genre was a psychotic killer who is the product of a sick family, but still recognizably human; the victim is a beautiful, sexually attractive woman; the location is not-home, at a Terrible Place; the weapon is something other than a gun; the attack is registered from the victim’s point of view and comes with shocking suddenness. (Clover 192)

One could say that the genre peaked between the early 70s and late 80s, which is evident in the virtually constant reboots, retellings, and recreations of the monsters created at that time, but this genre remains one of horror’s cornerstones and is arguably the most commercial to date. Two of the most dynamic slasher movie villains are polar opposites, spawned in two very different times, and one could argue that the change from Michael Myers to Ghostface showcases the change in what and who American society feared during both periods in time.

The archetypal slasher is a near-superhuman, male, masked killer preying on the young and weak (Wee). The classic 70s and 80s slasher film pins an innocent, sexually attractive female lead against a knife-wielding serial killer terrorizing her and her peers and includes dramatic, unrelenting, unexpected violence and brutality (Wee). Another convention of the slasher film is the indestructible and psychotic masked serial killer, whose ability to survive deadly attacks borders on the supernatural and paranormal (Wee). The Halloween franchise depends heavily on this device, as serial slasher Michael Myers repeatedly rises from blows that would stop or kill a lesser man or any normal human being (Wee).

This supernatural monster in human form was a representation of its time, embodying many societal fears of those living during the Cold War. These types of monsters embodied society’s anxieties about the unknown and the uncontrollable, including America’s fear of its own people: fears of the loss of moral fiber, of drugs, of not being able to trust friends and family, of tensions between races, of sexuality, and of nuclear war all rose during this period.

In these movies, there were rules for surviving, and, if a person broke them, the “boogeyman” came for them. If an individual had sex, used bad language, abused substances, was overly sexual,  poor, or of a race other than white, they were seen as the monster’s prey. These rules were based on the societal fears listed above with a focus on a fear of hypersexuality (specifically in women), the war on drugs (which spiked after the recent wars America faced), the fear that the US was losing its Christian values, and society’s fear of other races, despite the recent civil rights movement (May 55). The innocent, virgin, white female was seen as the virtuous saving grace of these movies, and she usually was the only one to make it out alive. This is clear in the first Halloween movie, in which Jamie Lee Curtis plays the white virgin heroine who survives the horrors of her monstrous brother, Michael Myers. As she nearly escapes the embodiment of death in the form of her older brother, he stalks, terrorizes, and slays the citizens of the town who get in his way, most of whom fit into one or more of the categories of societal fears listed above. The teens (and adults) who were seen as amoral, grotesque, outsiders, or just plain rebellious would all become victims at the hands of Michael Myers by the end of the movie.

These standards in the Slasher films genre created the fear of the guy down the street who was a stranger, a loner, and different from the audience, but, in the 1990s, horror movie director and icon, Wes Craven, turned that fear on its head and made the audience afraid of the boy next door and the class president.

In response to the Gainesville Ripper (a man whose passion and love for Michael Myers and horror movies inspired him to kill five students in real life), a new terror struck the homes and hearts of America: fear for the safety of children in school (Hutchinson). This didn’t help when the numbers of school shooting and deaths in America were over a hundred and increasing between 1986 and 1996, the highest it had ever been in US history (“History of School Shootings in the United States”). The fear that a kid who appeared normal on the outside could harbor a killer inside led them to come to school and shoot their teachers and classmates, paired with a man’s deranged love for horror movies “pushing” him to murder, led director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson to evolve the slasher genre further by creating Scream. The Scream franchise took the soulless, silent, disconnected monster with a hideous face hidden behind a mask and changed him into the high school heartthrob who has everything he wants, someone viewers would never expect to be a killer.

University of Singapore Professor Valerie Wee argues that the Scream films offer a reconsideration and reimagining of the slasher villain in order to fit the demographic the franchise is trying reach while breaking with the common portrayal of the villains and reinterpreting the homicidal maniac. Typical villains in this genre are misfits and outsiders, large in size, have some motivation for killing, and may have supernatural powers (Wee). Scream continues the trend of the seemingly invincible and indestructible psychopath, but the villains contradict the normal archetypes that appear in other slasher films (Wee). These villains are the popular, attractive, normal kids, rather than the outsiders and misfits. These characters are the boyfriends and friends who seem to be in just as much danger as anyone else, but, in reality, they are the monsters behind the mask.

