(One of my earliest memories are of terrifying nightmares of being in the front of a shopping cart in a grocery store with my mother and all of the sudden she, along with all of the other people in the store, disappears and the lights in the store dim and a strange glowing emanates from behind the meat counter. I don't know what is back there, but the sinister ambience of the situation terrifies me and I awake screaming at the terror of facing this unseen being in that empty, glowing place. I was probably about four years old at the time. The dream repeated for weeks...)
From the introduction to The Exploration of Modern Monsters
A culture's monsters emblematically embody its most acute anxieties. Cultures create and ascribe meaning to monsters, endowing them with characteristics derived from their most deep-seated fears and taboos. The body of the monster, then, becomes the site of these cultural proscriptions, representing the taboos of the societies that spawn them: "the monster's body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy . . . , giving them life and an uncanny independence" (Cohen 4). A monster cannot be contained. A monster disobeys its master, overspills its margins, consumes its benefactors. We make scapegoats of our monsters, attributing to them our own misdeeds and faults while using them as vehicles for intergenerational transfers of taboos and morals.
The monster becomes a way of explaining the seemingly inexplicable. The humanoid form most monsters assume is our own-familiar yet unfamiliar-and transgressions performed by the monster reinforce its status as 'other:' "In its function as dialectical Other or third-term supplement, the monster is an incorporation of the
Outside, the Beyond-of all those loci that are rhetorically placed as distant but originate Within" (Cohen 7). A monster dwells on the fringes of what is culturally acceptable (Grendel). Banished to the physical and social hinterlands, he is also border guard (Minotaur). Whoever crosses into her realm has also transgressed, broken the taboo, courted contamination. The transgressor must then encounter the monster on his own terms.
Monsters of Childhood and Adolescence