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Dança, Violência e Conflito

Monstrosities, Body and Creation: strategies for dancing with the unfamiliar

Monstruosités, Corps et Création: stratégies pour danser avec l’inquiétant
Monstruosidades, Corpo e Criação: estratégias para se dançar com o infamiliar
Marcos Katu Buiati
Cet article est une traduction de :
Monstruosidades, Corpo e Criação: estratégias para se dançar com o infamiliar [pt]


Cet article aborde un champ d’investigation autour du lien entre monstruosités, corps et création dans la danse. Il commence par la délimitation du concept de monstre, utilisé dans ce travail, et par l’exposé de certains des inconforts ressentis collectivement dans l’expérience corporelle~subjective actuelle. Ensuite, un chemin de monstruosité est tracé, expliquant comment le monstre, historiquement étrange, est devenu familier tout au long du vingtième siècle. Enfin, l’approche du monstre de l’infamilier, de l’inquiétant, en tant que stratégie de création dans la danse sera discutée sur la base de trois processus de composition.

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Entrées d’index

Palavras chaves:

monstros, corpo, criação, dança, infamiliar
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Notes de la rédaction

This original paper, translated by Thuila Farias Ferreira, is also published in Portuguese in this issue of the journal.
Editor in charge: Gilberto Icle
Received on October 31, 2022
Accepted on February 13, 2023

Notes de l’auteur

Availability of research data: the dataset supporting the results of this study is published in this article.

Texte intégral

The monsters that live in us

1Since mid-2019, I have been investigating how monsters can intervene in research and creation in dance, whether in the production of spectacles or through the creation of spaces for investigation and collective reflection that propose to poetically experience the body and creation in contact with the theories of monstrosity (Cohen, 2000; Courtine, 2011; 2013; Gil, 2006; Silva, 2000; Tucherman, 1999).

2According to some of these studies, monsters always inhabit border zones and would be a kind of catalyst that causes, among other things, a blurring of borders: cultural, aesthetic and political (Jeha, 2009). In this mixing and shuffling process, our worldview is disturbed, as well as our epistemological references. “When this occurs, we feel that our expectations of order – the boundaries – established by science, philosophy, morals or aesthetics have been transgressed. And transgressions generate monsters” (Jeha, 2009, p. 20).

3With regard to the subjective experience, the monsters also put in tension the constituent limits of the very idea of humanity and identity, placing themselves not outside the domain of the human, but at its limit (Gil, 2006, p. 14), also blurring the notions established around the idea of subject and subjectivity (Silva, 2000, p. 19). By rethinking the subjective organization itself, we also raise ourselves, in alterity, to the repositioning of the other, we place ourselves in relation (Kiffer, 2021).

  • 1 The use of the tilde instead of the hyphen is a strategy used by the researcher Alice Stefânia Cu (...)

4I seek, from these first questions, to reflect on how monsters can disorganize creative thinking, subjectivity and the body in dance in order to strange, rethink and eventually dismantle current creation policies in a certain artistic~choreographic1 journey, existing on a ground, in a specific territory. To this end, strategies of singularization and subjectivation of the monsters are proposed around particular and situated creative experiences, in which they will function as destabilizing triggers in the creative processes in dance. In this sense, I refer to the field of psychoanalysis to think of the monster as a catalytic and/or destabilizing agent of psychic constructions that can be experienced in creative processes based on the notion of strange/unsettling/unfamiliar/uncomfortable (Freud, 2019).

5At this point, as a discursive strategy and to individualize the experience of creative investigation, I also use the term in the singular – the monster –, almost as a synonym of its plural form – the monsters –, but not equivalent to them. I intend with this, on the one hand, to narrow the particular experience in creative investigations, but to maintain, on the other hand, even in a personal experience, the inseparable bond with the possible plurality of monstrous expressions beyond their connections with the mentioned theoretical field – the monstrosities –, which is also characterized by a wide variety of approaches and clippings.

6Therefore, from the fields of theories of monstrosity and subjectivation, I encircle the monster as a practical~theoretical operator that plays a destabilizing role in creative processes in dance, in a specific territory of production. To stimulate, provoke, hunt, identify and get to know this monster that inhabits us, make it appear and dance with it, are the challenges of the proposal.

7In a world increasingly (dis)articulated in digital networks and mediated in an extensive, ostensive and oppressive way by neoliberal conditioning mechanisms, by an excess of sterilized information and communication and by the emptying of public debate, we are experiencing an intense and profound crisis of sensitivity (Patzdorf, 2021), which prominently and urgently calls for a broad and deep debate on public affections and their relationship with performance (Pais, 2021).

8These affects have at their core an ambiguity, also typical of monsters, between states of devitalization and discouragement, on the one hand, and stimulation and excitement, on the other, which impels us to a constant oscillation between ecstasy and disenchantment. Disenchantment understood here as the result of processes of emptying and malnutrition of the vital force, of language, of desire, of the imaginary, in short, of our pulse of life, faced with the modes of automation of subjectivities and affections in the present, what the psychoanalyst Suely Rolnik (2018) will call life “pimping”. This process, mediated by what she defines as the colonial-capitalistic unconscious, aims to extract its forces of expropriation not only from the economic bases of society, but today, mainly, from its cultural and subjective bases, generating an even more perverse picture of spoliation of the subjectivities (Rolnik, 2018, p. 33).

