I thought Cohen’s Monster Culture was a really interesting analysis of culture in general, and I liked that he used the lens of monsters as a cultural product to talk about larger cultural ways of thinking. Although he brought in nuances, I felt like a lot of what he was talking about was concerned with the narratives we create both symbolizing and enforcing fear, whether it’s fear of the Other, of the unknown, of breaking boundaries, etc. I thought his use of the constructed monster as insight into the values and fears of a culture was interesting, especially thinking about the monsters he brings up that are more than folk tales and fictions, such as the monsterization of gay and trans folk during the first AIDS epidemic in the US, or the use of racial features as monstrous features to demonize the Other.
While I liked that he brought in so many examples and made a lot of connections to analyses of culture done by others like Said, I thought his perspective was really limited to narratives by and about Western culture, especially because his claim was one of universality, and because part of his argument talks about the alienation and Othering of those not in the ‘correct’ or dominant group but then participates in that process by only considering certain kinds of culture in his theses. Even the incorporation of non-Western cultures is only in a Western context, where the Other is made a monster of to justify colonization and dominion. One telling example is in his second thesis, where he claims that “vampiric figures are found almost worldwide from ancient Egypt to modern Hollywood”. He uses ancient Egypt as a claim to a global perspective, but the narrative arc of cultural history was constructed by the West, especially in art history, to connect ancient Egypt to Greece to Rome to the Renaissance. It was used to lend credibility and weight to a Western narrative; rather than serve Cohen’s point of universality, it highlights a limited scope. Incorporating myths and monsters from non-Western contexts would not only have better validated some of his points, but might have complicated some as well. For example, when he talks about (in thesis 3) the somatic body that is made up of various parts acting as a metaphor for the fear on non-hierachical or binary classification, he leaves out a lot of religious and mythical figure for whom the combination of diverse parts is a strength rather than something monstrous (such as Ganesha, whose elephant head that his mother gave him after his dad cut his first normal head off- long story- actually benefits from the qualities of the elephant). Also, Cohen’s theses are based off a baseline of ‘normal’ that is itself constructed; the fear that monsters cause is culturally situated, and some monsters aren’t feared by groups that may be outside the ‘norm’. A great example is Deer Woman, who must be terrifying to rapists but is a hero for the Native American or First Nations woman. The monsters that are born out of a fear of hierarchy are only monsters to the top of the hierarchy, not to those at the bottom.
In thinking about how Monstress fits into all of this, I think the idea that monsters are situational and rely on the fears of not only the whole culture but the fears of those in power, Maika’s monstrousness makes a little more sense to me. At first, it seemed like she didn’t fit neatly into an category, and she really isn’t considered a monster by the reader. But the idea of complicating a monster by adding nuance and character calls into question the constructed nature of the monster, so it kind of feels like Liu and Takeda are working to explore not only what makes monster, but what the power of a monster is.