The Scream films challenge the common device of the supernatural person as the killer, and the killer is turned into an ordinary, “average-Joe” human who is personally troubled and usually a member of the heroine’s close circle of friends. The killers in the Scream franchise have demeanors that are completely different from that of Michael Myers, as these Scream slashers talk and taunt their victims mentally, verbally, and physically, whereas Michael Myers never utters a word; his presence was enough to send shivers down a victim’s spine and put fear in their heart. The Scream villain, Ghostface, is smarter than the typical slasher villain; he actually runs after his victims and is willing to kill someone in a room, house, or building full of other people, where the typical villain would single their victims out and wait until they were alone. This contradicted the fear of being alone, creating the feeling of nowhere being safe.

As time progresses, so do values, art, and even fear. When something in society, like a war or a tragic event, causes a major change that shifts the dynamics of the world around it, monsters await in the shadows to take their first steps into the a new world. With life imitating art, a new slasher will be born every time.

Works Cited

Clover, Carol J. “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film.” Representations, no. 20, 1987, pp. 187–228. www.jstor.org/stable/2928507. Accessed 17 Sept. 2016.

“History of School Shootings in the United States.” K12 Academic. http://www.k12academics.com/school-shootings/history-school-shootings-united-states#.WEOaNGQrIb0. Accessed 17 Sept. 2016.

Hutchinson, Sean. “15 Things You May Not Have Known About ‘Scream.” Mental Floss. 3 Feb. 2016. http://mentalfloss.com/article/58039/15-things-you-may-not-have-known-about-scream.  Accessed 27 Sept. 2016.

May, Elaine Tyler. Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. Basic Books, 2008.  

Wee, Valerie. “Resurrecting And Updating The Teen Slasher.” Journal Of Popular Film & Television, vol. 34, no. 2, 2006 pp. 50-61. Academic Search Premier. Accessed 19 Oct. 2016.

It’s “Doctor” Frankenstein, Okay?

By Troi Watts

Frankenstein. We hear the name and what do we think of? The monster: a thing constructed from the bodies of various corpses and brought to life by a mad scientist. We do not think of the mad scientist himself, Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Mary Shelley’s horror novel is the namesake of this man, not the creature that so many people choose to associate with the name. But why do people make this mistake? This could be interpreted as an effort to displace the monstrous qualities of Dr. Victor Frankenstein onto the Creature. Society does not always want to accept the fact that humans can be monsters because humans have morals, values, and rules that are supposed to prevent them from doing anything monstrous. However, when examining Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s monster theory, Dr. Frankenstein’s actions, and the actions of the Creature, it becomes clear that the true monster of Mary Shelley’s novel is actually the main human character, Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

But wait, why is the thing that looks like a monster not actually the monster? It is easy to associate the word “monster” with the disfigured, frightful looking Creature, but when looking at the Creature’s actions, “monster” is not the right label. Cohen’s fourth thesis, “The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference,” explains that monsters are “difference made flesh” (Cohen 7). Yes, the Creature’s appearance is absolutely different from that of a regular human, but let us look beneath the surface. The Creature’s experiences are very similar to that of an unwanted child. It is brought into this world forcibly, without having asked to be created. Its “father” (Dr. Frankenstein) rejects and abandons it, despite its helplessness. It must then find a way to live and learn all by itself. The Creature may look different, but its personality and upbringing are not monstrously different from that of an unwanted child. Unwanted children survive in society and are not labeled as “monstrous.” So why should we treat the Creature this way?

With this information in mind, what makes Dr. Victor Frankenstein the true monster of this story? Connecting to Jeffrey Cohen’s first thesis, “The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body,” Dr. Frankenstein is the embodiment of both the fear of what will become of our bodies after death and the unspoken desire to become something superior to human, to have more power. Dr. Frankenstein’s process of creating the Creature involved grave robbing and the mutilation of corpses. Considering that respect for the dead is a common trait among societies, people could assume their corpses to be safe in the ground, cremated, etcetera because it is difficult for them to comprehend anyone breaking these social mores about the dead. Dr. Frankenstein’s actions speak for themselves, refuting these beliefs that corpses will rest in peace. He is proof that there are people in our society that have no respect for the dead and will violate corpses. In Dr. Frankenstein’s own words, “a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life” (Shelley 51). A receptacle. There is no hint of respect or consideration of what he has done in that objective word. Therefore, the fear that people’s helpless corpses could be pulled out of the peaceful ground and played with by anyone is instilled in readers of this novel.

