What is a repulsive creature


Sabine Kyora

To person

Dr. phil., born 1962; Professor of Modern German Literature at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Faculty of Linguistics and Cultural Studies, Institute for German Studies, 26111 Oldenburg. [email protected]

On behalf of his boss, a young man travels from London to distant Transylvania. He is supposed to help a count there with the acquisition of land in London. But the count turns out to be a monster: "I went (...) through the dark corridor into the old chapel. (...) The big box was still in the same place, (...) and then I saw something that caught me in my deepest soul There lay the count, but he looked as if he had half regained his youth, for the white hair and mustache were now a dark iron gray (...); the mouth was redder than ever because it was on the lips fresh drops of blood that trickled down into the corners of his mouth and ran down his chin and neck (...) Apparently the whole hideous creature was filled to the top with blood; he lay there like a common leech, dull with satiety. "[1]

So in his grave lies the vampire Count Dracula, certainly one of the most famous monsters in literary and film history, invented by the Irish author Bram Stoker, who published the novel "Dracula" in 1897. The young man, Jonathan Harker, discovered that Count Dracula has supernatural abilities, feeds on human blood and is dangerous to him too. But not only that: "I helped bring this creature to London, where perhaps over the next few centuries it could satisfy its greed for blood among the teeming millions and create a new, ever-growing circle of half-demons who fattened themselves on the defenseless . The very thought drove me to a frenzy. A terrible desire to rid the world of such a monster. Since there was no deadly weapon at hand, I reached for a shovel (...) But while I did that, it turned whole face, and the look of these eyes hit me with the whole glow of their basilisk-like horror. The look paralyzed me (...). "[2] The disaster takes its course: The Count arrives in London and threatens civilization by hitting people, prefers women who suck blood and thus create new vampires. Because anyone who is bitten by him becomes a vampire himself. This danger of "contagion" presumably justifies the fear that emanates from the vampires. However, Harker's fascination can also be clearly felt, as the count has physical and mental abilities that make him appear powerful and almost equal to God. He doesn't die, he rules animals and people, gravity doesn't seem to apply to him, and he's rich too.

But what exactly is a monster or a monster? And why is their appearance associated with both fear and fascination?

Historical notions of the monster

What a monster or a monster is changes historically and with the ideas about what constitutes a human being as a human being. Monsters have been part of European cultures since ancient times. Derived from the Latin word "monster", medicine in ancient times understood "monster" to be people and animals with malformations. But monsters can be fantastic figures even at this time, because in ancient mythology there are a number of hybrid beings consisting of a half-human, half-animal body. Even in the Middle Ages, monsters are on the one hand "freaks", that is, people or animals that deviate from the physical shape that is considered normal, on the other hand these deformities are read as wonderful signs that can point to upcoming events.

It was not until the 18th century that this last idea was exposed as a superstition. A purely medical and natural historical perspective on actual deformities emerges, at the same time monsters now become fictional figures that populate literature and art. To a certain extent they are creatures of the European Enlightenment, which defined man as rational beings. The Kantian maxim that man should use his own understanding in order to become a mature being, sums up this new concept of man. At the same time, irrational and emotional parts are neglected as well as the sexual instinct. The monsters, on the other hand, embody exactly what was excluded by the definition of humans as rational beings. They are not rational beings, behave irrationally or sexually and are therefore condemned as immoral. So monsters often stand for the other of reason and for the night side of humans. [3] With the monsters, readers around 1800 learn how to shudder - an ambivalent feeling that is made up of both fear and fascination. Fear arises from the fact that the monsters suddenly break into the order that humans understand as rational beings and are thus perceived as a threat to this order. The fascination can in turn be explained in such a way that the other can also be attractive because it rebels against the compulsion to reason and at the same time expresses parts of the human being.

Literary and cinematic monsters usually have certain properties and characteristics by which they can be recognized. For example, Dracula has physical abilities that humans don't - so he can run up walls like a lizard. His body changes in an "unnatural" way: he gets young again when he drinks blood; besides, he doesn't die. These physical deviations are a first indication of the monstrosity of the figure. A second clue is his place of residence, which is from London on the edge of the (then) "civilized" world. His favorite daytime stay, the coffin, also shows the importance of places for the monster's existence. After all, Harker is not entirely clear what kind of creature he is dealing with: a living corpse, a human "leech" or a dead revenant? This uncertainty about their identity can also be part of the characteristics of monsters, often associated with another language that differs from human. Although Count Dracula can even speak English and parlors with Harker in this foreign language, he also has the "basilisk-like" evil eye as a kind of silent but powerful language that keeps Harker from the deadly attack. [4]

"Like a common leech": from the appearance of the monsters

Monsters are usually physically conspicuous beings. Measured by the average standards of the adult human body, they are either too big or too small, too strong, too permanent or too fleeting. Whether vampires and living corpses (such as zombies, ghouls), human intermediate beings (such as werewolves), artificial people and artificial beings (such as the homunculus, Frankenstein's creature, automatons and cyborgs), human-animal beings (such as centaurs, cynocephalic beings or other beings as they already know antiquity and the Middle Ages) or human-plant-beings (like the mandrake and the "thing from the swamp"): All these monsters have physical properties that distinguish them from humans. These properties are not only present in literary texts, but are also an optical attraction when filming literary originals. The directors Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau in "Nosferatu" (1922), Tod Browning in "Dracula" (1930), Terence Fisher in "Dracula" (1958) or Francis Ford Coppola in "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992) invent a vampire, who can be recognized by his teeth and his unnatural pallor, on the other hand he is (with the exception of "Nosferatu") portrayed as a kind of gentleman and attractive seducer. The Frankenstein films by James Whales ("Frankenstein" from 1931) or Kenneth Branagh ("Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" from 1994) also show a physically monstrous protagonist: Frankenstein's creature is very large and the fragments from which it is composed are clearly visible.

