Date of Award
Russell Sbriglia, Ph.D.
Mary Balkun, Ph.D.
Gothic horror, monster, American literature, futurity, subversion, queer theory, gender studies, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Toni Morrison
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen begins his conclusory section of his influential essay “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” stating, “Monsters are our children. They can be pushed to the farthest margins of geography and discourse, hidden away at the edges of the world and in the forbidden recesses of our mind, but they always return” (52). Yet, Lee Edelman in No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive makes a statement which complicates the idea of the monster being “our child” when discussing that the normative (conservative) movement will “recurrently frame their political struggle…as a ‘fight for our children—for our daughters and our sons,” and thus as a fight for the future” (3). How can the monsters be “our children” yet we do not fight for them? What does that say for the future in texts that house the monstrous? I believe that Cohen’s position that we are the parents that beget the monstrous gives to much credit to the normative culture seeking to destroy the monstrous, when the monstrous is so much more than the aberrant spawn of society and culture at large. Rather, the monstrous is a radical making of itself; a cell that performs asexual reproduction. Therefore, the monstrous has much more agency than merely the oppressed abject. The monstrous is a revolutionary subject, a “monstrous subject.” Yet, how do we as readers identify what constitutes monstrous subjectivity and when does such a phenomenon occur? In this project I define the term “monstrous subjectivity” in conjunction with providing a metric which maps the exact point—or rather exact scene—where such a radical act occurs. This scene of radical self-birth of the monstrous subject is a term I call the “scene of subversion,” which is where what was once meant to be made abject instead resists and rejects this act of hegemonic power this making itself a subject outside and in opposition to the normative structure. Yet, what does this have to do with futurity? Such a radical act occurring in the archive of the Gothic horror genre indicates that it is the monstrous that holds the power over the temporality of the text. The monster can deny a futurity, reject a futurity, or assure a futurity—and this is not an exhaustive list, but rather the three I am focusing on. I identify these three variations of how the monstrous subject has an affect on futurity in Gothic horror through Edgar Allan Poe’s tale, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Henry James’s novella, The Turn of the Screw, and Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved. I investigate the intersections these texts lay out to find this point of self-birth I call the “scene of subversion” as well as underscore the ramifications of such a radical, monstrous act within the text—namely to the futurity of the text overall. These scenes of subversion are where the monster shows itself to be less a “child” of our making and more so of its own making therefore rejecting the concept of the monster as abject and instituting the monster as oppositional and radical subject.
DiBono, Salvatore S., "Scenes of Subversion: How Monstrous Subjectivities Affect Futurity in Gothic Horror" (2021). Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs). 2883.