9I seek, in the reflection on public affections and the meeting of dance with monsters, to inhabit this ambiguity, in order to also produce, beyond disenchantment, ecstasy: resistances, powers and dissident subjectivities in the present, from creation. Mapping and experiencing these polarities of affections, from a dance perspective, become desired tasks, because, as researcher Ana Pais (2021, p. 11) points out, they concern to

[...] pressing public feelings at the current moment (including scars from feelings from other times, but which last), invisible forces that circulate in cultural narratives and social norms conditioning the individual experience. Not infrequently, these forces cross contemporary performing arts, which make them visible, palpable.

  • 2 For an understanding of the conceptualizations of affect and the ‘affective turn’ in the Human Sc (...)

10It is surmised, therefore, that in a more or less evident way the affective forces2 of the present emerge in the arts of the body. I therefore aim, in the creative work, to intentionally and purposefully map the presence and emergence of these public feelings, especially from the gravity of the historical and social events experienced in recent years, both globally and nationally, which probably contributed to the collective subjectivation of a series of affections based on a “[...] common ballast, determined by an ultraconservative and neoliberal conjuncture and an event that appalled the world – the Covid-19 pandemic” (Pais, 2021, p. 11).

11Faced with this picture, again, as with the monsters, the very notion of humanity is called into question, when one glimpses that today, constantly, life negotiates with death, catastrophe, and destruction. In recent decades, we have observed the intensification of crises experienced globally, such as the alarming climate collapse, migratory and xenophobic conflicts, the emergence of wars, the shocking increase in social inequality during the pandemic – in short, a true humanitarian crisis that configures the entire framework problematic for the subsistence of humanity and the planet and which appears contemplated in current discussions about the Anthropocene (Quilici, 2021, p. 25).

12Seeking to escape an anesthesia to this context and trying to actively problematize it within the spaces of creation, I start with some guiding questions, both in the rehearsal room and in this writing: how to face the crises stemming from the present? How to question, or to respond, the politics of movement that starts from disenchantment and exhausted bodies, subjectively expropriated? How to negotiate the movement with the pain, violence and the normalization of barbarism?

13In contrast to the disenchantment, ecstasy, also provided by monsters, refers to creation, to the “the right to exist or, more precisely, [the] right to life in its essence of creative potency” (Rolnik, 2018, p. 24). Inhabiting this strange-familiar state (Rolnik, 2018), between paradoxical and ambiguous affects and feelings, as monsters instigate us, is the objective, and perhaps the only possible way, to remain in a state of creation. For if, on the one hand,

[...] this global pandemic moment that we have been living in the last two years, dominated by public feelings of fear, panic and pain that contaminated collective atmospheres around the world, multiplied misunderstandings, ignorance and despair, also generated unexpected positive forces, hopeful and resilient that helped us enter the unknown (Parents, 2021, p. 11).

14In the search for the activation of these positive and resilient forces, through the monsters I seek to examine in what ways the body, today conditioned by anesthesia, suffocation and exhaustion of affections, imagination and sensitivity (Patzdorf, 2021), can respond to the creation of in order to elucidate how movement can emerge in the face of paralysis, eventually manifested in the present mediated by fear, risk and pain. Pain here, less than an affection that becomes a fetish, accessed, revisited and poked in a way that generates more suffering, would assume a function

[...] linked to the delimitation and outline of a body-territory: physical, psychic and always common. The history of this pain, impossible to disentangle from the history of the erasure of its tracks, is only enunciated when it emerges as a different voice, not locatable only in this or that body, but as if defining another common-body, anonymous even when locatable (Kiffer, 2021, p. 144-145).

15Pain would not then be locatable only in a certain body, but shared by a common-body, a collective that inhabits the same present time whose sociability ties need urgently to be recreated, even if for that we need to meet certain monsters that, far from fantastic, present themselves as “apparently ordinary beings in an ordinary world” (Bertin, 2016, p. 38).

16I therefore seek to map any productive forces that appeared from a framework of disenchantment, trying to understand them in approximation with monstrosities, in order to think of the strangeness, discomfort or unfamiliarity of current times as territory of creative subversion. Understanding the body~subjectivity as a single intertwined system, investigating creation in dance from the point of view of monstrosity in the present means also ascertaining what monsters are and how they are produced in our time insofar as they participate in the shaping and conditioning of our sensibility, our affections and our way of inhabiting the world. Which leads us, initially, to investigate which monsters inhabit us.

From strange monster to familiar monster

Modern monsters, however, are no longer on the outside of the border, wishing to enter. They inhabit the same geographic space as humans, leading to a horrible conclusion: monsters not only look like us, they are among us (Juliana Bertin, 2016, p. 48).

17Monsters are present in all periods of Western history. Extraordinary beings that inhabited the cosmology of antiquity, imaginary beings that existed in the confines of the medieval world, exotic and foreign beings that justified the formation of nationalisms at the dawn of modernity, beings catalogued and enclosed in the teratology and freak shows of the 19th century and, finally, beings hybridized with metal, technology and the artificial in the contemporaneity of the post-human.

18Therefore, in the imaginary and in the cultural symbolic production of humanity, the appearance of monsters is recurrent, whether teratological or fantastic/fabulous: in mythologies, religions, psychology, cinema, literature, art and the most diverse imagery manifestations of everyday life. Always inhabiting the borderlines of culture, blurring identities, on the threshold, escaping language regimes, monsters have always pressured the categories and normative experiences of social regimes, straining the borders that demarcate the very idea of humanity (Gil, 2006).

19Theoretical production on monsters is therefore vast, and is predominantly distributed in areas of knowledge that focus on cultural studies, such as anthropology, history, sociology, philosophy, literature and art. Despite the wide diversity of fields that deal with monstrosities, in general, studies around these theories can present us with common characteristics of a “method to read cultures from the monsters they engender” (Cohen, 2000, p. 25).