On the other hand, in his explanation of what makes a monster’s body cultural, Cohen states that the monster’s body could also represent a cultural desire (Cohen 4). When interpreting Cohen, this desire is not a pleasant or acceptable thing (based on the fact that he is discussing monsters). Dr. Frankenstein is embodying the desire to gain power through his prideful attempt to create life, an ability exclusively associated with a deity.

When faced with the evidence of Dr. Frankenstein’s monstrosity, it seems odd that people continue to ignore the scientist and displace the monstrosity onto the Creature. In Dr. Frankenstein’s defense, he is a human, just like anyone reading Shelley’s novel. He was once a child, went to school, made friends, and had normal feelings (happiness, sadness, anger) just like a regular human would. He is too relatable for people to accept that he is a monster. But people do not want to relate to a monster because of the fear of what it means to be a monster.

As Cohen’s third thesis, “The Monster is the Harbinger of Category Crisis,” explains that monsters do not easily fit into any category. Humans enjoy order and classification, usually in a binary system: good and bad, black and white, true and false. Throw in a shady, gray-area third option, and things get uncomfortable for humans.

Another thing that makes humans uncomfortable is difference, and, as Cohen states, “The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference.” Xenophobia and fear of the yet-to-be understood has been a serious problem of societies, even today. It connects back to the category crisis. By not being able to classify a monster, humans do not know how to handle or cope with it.

By refusing to consider Dr. Frankenstein to be “the monster” of Mary Shelley’s novel, readers are ignoring the idea that a human could be a monster. Dr. Frankenstein is a relatable character due to the fact that he is a human with real emotions and a personal life. Readers do not want to relate to a character that contains monstrous aspects because they do not want to associate those monstrous traits with themselves. They do not want to be monsters! Therefore, they give the title of monster to the Creature, whose appearance allows people to consider him something other than human, something they cannot relate to.

Frankenstein. When we think of the name now, what do we think? We should think of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the man who tried to play God, the man with no respect for the dead, not the Creature who was forced into being. After all, the creature is simply “a man’s [Dr. Frankenstein’s] invention brought to life” (Skalošová 18). In other words, a man’s monstrosity brought to life.

 

Works Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”. Monster Theory: Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Regents of the University of Minnesota, 1996, pp. 3-25.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus. Oxford University Press, 1969.

Skalošová. Žaneta. “Monster and Monstrosity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Masaryk University Information Systems., Dissertation, Masaryk University, 2015.Accessed 13 Feb. 2017. http://is.muni.cz/th/431198/pedf_m/Diplomka_Zaneta.pdf.  

 

“The Monster Is Not in My Face, But in My Soul” An Analysis of Dorian Gray in Penny Dreadful

by Alexis Lawhorn

The concept of immortality both seduces and frightens humankind. Most people are drawn to the idea of being able to live forever because of the endless options it would provide; Dorian Gray was one such man. A character from the novel A Picture of Dorian Gray, he is reimagined in the television show Penny Dreadful, which adds suspenseful twists and new characterization to traditional monstrous tales. The show takes place in the Victorian Era and involves iconic characters such as Jack the Ripper, Victor Frankenstein, and Dorian Gray. Dorian is immortal due to the fact that his soul is trapped in a painting, and all his dastardly deeds are reflected through the ever-altering portrait. Dorian embodies one reoccurring theme within the show: pushing social boundaries due to an insatiable appetite for the perverse. As a monster, Dorian Gray defies categorization and pushes the boundaries of Victorian society through his desire to seek pleasure in unorthodox ways.

The first thing the audience may notice when being introduced to Dorian Gray is that he does not care for the boundaries of Victorian society. He makes his debut in the episode “Séance” when he enlists a local woman, Brona Croft, to pose for pornographic pictures. As the session goes on, he discovers that she is ill with consumption; this only intrigues and arouses him more, and the two fornicate while the photographer snaps pictures. Thus, from his introduction, Dorian Gray is unorthodox. But, according to the theories of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Dorian’s desire also makes him monstrous. In “Monster Culture: Seven Theses,” Cohen discusses what characteristics create and define monsters. As Cohen states, “by refusing an easy compartmentalization of their monstrous contents, they [monsters] demand a radical rethinking of boundary and normality” (6). As monsters defy societal norms and push boundaries, Brona and Dorian become increasingly monstrous the more they diverge from the behavior that is expected of them. This scene contrasts the image of a gentleman that Dorian presents later in the episode while at a ball. Dorian defies Victorian norms and pushes the boundaries of society in order to achieve tantalizing entertainment for himself and his peers.

