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Abstract to "Monsters and Monstrosities":
To early modern scientific research, Francis Bacon proposes three disciplines: the history of nature, the history of artifacts and the history of marvels. The objects of the latter he alternately labels “instantiae deviantes”, “errores naturae”, or “monstra”. Due to the very bizareness of its object, this third discipline assumes a privileged epistemological status within the Novum Organon. According to Bacon, nature in its radical deviations “behaves” like art and thereby reveals the conditions on which the natural as well as the artificial are predicated.
Within modernity’s second interdisciplinary inflation of monsters as scientific objects, nineteenth century monster studies designate their purpose more moderately. However, as Michel Foucault has observed, all discourses within the sciences humaines are reorganised around the figure of the monster. This is particularly the case in medical teratology, psychiatry, criminology and literary genres preoccupied with monsters such as gothic novels and detective novels. Additionally the monster assumes a central function in discourses as heterogeneous as early evolutionary theory, statistics, science fiction and the pre-psychoanalytic fiction of Henry James or Guy de Maupassant.
My thesis investigates the dialectic framework of a modern aesthetics of the monstrous. Nineteenth century teratological discourses do not, as Foucault assumes, follow a linear path of banalisation. Rather, they oscillate between allegorical and highly stylised individuations of singular monsters on the one hand and a complete dispersion of monstrous traits on the other hand. I will attempt to show that banalisation/universalisation and figural reorganisation are simultaneous processes within one and the same historical paradigm of atopic monstrosities, one that nevertheless maintains a tendency towards singularisation. I will analyse the process of permanent defiguration and refiguration of the monstrous with regard to its poetic conception and its social function.