20This is what Professor Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (2000) proposes to us, in an exemplary text, in which he presents common characteristics around seven general theses that help us to primarily perceive the destabilizing character of monsters. They are: the monster’s body is a cultural body; the monster always escapes; the monster is the harbinger of categories crisis; the monster inhabits the gates of difference; the monster polices the frontiers of the possible; the fear of the monster is really a kind of desire; and finally, the monster is situated on the threshold... of becoming.

21Having these general characteristics of monster action as common ground, but seeking to tread a particular path within this broad theoretical framework, I separate two clippings that seem important to me for us to think about the monstrous presence in culture in relation to the performing arts. The first of these occurs from the 16th century onwards, when we perceive, especially in the post-Renaissance period (Gil, 2006), a process of theatricalization of the monsters; and the second moment, to some extent a consequence or development of the previous one, which takes place in the 18th and 19th centuries, with the spectacularization of monsters.

22Theatricalization, in the 16th century, occurred from the proliferation of museums and the need to catalog and organize collections of strange objects, which generated the demand for the creation of classifications and taxonomies that would organize the artifacts that started to be collected. José Gil (2006, p. 66-68, emphasis added) informs us that this is

[...] the time of the first collections of objects of all kinds: strange and unrelated things, fossils, remains of monstrous beings are gathered together. [...] The collections and museums [...], providing their space simultaneously decontextualized and neutral, prepare the elaboration of new taxonomies. [...] In this sense, the monster already constitutes a small collection of objects (of traces) out of context, appearing as a kind of living paradigm of these museums in the 16th century. [...] This becomes theater where it is represented – and will continue to be represented throughout the 17th and 18th centuries – the strange scenario of the phenomena.

23A theater of the strange begins to form around these objects that symbolize the monstrous remains and tracks that are organized through the new taxonomies that begin to classify and catalog the difference, the other, from what is not recognized as equal, similar and shared. Here begins, from the cataloging of the strange, a first movement of showing, exposing and theatricalizing the monsters. Professor Ieda Tucherman (1999, p. 98, emphasis added) will also observe this in her meticulous analysis:

The fascination with monsters, always present and always special, can be thought of there as a theatricalization, a live show of the meeting of what does not meet together. It can be predicted that when taxonomies become victorious and assert themselves from new logical categories, the monsters and the freaks will lose their ‘mirabilia’ status to be looked at by another relationship of knowledge and power.

24As for the spectacularization of monsters, in the 18th and 19th centuries, a peculiar process of exposure of deformities and bodily strangeness can be observed from the emergence of circuses, fairs and freak shows, which contained the display of the monstrous body as a scenic attraction (Courtine, 2011, 2013; Tucherman, 1999) .

25In freak shows, monsters were also used as a categorization and taxonomy of the other, of the stranger, of what was opposed to the subject, as a way of highlighting the center of reference of the nascent modern identity: white, male, heterosexual, European. Modern Western man constructs his monstrous double situated, besieged and mediated via scene and spectacle, outside himself, in his exterior. The spectacle of the so-called monstrous subjects functioned as a safe intervention process in the purification of what represented, in alterity, modern consciousness itself:

In this process, everything is designed and assembled so that the visitor – spectator sees himself in a world apart, completely different from his everyday universe. Therefore, in the same movement, the opposition between everyday life and the freak-spectacle and between the inhabitants of both worlds was produced. An encounter that was also a confrontation between two images, the Victorian Englishman, white and rational, conscious of himself as linked to the progress of race and reason; and its other, irrational, abnormal and materialized. The effect obtained could only be a particular kind of catharsis that, based on the exposure of this radical alterity, purged modern man of his ‘ghosts’, reaffirming his own modernity for him (Tucherman, 1999, p. 103).

26Returning to one of Cohen’s theses (2000), that the monster inhabits the gates of difference, and associating it with the discussion that professor Tomaz Tadeu da Silva (2014) made about identity and difference, we can concatenate that the formation of spirit of modernity is then structured in opposition to the creation of categories that represented the other, as being what I could not be. In this process, identity and difference, less than something existing in itself, as an a priori in culture, are productions, social and cultural creations, in addition to being mutually determined and codependent (Silva, 2014, p. 75-76). The monster will then become a fruitful channel for the manifestation of difference, in opposition to the flourishing hegemonic identity that was gradually being structured, being “permanently haunted by the Other, without whose existence it would make no sense” (Silva, 2014, p. 84).

  • 3 Specifically on the relationship between monsters and transsexuality, see Leite Junior (2012).

27The other gender, the other color, the other sexuality, the other race, the other nationality, will then often be understood as monstrous when their difference expresses something opposite or variant in relation to what is constructed as normal within the modern reference matrix. Monsters will then play a role in embodying social phenomena associated, for example, with misogyny, racism, homo/transphobia3, xenophobia, among other reactive social behaviors, ultimately, to the different body, since “[...] any kind of alterity can be inscribed through (constructed through) the monstrous body, but, for the most part, monstrous difference tends to be cultural, political, racial, economic, sexual” (Cohen, 2000, p. 27).

28The category of race, however, will have a specific role in the period of consolidation of modernity, since the first mercantile colonial expansion, begun in the 15th century, will be structured from the violent enslavement of different peoples on the African continent. This data is particularly important in the case of Portuguese domination over Brazilian territory, since Brazil, as is known, was the country in which the slave system was perpetuated for the longest time.

