Tag: monsters

39. On Monsters: An Unnatural History of our Worst Fears

On Monsters AsmaI first became aware of Stephen Asma‘s book on the fine Washington Post Book World podcast (which sadly is no more). The Post also chose the book as one of its top non-fiction titles of the year for 2009, calling it “a safari through the many manifestations of our idea of the monstrous”. Their reviewer went on: “I have seldom read a book that so satisfyingly achieves such an ambitious goal.”

And indeed the book is much more than a mere freakish parade of monsters (though that is a part of its pleasure) – it is rather an investigation of the meaning of monsters. Why do all societies have their monsters? What do they help us cope with? How has the significance of monsters changed as societies have gone from polytheism to monotheism and on through the Enlightenment? And which of our current fears will our future monsters embody?

Asma is clearly something of a polymath – not only did he produce many of the illustrations in the book himself, he also combines his academic career at Columbia College in Chicago, where he specializes in the philosophy and history of science, with playing music professionally (you can sample it here). And he has made his own entertainingly creepy trailer for On Monsters, which you can see here.

Click on the link above to listen to the podcast, or subscribe to Podularity on iTunes using the link in the right hand column above – it’s quick, free and easy.

Pick of the podcasts

This is the first of a new series which will feature a regular round-up of podcasts on other sites which I have recently enjoyed.

Asma: On MonstersHallowe’en may be over, but as Stephen Asma tells Ron Charles on the Washington Post Book World podcast, humanity’s fear of monsters – and our fascination with them – is not likely to evaporate any time soon. Asma, a specialist in the philosophy and history of science, is amusing on the “class divisions” that exist in our perceptions of monsters, with vampires as a sort of aristocracy at the top and zombies as the lumpenproleteriat at the bottom of the heap. He also ventures some theories on why monsters have survived so well in the dark recesses of our collective imagination.

Asma’s book, On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, sounds well worth checking out. Michael Sims’ review in the Post is here. Note that the book is available now in the US, but the UK publication date is January 2010.

Herta Mueller: The PassportIf you’re curious about the 2009 Nobel laureate for literature, German-Romanian writer Herta Müller, who is far from a familiar name in the English-speaking literary world, I recommend this podcast from the New York Review of Books.

In it, Hugh Eakin of the NYRB talks to Romanian writer, Norman Manea, about Müller’s work and Romania’s minority communities under Ceausescu and since.Here’s a brief extract from their conversation:

HE: One of Herta Müller’s big themes is the continuity of the security state in Romania.

NM: She was extremely fierce in her criticism after 1989. This transition in Romania of civil society was and still is extremely ambiguous. Four million Communists became, the day after the dictator was killed, fierce anti-Communists. All of them claimed that they were victims – some of them really were. But a lot of people who worked in the former secret police became the nouveaux riches and now had another kind of power. And some of them are still in the shadows. And she spoke openly and insistently about this, which was not very easy to swallow, even for the post-Communist generation.