As I am, by fluke of fate and education, inter alia, a criminal defense lawyer, I know about monstrosity, if not monsters. As I am, by way of fluke and fortune, among other things, an artist, I know how to make other things. Much has been made of monsters and monstrosity, and I’ve not too much to add to this. This is a soft opening. Monsters like soft openings. That’s where fear comes in, in the soft parts, where we feel weakest and have the shortest hairs: the throat, the belly, the back of the neck. It’s a commonplace observation that monsters stand in for our elemental fears, a simple sublimation of our dread of the dark and the dead, a psychological process not unlike racism, but with a smaller head count. But as is true for many commonplace observations, the monster-as-proxy merits careful consideration. Take, for instance, the criminal, readily called a monster, easily cast as a bête too often noire, who facilitates our social failures and our appetite for apprehension.
Continental analysis likes to start with the word itself, gesturing sweetly toward a divine origin of things concrete, suggesting that there is something material in etymology. So many considerations of the monster refer to its Latin antecedent, monstrum, a noun meaning, variously, “oddity,” “malformation,” and “divine omen.” More interesting to me is an entry in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755) in which Johnson makes note of the verb to monster, meaning “to put out of the common order of things.”11xThere is a contemporary usage that refers to severe critique, hounding, and abuse; I prefer Johnson’s definition as incorporating this sense and pointing more precisely to its underlying sense of expulsion. Monster as verb places the focus not on form but fabrication, and refers to an act of communal casting, not as done by others less savvy than ourselves, but as we like, the casting in our own likeness.