The tentacled monster is a recognisable staple in the work of fantasy, horror and science fiction writers as a metaphor and motif for an invading “otherness” upon our established status quo. They simultaneously remind us of the wonders of our natural world but also defamiliarise it as something which is still significantly incomprehensible to us. Whether it is the real-life aquatic specimens of the Spirit Collection in the British Natural History Museum or the tentacles frequently found in Manga and Anime or other examples of popular culture, the tentacular body is one of alluring mystery and metaphorical symbolism. From the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft to the more recent work of China Miéville, the tentacled monster invites us to consider our own physical bodies and materiality.
Miéville describes such tentacular monsters as “abcanny”, referring not only to Sigmund Freud’s theory of uncanny repression being brought back to the fore but also Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject, the repulsive disruption of physical boundaries. For Miéville abcanny monsters ‘are teratological expressions of that unrepresentable and unknowable, the evasive of meaning’. They break down our perceptions of the physical body, consist of ‘oozing gloopiness… shapes that ostentatiously evade symbolic decoding by being all shapes and no shapes’. The tentacle is the perfect physical embodiment of this abcanny ideal, a formless mass of writhing biology, simultaneously familiar yet alien. This paper will explore how Miéville develops this theory of the abcanny body through the tentacular monsters that he uses in his novels, especially the Kraken and the character of Motley from Perdido Street Station (2000), demonstrating how his application of fantastical teratology is also a methodology for discussing various aspects of contemporary culture, from body modification to judicial punishment.
About the speaker
Rob O’Connor is a Literature Studies PhD student at York St John University, studying the role of monsters as social commentary in the work of China Miéville. His other interests include genre theories, science fiction, fantasy, contemporary literature and creative writing. Rob also teaches creative writing and literature studies.