29The association of other human beings with monsters, or rather, the exclusion of other men and women from the human category, is the key that marks the consolidation of a modern subjectivity that justifies slavery and mercantile expansionism. This phenomenon will be very well defined by the journalist and sociologist Muniz Sodré (2002), around the idea of a semiotics of monstrosity, a conceptual, discursive and of subjectivation articulation that strengthens and consolidates in this period. According to him

[...] the racist symptom is sustained, ultimately, in the radical separation that European modernity operates between nature and culture. The ‘other’ is introjected by the hegemonic consciousness as a being-with-no-place-in-culture. From there emerges a semiotic of monstrosity for the subjectivated, Oedipalized consciousness, the ‘Afro’ is a man that the Eurocentric consciousness cannot feel as fully human; it is like the monster, not an unknown, but an acquaintance who finally cannot be perceived as identical to the universal idea of the human (Sodré, 2002, p. 177).

30There is, therefore, a process that begins in this period of cultural/subjective codependency between the construction of an idea of the subject – Western, modern – and the separation of extracts from that same subjectivity, which needed to be materialized outside, in another constructed in bodies that would represent what the self should not be. Consequently, this same process of duplication and codependency also occurs within the dialogical pair modernity/coloniality as a European expansionist movement towards the Americas (16th century) and, later, European and North American towards Africa and Asia (19th century). “Modernity, being ‘intrinsically associated with the colonial experience’ (Maldonado-Torres, 2008, p. 84), is not capable of erasing it: there is no modernity without coloniality (Quijano, 2000, p. 343)” (Ballestrin, 2013, p. 100-101).

31For such a project of expansion and domination to consolidate, it was necessary to create a classification category that could subjectively symbolize, justify and stabilize the massacre, genocide and elimination of peoples and cultures that did not fit within the new nascent humanity. The race category is, therefore, the founding basis of the intellectual and subjective organization that supports the expansionist movement of modernity whose premise was the delimitation and elimination of the other, the strange, the cultural and social deviants who did not fit into the hegemonic model, or rather, fit together as an opposite pair of alterity, giving symbolic meaning to the dialectical process. Returning to the connection between race and monsters, Cohen (2000, p. 36) states that

[…] race has been, from the Classical Period to the 20th century, a catalyst almost as powerful for the creation of monsters as culture, gender and sexuality. Africa soon became the significant other of the West, with the sign of its ontological difference being constituted simply by the color of the skin.

  • 4 For more on the relationship between monsters, colonialism and racism, see Markendorf, 2015; 2018 (...)

32From this intrinsic relationship, race should also be a primordial category for investigating monstrosity or, in other words, monstrosity is perhaps a cultural phenomenon that should be read from the category of race, especially with regard to the process of establishment of modernity/coloniality between the 16th and 19th centuries4. This view is also corroborated by Professor Ieda Tucherman (1999, p. 98-99), when she states that

[...] it is at the moment when one tries to normalize the abnormal, inserting it in the ‘natural order of things’, that another (and dangerous) mythology is established, where, in a racist and dogmatic way, the abnormal (where the freak is included) appears as the other of the European, white, male. [...]The mythology of race emerges, of a race in radical otherness in relation to the white race, which, indirectly, will influence the way of perception of the freak phenomenon with its particular type of monstrosity. The freak will appear associated, in an indirect way, almost as an individual case, with this racial other.

33Once established, through the sieve of race, the opposition between the I and the other, the symbolic and subjective congruence that will form a specific mentality is organized, the modern western mentality, and together with it the notion of individual. This mentality will have profound impacts on the formation of a colonial-capitalistic unconscious (Rolnik, 2018) and will serve as support, backing and justification for the expansionist and imperialist processes of the capitalist system itself, even in its most recent phases. In fact, it is from the conformation of this unconscious that the metamorphoses of the system itself are produced.

34Going into the 20th century, we will see that the human, teratological monster, which established itself at the end of the previous century and which has in freak shows one of its most evident symbols, will begin to symbolically dilute itself in culture, since the monstrous body that was theatricalized and spectacularized will now be appropriated by mass culture, especially by cinema (at the beginning of the century) and by television (from the 50s and 60s). According to Professor Ieda Tucherman (1999), there will be a transition process, from fairs and circuses, to the printed newspaper, the television and the cinema, the latter being, in the 20th century, what will take the place of freak shows, which will be condemned to disappear (Tucherman, 1999, p. 102).

35Two classic examples of the role of cinema in this replacement of freak shows are the film Dracula, from 1931, and the unavoidable Freaks, from 1932, both directed by the American director Tod Browning. Cinema, at the beginning of the century, will then play the role of mediation between the teratological spectacle, no longer morally tolerated, especially after the World War I, and a new and different symbolic spectacle of monstrosity, more fictitious, artificial, mediated in a controlled environment:

Everything then happens as if the monstrous traits, no longer recognized in their corporeal and human rootedness, unfold in the sphere of the spectacle to acquire an autonomous existence there: driven by the development of cinematographic technologies, they will develop in this space as hyperbolic forms, at the same time that the recognition of the otherness of human monstrosities is weakening (Courtine, 2011, p. 325-326).

36We can also mention a series of other films, in different versions and productions, whose monsters will function as metaphors of the evil (Jeha, 2007), allegories of the transformations that would profoundly shake society throughout the 20th century: Frankenstein, King Kong, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the 1920s/30s, Godzilla in the 1950s, as well as several vampire films in the 1980s, dinosaurs in the 1990s and, finally, werewolves, aliens and zombies at the end of the century. These cinema monsters were symbolic responses within mass culture to the “[...] catastrophes of the 20th century: wars, epidemics, economic depressions and scientific madness – all of which generated their monsters” (Courtine, 2011, p. 326) .

