Skip Navigation
UT wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
germanic masthead germanic masthead
Peter Hess, Chair 2505 University Avenue, Burdine Hall 336, Mailcode C3300, Austin TX 78712-1802 • 512-471-4123

Fall 2009

GER 392 • Monstrosity in the Middle Ages and Beyond

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
38500 MWF
10:00 AM-11:00 AM
BUR 232

Course Description

This course will examine examples of European and Anglophone texts (plus European-related texts from other hemispheres) as case studies to show how various models and theories of monstrosity apply. The cultures and literatures of Northern and Central Europe have since the beginning used narratives of the Monstrous Other to showcase and interrogate issues such as cultural contact, cultural appropriation, authenticity and ethnicity -- issues that inhabit, incorporate or invoke what Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (2006) has called "the difficult middle." They thus offer test cases for how monstrosity (alterity) and identity function in cultures and at historical moments that are crucial to the development of national, cultural, religious and political ideas relating to themes such as the following: Monsters as code for other alterities Women as monstrous The past as monstrous Ethnic and/or cultural others as monstrous Ethnic hybridity (and/or cyborgicity) as monstrous Queerness as monstrous The self as monstrous Texts for these case studies can be drawn from literature (novels, short prose, poetry), history (sagas, chronicles, and historical novels), folklore (tales, songs, epics, jokes) and general culture (e.g., saints' lives, museum exhibits, pageants, festivals, film). Students will be encouraged to draw from the national culture(s) of their own specialties for the focus of semester projects. The first portion of the class will concentrate on building up a theoretical vocabulary on the topic, based on readings and discussions from the required texts, plus some primary material illustrative of the readings. Later on we will expand our focus, parceling out assignments for a series of individual research projects (minimum: three per student) which will be presented in class. Class investigations and semester projects may visit venues such as the following, depending upon student interest. Four different eras may be explored, namely: classical; medieval and early modern; nineteenth and twentieth centuries; and contemporary.

Grading Policy

Daily quizzes on reading 25% Discussion Participation 25% Research Projects (minimum 3 per student) 50%


Pliny the Elder (ca. A.D. 77), Naturalis Historia: Blemmyes, Cynocephali, Skiapods and so on. Temptation of St. Anthony, and artistic renditions thereof. Grendel and his mother in the many retellings of Beowulf. The ethnic and/or monstrous Other in Icelandic sagas. Medieval bestiaries: Pliny + Christian allegory. Geoffrey of Monmouth: The Giant of Mont-St.-Michel. Travel narratives: John Mandeville (14th century), etc. St. Wilgefortis, the beard-growing virgin. Demons & the demonic in art: Hieronymus Bosch, Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald. Women as monsters: Malleus Maleficarum. Caliban in Shakespeare's Tempest. Witches in Grimmelshausen's Simplicissimus. Nineteenth-century fiction: Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, E. T. A. Hoffmann, E. A. Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jeremias Gotthelf, usw. Twentieth- and twenty-first century fiction, all genres: Franz Kafka, Günter Grass, Gustav Meyrink, Harry Martinsson, Svava Jakobsdóttir, Margaret Atwood, Anne Rice, Michael Chabon, Gene Wolfe, Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, Angela Carter, Clive Barker and so on. Golems, cyborgs, Frankensteinian monsters and ungeheuere Ungeziefer. Et cetera ad libitum. THEORY TEXTS will be drawn from the following, plus others that will undoubtedly come to light in the meantime: Bildhauer, Bettina and Robert Mills, eds. The Monstrous Middle Ages. University of Toronto Press, 2004. Braidotti, Rosi. "Signs of Wonder and Traces of Doubt: On Teratology and Embodied Differences," in Between Monsters, Goddesses and Cyborgs: Feminist Confrontations With Science, Medicine and Cyberspace. London and New Jersey: Zed Books, 1996. Brinker Gabler, Gisela, ed. Encountering the Other(s): Studies in Literature, History and Culture. Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1995. Chabon, Michael. "The Recipe for Life" and "Golems I Have Known: Or, Why My Son's Middle Name is Napoleon," in Maps and Legends. San Francisco: McSweeney's, 2008. Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Hybridity, Identity and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain: On Difficult Middles. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. _____________________, ed. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997. ___________________. Of Giants: Sex, Monsters and the Middle Ages. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Durkheim, Émile. (Any work outlining his concept of "categories") Fernández Retamar, Roberto. Caliban and Other Essays. Tr. Edward Baker. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. Friedman, John Block. The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought. Second edition. Syracuse University Press, 2000. Gramsci, Antonio. Prison Notebooks. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. Green, Karen. "The Other as Another Other." Hypatia 17:4 (2002). Halberstam, Judith. Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Duke University Press, 1995. Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge, 1991. Straubhaar, Sandra. "Nasty, Brutish and Large: Cultural Difference and Otherness in the Figuration of the Trollwomen of the Fornaldar sögur.” Scandinavian Studies 73:2 (2001). Straubhaar, Sandra. “Trolls and Fishing-Grounds: Ketill Salmon's Family and Their Relatives-in-Law.” Unpublished paper, 2007. Strickland, Debra Higgs. Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art. Princeton University Press, 2003. Online Resources: Films: Paul Wegener, Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam (1920) James Whale, Frankenstein (1931) Bill Condon, Gods and Monsters (1998) Sturla Gunnarsson, Beowulf and Grendel (2005)


bottom border