The concept of the monstrous has been known throughout the history of culture. Modern cultural and artistic tradition leads to the fact that mental experiences when meeting with the Other, monstrous, reflect a feeling of horror of greatness and power in front of a once mysterious and unknown object of numinous origin. Such limited conceptual and discursive topics are for authors a way of revealing the idea of the world as a whole, the role of a human in this system, of the interpenetration of consciousness and the cultural space around humanity.
The history of monsters in world literature is very old and does not interrupt its development for a long time, which speaks of the significance of this image for humanity throughout its history. However, mass actualization of monstrous images in world literature took place in the 19th century. The era of great discoveries in the field of natural sciences raises the question of human power in a new way. Darwin’s theory made the problem of the relationship between human and animal again acute. The image of the mad scientist, whose irresponsible experiments bring him to the brink of death, became one of the main in the world literature of the 19th century. The most famous is Victor Frankenstein, who gave birth to a powerful and terrible creature, the hero of the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley. No less famous is Dr. Moreau from Wells’ novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, which artificially connects people and animals and ‘populates’ the whole island with amazing and unfortunate creatures. The monstrous nature of these works heroes, artificially created by mad scientists, inextricably suggests the duality of their nature – the desire for love and communication and at the same time the impossibility of suppressing their inherent cruel instincts.
The dichotomy of “Friend-Alien,” “Friend-Other,” “We-They,” etc. has been the object of philosophical and cultural analysis in recent decades. If to consider this dichotomy in a more detailed version from the point of view of the ontological place of the image of the Alien in the picture of the world of a modern person, then one can build the following conceptual chain: Own – Other – Alien – Enemy – Monster. The French term monstre is derived from a number of Latin terms: monstrum – a sign, omen, miracle, monster; monstruosus – ugly, ugly monstrifer – producing monsters (Moser and Zelaya 24). Likewise, in the English version, monster is a whopper, a freak. This term is also associated with the Latin verbs monstrare – to show or reveal, and monere – to warn or foretell (Moser and Zelaya 25-26). A number of researchers believe that the appearance of a monster is an omen, indicating to us the imperfection of our universe or divine providence (Hoobler and Hoobler 18). Almost all literary and cinematic works about monsters emphasize the dual nature of the monster – human and animal, its strangeness, ugliness, monstrous size, the difference – sharply and for the worse – from others.
A monster is not just an Enemy, a frightening, incomprehensible, unpredictable Alien – by his very existence and appearance he violates not only the laws of society, but also the laws of nature. The main condition for turning the Enemy into a Monster is to bring it out of the natural. Thus, from the very beginning, the monster’s ambivalence manifested itself in its ontological essence. He was either a zoomorphic or an anthropomorphic image. There are enough images of both types in mythology and cultural history. The most striking and replicated are still anthropomorphic monsters – Golem, goblins, fairies, gnomes, elves, etc. Their relevance and further interpretation is expressed in a huge number of movie remakes. More than 50 films have been dedicated to Frankenstein alone.
Moreau tries to make people out of his creations by introducing hypothetical, in the words of Kant, imperatives into their heads. For Moreau’s creations, the ‘truly amazing Law” itself acts as a kind of categorical imperative – formal and absolute. Moreau confesses to the amazed hero of the novel that the spiritual structure of a being has been studied by science even less physical; in the science of hypnotism that is developing today, we find it possible to replace the old hereditary instincts with new suggestions, as if by making grafts or transfers on the basis of heredity (Wells 214). Much of what we call moral education is only such an artificial change and perversion of instinct; militancy is transformed into courageous self-sacrifice, and repressed sex drive into religious ecstasy (Wells 215). The “source material” for Moreau is animals, but the “end product “of his laboratory is by no means human in the full meaning of the word.
Roughly human traits of his creatures do not rid them of deeply rooted animal instincts. As soon as the beastmen remember the taste of blood, they begin to return to their original state. Of course, Wells followed with interest the activities of Freud, who tried to discover the unconscious motives of mental life. Wells in his novel was in many ways ahead of Freud, who tried to eliminate phenomenological approaches from the analysis of the unconscious, developing his method of psychoanalysis.