37This process is also described by José Gil (2006, p. 13) to justify the trivialization of evil, violence, anomaly in general and the exacerbation of the presence of monsters in everyday life, when they move away from the teratological domain. According to him, in short, there is a contraction of the traditional domain of the anomaly or, simply, a contraction of monstrosity, which becomes fabled, processed and commodified as a mass cultural product. This contraction is also associated with the very development of science and scientism, which begin to sanitize, to condition, and to correct the sick, anomalous, or defective body.

The 20th century took on the project of removing and, if possible, eradicating anomalies and diseases. Through a growing medicalization of the West, physical defects – the same ones that made the film Freaks by Tod Browning possible – become scarce, unique and reversible. The real monstrous bodies, which were the subject of exhibitions and fairs, lose materiality, body, substance; congenital diseases, birthmarks, scars, among other ‘aesthetic defects’ migrate from an irreversible sphere to something that can be corrected or even avoided (Paleólogo, 2011, p. 8) .

38The removal of the teratological monster, in the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, was also a necessary subjectivation strategy, since the social and cultural changes of the time gradually no longer allowed a clear and objective differentiation and separation of monstrous subjects/bodies. According to Courtine (2011), teratology, steeped in Enlightenment medicine and positivism, advances as a science that will scientifically represent monsters, inserting them into the order, humanizing them. The aberration, the abnormal, the strange began to get too close, too similar, eventually too identified with the position once only observed from the outside. This movement is noted again by Courtine (2011, p. 312) when informing us that

[...] the spectacle and the commerce of monstrosity could not really prosper unless the spectator’s bond of identification with the object of exhibition was weak, or almost non-existent. It was only from the moment that monstrosity was perceived as something human, that is, the instant the spectator of the coming and going could recognize a fellow human being under the deformity of the body on display, his spectacle became extremely problematic.

39To a certain extent, the monster of the 19th century will still persist, but it will now be unfolded in new contemporary freak shows: in films, in television programs or, already close to the transition to the 21st century, in cyborg bodies, hybridized with the artificiality of medical, pharmacological and body production techniques (Breton, 2013). The new monsters, new freaks, will therefore demand new strategies of symbolic elaboration and subjectivation, since the body once read as monstrous becomes available as a technical attribute, to be produced by the new medical, pharmacological, erotic, accessory and virtual practices of intervention.

At first, [...] cinema will exterminate the circus-show, taking the place of the spectacle par excellence, associated, after the 50s and 60s with television and its communication of the grotesque, still frequent in ‘politically incorrect’ auditorium shows. However, the changes that took place in the 20th century will bring another and new relation to the question of the freaks. Beside the figures of the freaks traditional bodies, new deviant bodies emerge, new practices of intervention in bodies that use the aesthetics of the bizarre as a way of opposing the norm. ‘Circus’ behaviors expand to a certain particular everyday life such as tattoos, body-piercing, and other bodily markings that now demand another analysis of their production and reception (Tucherman, 1999, p. 104).

40This same movement of transition and dilution of the monsters in culture, which begins in the 19th century and consolidates in the 20th, is also specially described and analyzed by Michel Foucault (2010) in the book Os anormais, a compilation of his lectures at the Collége de France in 1974 and 1975. This work also helps us to think about the monstrous body, especially in relation to the biomedical and juridical knowledge-power that has been configured since the 18th century, and encloses the bodily manifestations that do not fit into the nascent modern, so-called civilized norms.

41From then until the 20th century, we will observe a process of transition from physical deformities to the realm of playfulness and the imaginary – television, cinema and literature –, which contributes to the conceptual transition from a morphological monster to a moral monster (Bertin, 2016). The result is that the presence of monstrosity “[...] starts to occur in behavior and no longer in physical appearance. The author [Foucault] observes this change by analyzing the relationship between the monster and criminal law and the shift from legal-natural monstrosity to legal-moral” (Bertin, 2016, p. 44). The monstrous can now be contained in an appearance read as normal; the monster becomes invisible to the eyes.

42Although this analysis applies primarily to human monsters, since the fantasy, imaginary, and fantastic monsters did not correspond so directly, so to speak, literally, to a duplicate morphological mirroring of humanity itself, we can transfer the reflection to the world of fabulation and fiction, as Juliana Bertin (2016, p. 45) observes:

It is important to note that the authors are dealing with human monsters. However, if these reflections do not concern to fantasy monsters, such as vampires, aliens or zombies, for example, they may be appropriate for us to think about those fictional monsters that, although they are representations and not real people, are inserted in an ordinary context, closer to the human than the supernatural.

43This is the case, for example, of fictional human characters in literature who exist in a recognizable everyday context and who exhibit morally reprehensible social behavior. The analysis thus becomes effective for both real and fictional monsters, as monsters created in fantasy correspond to real behavioral and subjective models read as monstrous in a certain context: familiar, social or cultural. The point is that although the construction of fantastic narratives and the creation of monstrous figures during Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages also functioned as social strategies that defined otherness and thus conformed the human, it is from the Renaissance onwards that human monsters begin to gain a greater prominence in the face of fantastic monsters. (Gil, 2006, p. 15) .

