That Monster: A Conversation About Politics and the Psyche

In April 2019, I screened my new film-loop project, entitled That Monster: An Allegory, at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London . The event was coordinated by art historian Mignon Nixon, freelance curator and writer Kari Rittenbach, and Steven Cairn, ICA curator of film. After the screening, Mignon, Kari, and I had a discussion about the work, which was then opened up to questions from the audience.

Edwin Coomasaru, who is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at The Courtauld Institute of Art, researching the gender politics of Brexit’s visual culture, attended the event and later voiced an interest in writing about the work. I suggested that we instead have a conversation about the work and related issues. Below is that conversation, held via email between the middle of May and the middle of June, 2019.

That Monster: An Allegory is an 18-minute film loop remixed from the 1935 film Frankenstein’s Bride (1935, James Whale) with a script drawn from the movie, Mary Shelly’s novel, Frankenstein, and original writing. Music: Metamorphosis 1 and Metamorphosis 2 by Philip Glass. © 1988 Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc. Used by Permission. Pianist: Dustin O’Halloran. The film plays twice, once with music and once without.

For various reasons, I normally keep my videos on private password, showing only an excerpt of the work on my website. Following the posting of this conversation, the work will be open to viewing on vimeo without a password for two weeks. All b+w screenshots are from That Monster.

EC: At heart, That Monster: An Allegory dramatizes and destabilizes the sorting of identity into “us” and “them” – friend and foe. It stages the two positions by giving us monstrous figures that we project our imagined enemies onto, and yet the slipperiness of the “I” and “you” pronouns in the onscreen narrative text also profoundly disorients our sense of who really is the “us” and the “them”. This effect both exposes and radically undermines the whole conceptual architecture of militarism that underpins such an imaginative binary of identity. In the context of the election of President Donald Trump in the US, or Brexit in the UK, why does this matter? Why might psychoanalytic-pacifism be urgent and vital for our contemporary moment?

SK: My last three projects look at why some kinds of political violence are accepted by centrist or right-wing adherents, and other kinds of political violence are not. But my motivation in That Monster was to situate Trump as a symptom of decades of economic injustice, and look through an allegorical lens at one effect of those decades —the millions of voters who became psychically enthralled to a demagogic power that doesn’t serve their interests, at the same time as those who defy that demagogic power then turn against the supporters, without either group understanding the psychical dimensions of how they got there. Members of this latter group are likely to be some of the spectators of my project.

Let’s state from the outset that Trump is a mentally ill person, whatever pop psychology or serious psychoanalytic term one uses to explain his behavior. But that doesn’t make him a political aberration, as centrists feel more comfortable labeling him. (If he’s an aberration, then we don’t have to look at what he represents as a symptom.) The key question for me is why 30-40 million Americans (his so-called die-hard base, not the wealthy who saw an opportunity for deregulation and tax cuts) fell in thrall to such a sick person? What psychosocial dynamics arose from and sustain our current economic and political situation? I am referring to the U.S., but there are also echoes regarding Brexit in the U.K. and in other countries in crisis. In a short interview with some students in 2010 I pointed out that humans are the only species that will follow an unstable leader. They are also the only species with an unconscious. Centrists and left-liberals in the U.S. point to the chaos that Trump continuously creates, and they see it as indicative of ineffectuality. But that chaos is extremely effective at a psychical level. Trump’s followers enjoy that chaos because it channels their rage at feeling marginalized. Some of his followers understand that their marginalization has been economic and social – capitalism has for the last couple of decades decreed them expendable. But many feel an inchoate, uneducated rage that takes vicarious pleasure in identifying with Trump’s self-victimization and his lashing out against all his perceived enemies. (In the 2016 election, Trump triumphed in the 50 least-educated, and often vote-crucial, counties in the U.S.)

“…an imaginative binary of identity” points to how psychical mechanisms fuel the kinds of polarizations and disruptions (constitutional, parliamentarian, militaristic) that demagogues require in order to build control. Trump seems to be willing to exploit whatever it takes to stay in power, and that might include starting new wars or exacerbating already endless ones. By putting warmongers like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton in his cabinet, accompanied by his impulsivity, anything can happen. But most importantly, it is those in thrall to him, backed by self-serving Republican politicians and the rich, who will allow it to happen.

Tell me more about what you mean by psychoanalytic-pacifism.