In Wells’ novel, Moreau creates hybrid mutant creatures, giving them a semblance of a human being – a monstrous parody of reason, thought, speech, anthroposocial behavior. The novel covers a number of philosophical themes: pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identification and human interaction with nature. Wells’ scientists represent the forces of hell and the forces of heaven at the same time; they can call a storm and bring peace back to earth; however, they are not morally influenced. As a rule, at first glance, they do not differ from other people, but their talent is a “time bomb,” it is a force that serves evil. Wells raises the question of the responsibility of the scientist to society. Moreau considers all living things from a scientific point of view, this is the result of a combination of various chemical and physical processes, these are complex organisms, consisting of varying complexity of systems of neurons, and this is by no means the creation of God. There is a certain limit to the humanization of animals. These creatures live in constant fear of the Law. In human society, a person still half obeys his natural urges, the so-called law of the animal world and, of course, the instinct of self-preservation, the struggle against everyone.
The ridiculous semblance of a human society that has developed on the island, since its inception, is doomed to death. It owes its origin not to an ethical, but to a cosmic process – Moreau conducting inexpedient experiments. Animals are the “starting material” for Moreau, but people in the full sense of the word do not become the “end product” of his experiments. The human traits artificially given to them do not displace from them the animal instincts inherent in their nature. They do not have free will, and, therefore, the duality in them is so tragic.
In Dr. Moreau’s methods of humanizing animals, there is an inhumanity that contradicts the principle for which all experiments are performed. One day the hybrids are freed and rebel against their creator. The revolution, according to Wells, is controversial – it is directed against cruelty and violence, but at the same time it is itself carried out through cruelty. This idea is clearly expressed in the final part of the novel – as a result, the scientist dies. Animal people have good intentions, but still human qualities in them perish in the process of revolution. They return to their original state, getting on all fours: civilization is dying.
At the same time, namely the fantasy images represent the Other, created by the consciousness and will of human and necessary both to substantiate self-identification, which is possible only in contrast to the Other, and to express some aspects of human nature that are so frightening that they must be destroyed in the form of sinister and hostile Other. The problem takes on the character of a philosophical reflection on what life is and what is the measure of each person’s responsibility for own actions. The Age of Enlightenment showed the world a human – the guarantor of the rationality of the entire universe. Indeed, all the benefits of civilization are the fruit of the human mind, and this is so obvious that it makes to believe in human’ endless possibilities, but the death of human is also hidden in it. Romantics were the first to recognize this tragic contradiction. The era of romanticism that replaced the Enlightenment was looking for answers that did not obey the laws of rationalistic judgment, but required an intuitive, mystical guessing of the ultimate truths, and namely the romantics managed to see the light and foresee the true dangers of historical development.
Later, in the post-industrial era, the concept of monstrosity manifests itself at the level of an aristocratic struggle for power, where mutants are supporters of an opposition force that requires equality and their acceptance into the political and economic spheres of life. The popular culture of modern literature and cinema is riddled with the problems and disasters of the current society, and the concept of monstrosity is precisely the very victimized component on which all the causes of all kinds of crises converge, and the exiled characters are perceived as guilty in all public troubles, that is, they are blamed by society for misfortunes and they are subject to destruction.
It should be noted that the topic of zombies in culture is developing very quickly and over the course of several years has become the prevailing plot of many film adaptations. Zombies do not belong to a privileged class, they represent the mass sector of the population. Nevertheless, in the conditions of the political and economic situation, it can be traced that this image of the monstrous is a projection onto the lower strata of society, marginalized and emigrants, that is, those groups of people to whom the authorities and citizens do not pay any attention. The question arises: are we not fighting ourselves in the modern world, subjecting the destruction of our own kind, people who are no different from us? Have we ourselves become new subjects of history? It should be noted that there are scientific areas, the so-called monster study, where the “excluded” object of society is studied, circulating within the framework of the socio-cultural development of the historical picture of the world (Weinstock, 2020). Thus, it should be understood that the concept of monstrosity is just a cultural thesis, an anti-divine paradigm, and the existence of “monsters” is actually phobias, unresolved psychological conflicts, social disasters that resonate with the problems of society and the state, which show this dissonance in the context of culture and literature.
Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein. Back Bay Books, 2007.
Moser, Keith, and Karina Zelaya. The Metaphor of the Monster: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Understanding the Monstrous Other in Literature. Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.
Weinstock, J. (2020). The monster theory reader. University Of Minnesota Press.
Wells, Herbert. The Island of Doctor Moreau. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.