44“It is that teratology itself has become fantastic” (Gil, 2006, p. 12) and, in this sense, the monstrous representations in human fables and fictions, mirrored and embedded in/by the everyday context, would also correspond to a subjective logic mediated by same modern mentality. At this point, the closeness of the monster to the human intensifies to such an extent that the clear boundary delimiting the two begins to blur, to be confused. Where does human end and monster begin and vice versa? Where does humanity end and monstrosity begin?

45We understand from this that, if until the beginning of the 20th century, the limit demarcating the end of humanity and the beginning of monstrosity was perfectly clear and delimited, now, monsters are diluted in the weave of the social fabric, often appropriated by control systems, producing subjects, individuals, in the most varied interactions between body, culture and subjectivity (Sander, 2006). By making itself present, confused with the human, “[...] the monster disturbs the order and the norms, bringing to the light the fragility of the foundations that sustain binary separations: us/them, civilization/bestiality, humanity/monstrosity” (Bertin, 2016, p. 53). The monster, once strange, thus becomes familiar.

46The contemporary response of capital control strategies was to appropriate of the strange, transforming it into the familiar, in the direction of understanding, apprehending and stimulating the continuity of the production of these new aberrations, these new subjectivities, which start to become ideals of desire, identity references, ultimately, products available for consumption. Especially after the counterculture movement of the 1960s, when the system reconfigured itself, now providing“ new models of bodily presence and new standards of ‘beauty’ and projection” (Tucherman, 1999, p. 116).

47We will thus observe great paradigmatic changes that will then generate new processes of subjectivation in contemporaneity, as new monsters will start to live side by side with us. The monstrous presences, now familiar and confused with our own humanity, will therefore provide cultural substrates that will mediate our ways of life and, consequently, our ways of creation. The intention is thus to investigate what current modes of monstrosity have to reveal about the now, especially about the dance that is produced now.

48If the monster became familiar, invisible, palatable and was eventually appropriated by neoliberal forces as products of the culture that feed forms of disenchantment, of expropriation of subjectivity, desire, creation and sensitivity (Patzdorf, 2021), it is up to us, as artists, to think it through from the strangeness, present in us as a potential larva for the creation of new ways of relation (Rolnik, 2018).

The monster~function and the unfamiliar in dance creation

Besides describing what the monster looks like, its characteristics, it is necessary to understand the meaning of its presence, the function that it exercises (Juliana Bertin, 2016, p. 51).

49The dialogue experiences of monstrosities with dance have been tested and experimented in the rehearsal room from compositional processes that unfolded in spectacles, in addition to other studies and smaller experiments that took place in virtual scenic actions and photographic essays. These investigations are developed at DES~criação, a research center in Dance led by me and based at the Instituto Federal de Brasília, linked to the Degree in Dance course. I highlight, from these productions, three spectacles that support and guide the reflections and analyzes of the ongoing research: O Fio de Minos, O Inquietante and Manada.

50Fio de Minos5, created in 2019, is based on the tale A Casa de Asterion, by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, and brings to the scene the embodiment and subjectivity of the mythical character Minotaur. Focusing on the hybridity between man and animal, the staging took five artists on a collective dive into the imaginary labyrinth created by the threads of actions and memories of the monster. In this creation, the Minotaur guided me to his home, the labyrinth; and, based on her monstrous body~house, the creative axis for the research and production of the spectacle was defined.

51Once these references present themselves and become fixed, insistent, the way is opened for the field of monstrosity to emerge as a territory of investigation for creative processes in dance in a broader way, because it was from the Minotaur’s body~house that were announced the first possibilities of proposition of a creation thought in contact with the strangeness, the discomfort, and the search for a scenic body in a dilated state of presence destabilized by the presence of the monster.

52The second reference spectacle, O Inquietante6, is a solo created in 2021 during the height of the quarantines of the Covid-19 pandemic. The proposal intended to dramaturgically explore the border zone between subjectivity~body and the Minotaur, seeking to think of him no longer as a mythical character, as he had been in the previous show, but as a mediator of themes that were imposed at the time, such as the pandemic experience itself, seclusion, death, finitude, risk and loneliness. It was, therefore, a wandering process that constantly negotiated with fear, doubt, interruptions and frustrating cuts, the spark of life and the insistence on creation.

53In the solo process, studies on the relationship between art and psychoanalysis were already present based on the points of contact between creation in dance and processes of subjectivation. It is in this composition that the sketches of some creation operators appear, which later came to be systematized as bodily practices of contact with monsters.

  • 7 Link to the complete spectacle: Accessed on: 02 Jan. 2023.
  • 8 Due to space limitations, these actions will not be detailed in this article.

54Manada7, the most recent work, was held in January 2023 in a collective way after the return to face-to-face activities at DES~criação. This spectacle, with a much more open and experimental character, took place in the public space of the street and the institution that hosts the group, and already brings the research hypotheses in a much more intentionally organized way. The creation operators outlined in the previous soil are structured and systematically experimented with the group over four months of work at the end of 2022. At this point, the investigation deepens in a shared way in the group, based on theoretical exchanges, debates, discussions, body training/preparation practices and poetic investigations in creation laboratories8.

55The main thesis that I have been pursuing in these creations, based on the encounter between monsters and dance, is to understand them less as beings, objects, entities, creatures, personalities, characters, and more as operators, as a function. A function of the unfamiliar (Freud, 2019) active in the creative act. In this relationship, creation does not aim to translate, interpret, represent, manifest, express, reflect or even metaphorize the monster, but to understand it as an intrinsic constituent element of its genesis, that is, there is a search for the dilution of the boundaries between the strange element represented by the monster and the creative act.