These physical deviations can also be found in genuine film monsters: King Kong, for example, is the first monster invented for the film to be too big and too strong for a "normal" gorilla ("King Kong and the White Woman" by Merian C. Cooper, 1933; "King Kong" by Peter Jackson, 2005). In various films, extraterrestrial beings cannot be killed with the usual human means. Ghosts can fade and go through walls and are therefore more volatile than "natural" beings.

What is the function of these deviations and why do they arouse fear? The answer to this question can be taken from one of the earliest novels that featured a monster as the main character. Even before Stoker's "Dracula", the English author Mary Shelley describes a monster in her novel "Frankenstein or Der moderne Prometheus" (1818), which is still present in literature and film to this day. Its appearance and the emotions it triggers are described by one of the novel's protagonists, Robert Walton, as particularly terrifying: "I approached this monstrous creature, but I didn't dare look at him again because there was something so terrifying and terrible in its ugliness. I tried to speak, but the words died on my lips. "[5] Frankenstein was responsible for the creation of this monster, who cannot curb his scientific curiosity and believes he can create a living being to be able to. The reason his monster is so ugly is that Frankenstein put it together from body parts. Also, because he couldn't handle small organs, he had to make the body parts larger than they normally are. So the monster is physically repulsive and terrifies everyone who sees it. On the other hand, it has the ability to express itself skilfully, it can portray its suffering from the disgust of people and thereby shows human characteristics that also arouse the pity of the reader. Because it is not accepted in human society because of its ugliness, it kills the relatives of its creator in order to take revenge on him.

Frankenstein's monster shows characteristics that also play a role in other texts and films: his body does not conform to the norm, and it is not accepted as a human being, but perceived as a hybrid between human and animal. Most importantly, it goes against the notion of what is human, natural, and reasonable, and therefore creates fear. As an artificial being, it embodies the irrational self-overestimation of its creator, who put himself in the place of God, but also withheld a mother from the monster, since he almost alone conceived and born it. Frankenstein violates the religious belief that only God has the creative power, and the concept of natural procreation, according to which a couple of man and woman is necessary for the creation of a human being. That is why his creature cannot be accepted by other people. The monster owes its appearance to the technical inability of Frankenstein and his hubris to be able to create a human being. In a way, it also embodies Frankenstein's moral guilt and shows that he has violated the idea of ​​what constitutes a person - that is, to have a father and mother, to be conceived and born by them. The size and enormity of this guilt correspond to the ugliness of the monster. In this respect, its function would also be an ethical one, namely to point to Frankenstein's overestimation of himself.

Similar physical characteristics, which are described as extremely ugly, also show other monstrous characters in the novel. That is why they are often brought close to an animal by their fellow human beings - the misshapen dwarf in Edgar Allan Poe's story of the same name is called "Hopp-Frosch" (1849), for example, in Theodor Storm's novella "Eine Malerarbeit" (1867/1868) speaks the hunchbacked painter about his "long-fingered monkey hand" [6] which repels the others. They also cause fear because they threaten the concept of what constitutes a human being, which is represented in the respective text. In addition to their physical deficiencies - neither of them have a healthy adult body - they also violate the order of reason: Poe's protagonist is vengeful and sadistic, Storm's main character dreams of the fulfillment of their sexual desires.

The physical characteristics of vampires - not just Draculas - can also be related to the night side of humans. So their teeth and their greed for blood can be understood as an expression of instinctuality. For this reason, they have often been associated with violating sexual taboos in research. [7] Also in Stoker's "Dracula" the bite has a clearly erotic connotation: Dracula likes to bite women and thus creates female vampires. These vampires in particular rebel against the 19th century bourgeois image of women, which defined women as asexual. In the novel, on the other hand, the vampires are portrayed as sexually active - because they demand "kisses" if they want to bite. Vampires then appear as sexual seducers who cross the boundaries of reason and sexual order and are therefore hunted by sensible, bourgeois men, whom Jonathan Harker subsequently also joins. The fascination that emanates from vampires is explained by the act of living out sexual desires and the fear that is caused by violating the enlightened conception of human beings as rational beings and against the sexual order.

How historically changeable this connection is is shown not least by Stephenie Meyer's "Bis (s)" series (since 2008), in which vampires are not only monogamous, but also sexually abstinent before marriage. So if they are monsters that go against the common image of humans, one would have to deduce from this that this is characterized by changing sexual partners and sexual activity since puberty. The gender ratio and the way of dealing with sexuality, which the vampires embody in books and films, are curiously very conservative. However, the series also shows the conditions under which monsters can be integrated into society: The vampire Edward embodies the "good American" and fights against his nature as a vampire, but with this he also largely loses the terrifying monster properties (and on Fascination).