Monstrous Regiment

The following is an article I wrote for a seminar in my studies for media culture. It’s about monsters and gender identity.


Jeffrey Jerome Cohen states, that the fear of the monster hides a need, that is difficult to articulate otherwise. He illustrates this point in the desire lying within the celebrations of Halloween, which is, to become a monster on your own and therefore stand outside. He also binds that to the genuine construction of monsters as media bodies, which articulate transgressions and questioned borders.
Therefore, monsters are not only defined through their physical Otherness; this Otherness can be accepted (as shown by Michel Foucault) or even be used (compare Javier Moscoso). But, how Foucault also shows, they can also become ‘social monsters’, as soon as the transgression of natural laws is acknowledged. To the latter belongs for example the constructed constitution of a binary sex-model, which lets hermaphrodites become monsters. But whereas these cases can be dealt with the dichotomy ‘normal’ vs. ‘abnormal’ and therefore, one can stay in a binary coded frame of reference, it’s more difficult with the social monsters. While Foucault in his text forms an example out of the unaccepted behavior of the hermaphrodite to show the shift in thoughts not primarily dealing with the physical monster, but with the virtual one, I’d like to refer to ‘Monstrous Regiment’ by Terry Pratchett.
This novel is about a girl, that illegally joins the regiment of her nation to find out, where her brother is. She tries hard, to conceal her gender, just to find out eventually, that the company consists solely of women besides one (female) vampire as well as one (female) igor and one (likewise female) troll. The interest here lies in the choice of wording, the author does in the English original. (The German translation is ‘Weiberregiment’ (Regiment of Women) which completely misses the original point.) He calls the regiment monstrous, although there is only a minority of ‘classical’ monsters in it. Therefore, he refers to a social monstrosity, which is not to find in the physical body of the women, but in their actions. Exactly these actions are not inscribed into the dichotomous coded body of the woman. This ‘social’ monstrosity is even transgressing the ‘natural’ monstrosity, is it also applicable to the troll and the igor, who both embody both forms of the monster. Furthermore, to become monsters, they have to deform themselves in their pants, with putting socks in them to simulate the important bits.
According to a fan page this is a conscious extension of the discourse, since the title is also referring directly to “The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women” by John Knox in 1558, which is a pamphlet against the increased incubation of the throne by women. Within the novel itself the monstrous transgression of the women is eventually forgiven, although it doesn’t get integrated in the juridical law, just in the practical actions of women further acting up as men in the army. The transgression of the women makes them to monsters, because only in this figure their actions are explainable, justifiable and maybe even acceptable; while  becoming a projection to the Normal and therefore, put into the region outside of the socially thinkable, their impossible actions become possible. Out of that reason the discourse of power on monstrosity can also be understood as a productive one for the purpose of Foucault.

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