EC: Militarism has a very specific set of recurring features that operate on both a societal and psychic level. At its foundations, a conceptual binary of identity is projected onto a group of people – dividing into “us” and “them” or ”friend” and “foe”. Such a binary can be restaged time and time again on different scales – from handfuls of people to groups of nations. But such imaginative frameworks work to create the impression of order in a situation that can never be completely ordered, borders and boundaries that can never fully account for the messy ways we find ourselves entangled with each other. Nevertheless, the binary puts emphasis on difference, with either side increasingly seen as opposites – and good/bad values projected onto each. “Them” is narrated as a threat—aggressive, out of control, monstrous, disease-like, bestial, and not really human. This process not only works to legitimize violence directed towards “them,” it claims such violence is merely a pre-emptive defense: “we” must kill or contain the “threat.” The trouble is – such a threat can never be eliminated in full, because the possibility of harm or vulnerability can never be banished. As much as we may desire the eradication of those we see as enemies, what makes us who we are is in part constituted by another – and when we do lash out, traumatic repercussions will come back to haunt. To wound another is to wound oneself – because the neat conceptual binary we think social groups through does not work so neatly in actuality. “Us” and “them” are actually indelibly interconnected and interdependent, because they are not neatly sealed off from each other, but cohabit a space.

For me, my thinking about psychoanalytic-pacifism came out of studying the Northern Irish peace process – the legacy of a civil war between Republican/Nationalists and Loyalist/Unionists. While I was undertaking this research, the Brexit referendum happened in the UK in 2016 – and where before there had been no binary of identity, one was brought into being, and quickly became a feedback loop: each side talking of their desire to harm or kill the other, condemning “traitors” and “betrayal.” This is not a war (not yet at any rate), but it seems to have many of the psychic and social processes of militarism at play. When I heard you speak recently at the ICA in London, I was really struck by how you described the situation in America as needing to be analyzed from the perspective of the group – but the group wasn’t just Trump supporters, but also those who also saw themselves as his opponents. For me this was really profound, because it widened the frame to think “us” and “them” in relationship to each other. Like you say: Trump is not an exception or an aberration, he is deeply implicated in an entire system – a product of the same neoliberalism that many centrists defend by trying to make Trump look like an accident or a mistake. But they are implicated, we are all implicated – it is very tempting to try and contain him under the idea he is a monster, but he is absolutely interconnected with the society that created him.

SK: Yes, maddeningly interconnected. It is more comforting to project outward when we think about who created this monster. It’s much more threatening to think that we may have been implicated in creating him, even unknowingly. Now, few culturally progressive or socially empathic people want to own that monstrosity, which is understandable. But in developing the script for That Monster I reached a point where I realized that I had to focus on using only first and second person pronouns – I and you – and I removed the voice of the scientist. I did this so as to (as Kari Rittenbach pointed out during the discussion at the ICA) implicate the spectator of the film in the instability of the pronouns used in the titles and intertitles. And while editing the film, I had followed the id space of Twitter, so I witnessed both sides – pro- and anti-Trump – caught up in a rageful dynamic that only in rare instances seemed to include a critique of an unjust economic system. But it was Mignon Nixon, the day before she participated in our discussion at the ICA screening, who articulated the reading that the film didn’t just create a spectator reacting one way or another to its rage-filled characters, but rather that the film situates us all – spectators, monsters – as part of the same group. That is a more radical notion than it might appear to be.

EC: I think you can understand for me the urgency of such an artwork as That Monster, which both exposes and works to dismantle the entire social and psychic system I outlined above. It is precisely now when it is so difficult to have this kind of conversation, that it is most needed – when people increasingly understand their political opponents through the frame of moral panic or an invasion to be crushed. That Monster stages – and reveals – the steps it takes to create a monster, in a way that does not reproduce that process but unsettles it. Remixing footage from Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster peers into a body of water. “Is that really me in that reflection?!” he asks. “If I am that monster, then I am filled with shame! I am a wretched outcast in the world forever!.” “All hate the wretched,” the onscreen titles declare, the musical score cut through with a deep sense of tragedy. We hear of how “you” refuses to look at the monster, or make sense of the words the monster speaks.

The intertitles express intense anger in response – “a fatal prejudice clouds your eyes. You detest and spurn me. You call me ignorant! You call me stupid! You steal my dignity. Where you ought to see a vulnerable person, you only see a burden.” The male monster topples a statue, the female monster opens her mouth in a silent, violent scream. “Shame has made me a fiend!” – the musical score picks up pace, an angry rage propelling the momentum – “I feel rage! I want revenge! I haunt you. I stalk you with bitterness and anger. You judge me and push me away. You think your contempt will control me.” The male monster wields his arms amidst a building on fire. ‘I declare war! … With pleasure I destroy you and your home. “Even if I destroy myself,” the female monster stares us in the eye. “You listen to my murderous resentments. But you hear only what you want. You want me to disappear! I want to trample you to dust!.” The male monster runs through a graveyard uprooting trees and toppling statues, before the video cuts to a monster still in bandages, immediately after creation, with the acknowledgement: “Remember – I am your creature.”