56I seek, therefore, an experience with the monster that produces otherness, instability, becoming and deviation, in tension with creation. An experience that researcher Diego Paleólogo (2010), when analyzing processes of subjectivation based on the same monster that first chose me, the Minotaur, calls mirror-function, bull-function or minotauromachic– function.

57Borrowing this idea from Diego Paleólogo, I adapt it here, generalizing what in his work starts from a single monster, the Minotaur, to a broader action of monstrosity, which, hopefully, can help in the production/modification of subjectivation processes in dance from the notion of monster~function. The objective is that the monster~function provokes us to think of monsters not as entities in themselves, whether teratological or fantastic, but as catalysts of the creative act. The creative act is an act of doubling and otherness: of the creator who doubles himself in the monster who doubles himself in creation.

58In this sense, as a gesture of creation, the function~monster would also work as a provoker of the creator/author’s drift, destabilizing traits of his subjectivity, since, at the same time and paradoxically, the creation mediates the presence (inscription) and the absence (erasure) of the singularity of the one who creates, to the extent that it promotes processes of subjectivation that are implied in the creative processes. Is hoped, with this, to un-evidence processes of symbolic conditioning or even to de-anesthetize channels of contact with the forces of creation, freeing their flows.

59I add, therefore, a last layer to the discussion of the meeting of monsters with dance: the Freudian psychoanalytic theory, especially from the study of the strange/unsettling/ uncomfortable/unfamiliar as an aesthetic marker of a theory of subjectivation. Sigmund Freud’s writing, Das Unheimliche, published in 1919, is a milestone for the studies of the presence of the strange, sometimes read the as horror, which inhabits our deepest unconscious.

60In Brazil, the term was first translated as the strange (1976), then the unsettling (2010) and, more recently, as the unfamiliar (2019) and the discomfort (2021), the latter two as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the original publication. In this research, I have used the terms as equivalent and interchangeable, although I recognize that unfamiliar, between the translations, is the one that best suits the specificities of Brazilian Portuguese (Iannini; Tavares, 2019) and, therefore, assumes some protagonism in relation to the others.

61In the text, Freud (2019) locates the causes/origins of the unfamiliar around some notions such as the castration complex, the double, the repetition compulsion, the omnipotence of thoughts, animism, magic, sorcery and the relationship with death, which is the unfamiliarity produced by the experience, the result of traumas repressed in childhood: “[...] the unfamiliar of the experience exists when repressed childhood complexes are relived through an impression or when overcome primitive beliefs seem to be confirmed again” (Freud, 2019, p. 105, emphasis in original).

62Complementarily, understanding the origin of this repressed material that constitutes subjectivity beyond the limits of psychoanalysis, Freud analyzes a tale by the writer ETA Hoffmann, O Homem da Areia, and differentiates between the unfamiliar produced by the experience and the imagined unfamiliar, or about which one reads: “[...] thus, it is possible to point to a difference between the unfamiliar that we experience and that which is simply represented or that which we know from reading” (Freud, 2019, p. 101 emphasis in original). Anyway, in both cases, the “unfamiliar would be everything that should remain secret, hidden, but that came to light” (Freud, 2019, p. 45 emphasis in original), which appears, without having a control. Thus, Freud suggests, using literature, that there is an aesthetic production of the unfamiliar, especially in the fantastic genre.

63Without the pretense of appropriating the concept in its application in the psychoanalytic clinic, the notion of unfamiliarity proposed by Freud is relevant to the reflections placed here in the sense of its use as a reference framework for a poetic~aesthetic production in the scenic composition, in addition to helping in the analysis of subjectivation processes in dance in contact with the notion of monster~function. The relations between the familiar and the estrangement, also evoked by Rolnik (2018) as necessary for creatives dissidence and resistance, thus instigating thinking of the body and movement as unstable zones, which can be touched, activated and restructured from contact with monsters.

64Therefore, the creation processes have been organized based on what I have been calling operators of activation of the unfamiliar: movement actions that try to generate a scenic body from states of discomfort and, later, reorganize this body in fabulations and corporeities that materialize a poetic praxis in dance, within a specific territory where it takes place. As reported, these operators emerged during the process of creation of the solo O Inquietante and began to be systematized, experienced and shared collectively in the process of creating Manada. They were named as monstrous doubles, with the intention of being shared in the collective before being singled out again by each participant in their personal process of research and creation: the quadruped, the fool, the crawler, the ternary, the scribbler, are configured from specific and directed commands and actions, but are susceptible to metamorphosis and transformation during the exploration process.

65It should be noted that the objective of a poetic investigation in dance that is anchored in the unfamiliar will not necessarily be to create a work of horror, or suspense, that generates repulsion; nor is it a fantastic dance, in the sense of the fantastic or marvelous tales in which this strategy has been widely and masterfully used. The intention is more to start from an affection of unfamiliarity, eventually linked to situations, experiences, memories and lived memories, to then fabulate them as a dance. Fiction here would act in the treatment of the material, and not necessarily in the creation of the unsettling effect itself, which acts in the effect of ensnaring, deluding, misleading the public, as Freud explores in the text when dealing with literature and Hoffmann’s tale.

66In any case, I agree with Freud when he states that “[...] fiction creates new possibilities for the sensation of the unfamiliar, which do not occur in experiences” (Freud, 2019, p. 111 emphasis in original). The sensation (or the new sensations) of unfamiliarity would occur, however, as already mentioned, in the treatment of the mnemonic/lived material and in the production of the scenic body. The fact that this generates a scene, a poetics, capable of causing the same sensations of strangeness in the reception, in the public, would only be a non-mandatory consequence.