As Dorian has no concern for the consequences that his actions will have on his soulor, rather, the appearance of his soulhe is able to push beyond the bounds that confine other humans. He is also pushing the boundaries of society through his subtle encouragement of unorthodox behavior in others. Since Dorian appears as a normal man, it is increasingly uncanny when he reveals that he is anything but. Even modern viewers, who may embrace a variety of sexualities, might nevertheless view Gray’s behaviors as obscene. As such, this leads viewers to question their own sense of boundaries: how far is too far?

As Penny Dreadful progresses, Dorian Gray embodies the darker nature of desire. Dorian has a reputation for throwing gallant balls, during which he allows people to seek out their darkest desires. Though he hides behind the mask of a young, rich, high-society Englishman, this mask only allows him to push the boundaries more forcefully. In “Predators Far and Near,” Dorian and Lily Frankenstein (who have banded together in their immortality and lust for power) begin to recruit girls who have been sex slaves in order to create an army, which will allow them to gain more power. Dorian and Lily go to watch an event in which a young sex slave, Justine, is to be brutally murdered, but, instead, they murder all of the witnesses and “rescue” the girl. After saving her, they hold one of her abusers captive, so that Justine can slit his throat and obtain revenge. The scene becomes even more unnerving when the three of them bathe in the man’s blood and copulate. It is in this scene that Dorian begins to encourage others to embrace their dark desires, thus enhancing and spreading his monstrous nature. This is one of the many scenes in which Dorian displays desires that are outside of normal societal expectations. As Cohen states, “The monster awakens one to the pleasures of the body, to the simple and fleeting joys of being frightened, or frightening – to the experience of mortality and corporeality” (17). Through the arousal of bloodshed and revenge, Dorian is arousing Lily and the young girl to the powerful aphrodisiac of instilling fear and a sense of mortality in those around them.

The most prominent theme within Dorian’s character is an insatiable appetite for perverse pleasure, which then places him in a position of power. In “Momento Mori,” Dorian inquires, “Don’t we all want to paint ourselves into something better than we are?” His despicable actions illustrate the irony of this quote. He is attempting to portray himself as better than he is, not through the literal painting of his soul, but through his embodiment of the human desire for pleasure. Dorian attempts to use pleasurable activities to appear more amicable to the people around him. Employing this pleasing mask, he eradicates the knowledge of his true, wicked behavior so that he can continue to do what he enjoys; he remains unpredictable and aloof through his barrier of immortality, which aids him in avoiding consequences. He pushes societal bounds, defies individual categorization, and encourages a lust for power and pleasure within others. Ironically, it is because of these characteristics that he is held in esteem within society – he allows high-class individuals to come out from behind the masks they wear to conform to societal norms, and to turn instead to vile actions for pleasure. Each of Dorian’s acts, from pornography to murder, displays how his soulless, immortal nature leads him to act, through a desire created from an insatiable appetite for pleasure, in a venture for power. As the audience witnesses Dorian’s descent into monstrosity, the viewers realize their own dissonance between who they truly are and how they present themselves to society, through the use of their own hypocritical masks.

 

Works Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses). Monster Theory: Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Regents of the University of Minnesota, 1996, pp. 3-25.

“Momento Mori.” Penny Dreadful, season 2, episode 8, Showtime, 21 June 2015. Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/watch/80045622?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C7%2C925370c1-bf08-496f-b5f9-13c360411bce-156263911

“Predators Far and Near.” Penny Dreadful, season 3, episode 2, Showtime, 8 May 2016. Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/watch/80085098?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C1%2C437c7be6-4cfd-4c10-a341-cadbf8009b4e-109371250.

“Séance.” Penny Dreadful, season 1, episode 2, Showtime, 18 May 2014. Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/watch/80013255?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C1%2C437c7be6-4cfd-4c10-a341-cadbf8009b4e-109371250.