Not only does That Monster tell a story of how militarism works at the level of the psyche, it also destabilizes it by putting pressure on the fantasies at its foundations. “Us” and “them” – despite the aggression, the unwillingness to apprehend each other as a life – are indelibly tied to each other, haunted by each other. It is impossible to eliminate the “enemy” completely, it is impossible to restore a feeling of total control over those seen as threatening. And yet, what is also profound about That Monster, is the slipperiness of “you” and “I” – the monsters and their creator. Whoever watches the work may have their own monster in mind – Trump, I’m sure for many, and Hilary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” also comes to mind, yet the video sets up such neat categorization as deeply unstable. Because of the way it articulates the creation of a “monster,” it is hard not to be left wondering whether you could be someone else’s. As I watched the film, I imagined many kinds of monsters: Leavers and Remainers in the UK (Frankenstein images are a staple of current newspaper cartoons), Trump supporters and opponents in the US, etc.

The anger behind the Brexit and Trump votes may or may not have been in part a result of the 2007-08 financial crisis, an economic order in the midst of collapse, even while inequality spirals and the wealth of the top 1% intensifies, and an electorate caught in the contradictions of a system they thought would pay out for them, and the bitter abandonment many now feel. Obviously, the electorates who voted for Trump and Brexit are complex – they include a coalition of voters, some are from that 1% – many working class, hoping their 2016 vote would fund the welfare state in the UK or traditional industries in the US. Yet we are also living through a moment with a lot of socialist activism in the UK and US – Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party promising to transform society (although the “us/them” of Brexit is a major problem for thinking collectively outside of Leave or Remain). How does That Monster register and work through some of the tensions in this historical moment? Marx’s Das Kapital (1867) has been called a “gothic novel” – what might Frankenstein’s monster tell us about the current crisis of neoliberalism?

SK: It’s clear to anyone not looking through rose-colored glasses of psychical resistance that decades of radical income mal-distribution (i.e. the obscenely uneven effects of globalized neoliberalism) have helped produce mass precarity in a context of mediatized wealth and consumption. Also, a prime component of neo-liberalism has been psychosocial—to blame and to shame the victim; the poor and precarious don’t deserve attention or mediation, are not entitled to the basic necessities of daily life. The naturalization of that component, as much as wealth mal-distribution and greed at the top, is responsible for the perfect storm that gathered after the 2008 crash in the U.S.- with virtually all factions in the U.S. government looking the other way.

Different parts of the population deal with precarity differently at the electoral level. For obvious reasons, a little more than half the voting public– largely from the two coasts -did not fall for Trump. The U.S. has been divided down the middle during every presidential election of the past few decades. Politicians and the public both tacitly accepted that as long as you had 1% or 2% of the votes to pull you over the finishing line, you won fair and square. In fact, that was an ominous symptom of a democracy in deep dysfunction.

A major focus of mine as I developed That Monster was the psychoanalytic dimension of shame. There’s been a lot of talk lately about how Trump’s being a ridiculously bad businessman (recently revealed documents show that over a ten-year period he lost a trillion dollars) would allow his base to see the light and reject him because he actually isn’t the business mastermind who promised to enrich them (i.e. the neoliberal phantasm). But this is a form of thinking that denies the logic of unconscious identification. One thing that makes Trump so resilient is that there is so much for his base to identify with. He’s a shamefully bad businessman? Well, he’s one of us. He traffics in conspiracy theories? Well, there’s something out there that’s rendering me unstable, even if I can’t pinpoint it.

It is certainly encouraging that there is a surge of socialist and democratic-socialist sentiment and activism in the U.S. For the first time in my lifetime, the word socialism is publicly utterable (even if both centrist Democrats and Republicans routinely smear those who align themselves with this surge). But even groups of the left are clueless or resistant when it comes to the role that the psyche plays in mass politics or the ways in which the electorate can engage in psychical delusions that are not dispelled through truths and facts.

EC: I couldn’t agree more – to think politics without psychoanalysis (or vice versa) simply fails to account for the drives, desire, contradictions, and complications that mark a fundamentally unstable subject – us. Even just on the level of political rhetoric – it is psychoanalysis that can allow us to excavate the messy terrain between what is said at face value and what is meant: the projections, anxieties, and defenses that structure political discourse (Leavers and Remainers, for example, practice a profound amount of magical thinking – declaring the world as they wish it to be). Earlier you spoke about Twitter’s “id” – I’d love to hear more about your research online in preparation for That Monster. 

I am also interested in the relationships among psychoanalysis, sexuality, and technology – and their bearings on the work. The gothic emerges in literature from 1764; during this time many new communication technologies are invented (photography, telegrams, telephones) – as part of huge societal changes during the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914), a period also marked by considerable working-class and feminist activism.