67The point is that Freud explores fiction as possessing unique tricks for creating and expanding the effect of the unfamiliar, as long as a veil is created, which deludes the spectator, making the imaginary world much closer to the real world, which would bring the poetically created context closer to lived experiences (through childhood repression). In this case, when at a certain point of contact with the work – tale, film, and spectacle – we realize that it is fiction, it is already too late, as we have already experienced the discomfort as part of reality.

68The purpose I elaborate here is to explore fiction within the creative process in dance as an intentional attempt to investigate, approach, and touch strange materials, be it through consciousness flow, improvisations, or other practical~theoretical procedures, and, from the sensations that emerge from this, give form to the body, and give form to the formless. There would be no need or prerogative to remember, if it occurs, exactly the facts and situations experienced, even less to relive traumas or eventual wounds, but rather to let yourself be disfigured and blurred by the sensations of the images and the production of movement that then emerge (Sander, 2006; 2009). Hence, the development and use of unfamiliar activation operators, which aim to produce these states bodily.

69I make an effort, thus, to bring the function~monster closer to creation in dance, denaturalizing affections, the body and the present, from that which destabilizes in contact with the unfamiliar. It is therefore crucial to note the implication of this process in the affective field (Pais, 2021), because if affections and sensitivity are captured on the one hand (Patzdorf, 2021), it is exactly in this field, as artists of the body, we have efficacy to act: providing creative practices and creation experiences that make us strange subjective spaces that we normally keep naturalized, unvisited, that we avoid experiencing. Along this path, it would be necessary to understand discomfort, anguish and pain as shared affections of the same common present, and seek

[...] a potency of pain as a link and drawing of corporeal-territorial limits, that can only happen in the sharing of common vulnerabilities, of vulnerability itself as the foundation of a common space and, therefore, of the inflexion of the triumph of this entrepreneurial individualism of the self, always in an arrow of conquest and domination (Kiffer, 2021, p. 150).

70Facing the intensive whipping and expropriation of language, the emptying and manipulation of mass discourses, it is necessary to reconstruct the notion of collective, to create zones of sharing or “temporary communities that intend to act in this direction by building the common” (Rolnik, 2018, p. 36). It would therefore be necessary to create conditions to give vent to what the artist and researcher Cassiano Quilici (2021) called “affection of urgency”, freeing oneself from apathy, anesthesia or ignorance in the face of the shattering of the present:

The destabilization of this illusory image [the ‘I’, the ‘individual’], by revealing something of the vulnerability of our condition, it generates the demand for a work of reorientation of existential territories and ways of life. [...] What we will call here an ‘affect of urgency’ can then emerge, a vital awareness of destabilization, danger, and the need to deal with it. Something that can only arise from sustaining contact with the fragility, the uncertainty, the unease and the restlessness generated by situations. This is where the energy and willingness to make a transition is born, to reinvent the ways of living and inhabiting the world (Quilici, 2021, p. 32).

71The aim, therefore, in dance creation, is to inhabit the sensation of the strange~familiar instead of avoiding and anesthetizing it, with ways to guide it towards new germinations of life. “‘Sustain the malaise’ that generates in the processes of subjectivation the introduction of a difference, a rupture, a change” (Rolnik, 2018, p. 17). It is precisely here that monsters come in, as potential destabilizers of the familiarity of the body, subjectivity, movement, dance and the territory where one lives and creates, assuming the function of a catalyzing agency of the estrangement, the discomfort, the unusual experiences that may reveal, make appear new states of resistance to the present. The monster as a function. The function~monster as an operator that seeks to unite practices of technical-expressive preparation of the scenic artist, processes of composition~dramaturgy in dance and possibilities of subjectivation through movement.

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Note de fin

1 The use of the tilde instead of the hyphen is a strategy used by the researcher Alice Stefânia Curi, supervisor of this research, which I will also use in this text. According to her, the exchange aims to emphasize the fluidity between the articulated perspectives, sounding less sectarian than the hyphen or the slash, giving more emphasis to the ambivalence and reciprocity between the parties.

2 For an understanding of the conceptualizations of affect and the ‘affective turn’ in the Human Sciences, see Pais (2021).

3 Specifically on the relationship between monsters and transsexuality, see Leite Junior (2012).

4 For more on the relationship between monsters, colonialism and racism, see Markendorf, 2015; 2018, and Klinkerfus, 2021.

5 Link to the complete spectacle: Accessed on: 02 Jan. 2023.

6 Link to the complete spectacle: Accessed on: 02 Jan. 2023.

7 Link to the complete spectacle: Accessed on: 02 Jan. 2023.

8 Due to space limitations, these actions will not be detailed in this article.

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Référence électronique

Marcos Katu Buiati, « Monstrosities, Body and Creation: strategies for dancing with the unfamiliar »Revista Brasileira de Estudos da Presença [En ligne], 13 : 3 | 2023, mis en ligne le 06 juillet 2023, consulté le 23 juillet 2024. URL :

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Marcos Katu Buiati

Universidade de Brasília – UnB, Brasília/DF, Brazil
Instituto Federal de Brasília – IFB, Brasília/DF, Brazil
Marcos Katu Buiati is a dance artist and researcher. Professor at the Instituto Federal de Brasília, where he leads the DES – Núcleo de Pesquisa e Criação em Dança. Master in Cultural Performances from the Universidade de Goiás, is currently a doctoral candidate in Scenic Arts at the Universidade de Brasília, where he researches processes of dance creation at the interface with monstrosities, literature and psychoanalysis.
E-mail: mbuiati[at]

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