That Monster obviously traces together the historical and conceptual connections between psychoanalysis and the gothic – but I want to ask about the role of technology. Perhaps not unlike the earlier historical period I mentioned, we are experiencing a moment of rapid technological change (especially communication technologies). These technologies, and the surveillance capitalism that underpins them, have profound implications for our future. Technology has also become the site of a moral panic as well, in ways that perhaps also draw historical parallels (in the1860-80s, people thought the invention of trains would cause mass madness). I have lost count of the number of newspaper articles declaring social media and smart phones as the prime cause of mental illness, narcissism, anxiety – with a particular concern about children and the stakes of heterosexual reproduction (long the focal point of any moral panic). Which is not to say social media doesn’t manipulate its users, but that “addiction” and “ill health” are also the very metaphors invoked during every moral panic (homophobia has long cast same-sex desire as a contagion that will harm or destroy the possibility of children, for example). Mental health certainly has become a real concern at the moment, and it is connected to rapid technological change – but to treat it as the prime cause is often done by media organizations unwilling to see the aftermath of the Financial Crisis as having a huge effect on society.

Technological anxieties are really important for That Monster: from the film scenes depicting the electric machines that create the monster, to the very medium of the artwork itself which remixes film from the 1930s and introduces glitches and loops that resonate with internet aesthetics. The monster is also a subject brought into being outside of heterosexual procreation, and the original Bride of Frankenstein film also performs his own failure to find a bride in that she rejects him. Queerness disrupts linear ideas of time based on procreation; trauma also disrupts linear ideas of time, as it repeats and reoccurs. How does the work reference and recycle past technological cultures in order to make sense of our present? And to what extent could we consider your monster a “queer” figure?

SK: I strongly believe that all of the issues you interconnect, and more, cannot be thought separately. Technological consequences, homophobia, queerness, neoliberalism, surveillance, xenophobia, moral panic, militarism, racism, misogyny, the mal-distribution of wealth, psychical enthrallment to autocratic phantasms – to which we can add the direness of the climate crisis. Have we ever lived through a moment where holistic thinking was more necessary, and less common? There’s no question that surveillance capitalism has profound implications. I never see an instance in which the algorithm doesn’t cut in at least two opposing– and lopsided-ways. And we have to consider that the advent of the algorithm is actually radically different from the advent of other technologies in the past. I have been feeling for at least a decade that the simple combination of capitalism, the algorithm, and the psyche results in a ridiculously ominous brew. Take the example of platforms of media distribution that allow one to “curate” the consumption of journalism, documentary, commentary, and even raw political output (for example, excerpts of a press conference on-demand). Although I vehemently disagree with the common liberal sentiment here that it was better when we had only about four TV stations as purveyors of news that the whole country could use as a reference point —  those news programs were neoliberal trash — a swing toward customized news has been deadly if you take the example of Fox News in a country in which only about 30% of the population is able to afford an undergraduate degree that might inculcate critical thinking. The submerged question of where knowledge resides is one that is rife with transferential implications that are rarely discussed on the left, although the right instinctively manipulates them with glee.

Twitter as a site for research—I think it’s important for artists to be aware of popular sites of distribution, exchange, and technological representation. I used GIF movements in the film as markers of the algorithmic present, while remixing an anachronistic silent film genre to allow the silence and titles to create a transferential space for the spectator. It’s clear that Twitter is a site where many allow themselves to attack and vent. It’s not just the right; the spleen vented by liberals can take the breath away. Spend a day following a Trump twitter response thread if you want to see a space that is completely devoid of politics, but filled with displaced rage. Interestingly, the far left on Twitter is more reasonable. There was a survey in the U.S. recently that claimed that only radical political extremes inhabit Twitter – i.e. Bernie Sanders supporters and Trump supporters. Firstly, it’s diabolical to equate the left and right in this way, and awfully convenient for those who jumped on it as an explanation of why right-of-center Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden is trolled and dismissed by the left on Twitter. Secondly, Twitter is most definitely awash in centrist liberals. There are 69 million Twitter users in the U.S. (13 million in the U.K.) and something like 138 million Americans voted in the 2016 election. Not all 69 million Twitter users are engaging in political exchanges or comments, but these are not numbers that can be ignored, especially with the phenomenon of charismatic media stars who can generate a lot of focus on a political topic with one tweet.

I found my way to the Frankenstein story at the start of the project through researching narcissism –because of the mass identification with Trump’s narcissism. I wanted to understand that, because if there’s anything that post-structuralism has taught us, it’s that belief is not rigid or inherent. A chance web search led me to literary analyses of narcissism in the Frankenstein story. I was then drawn to Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, because of its prescience. It is the prescient figure who intrigues me, because prescience indicates an uncannily clear vision when others need more temporal distance for clarity. And the expression of prescience is always accompanied by a social courage that pulls the veil off the normative. In the 1818 novel, Shelly refers to a “spark” that brings the monster to life; in the 1935 movie, it is lightning that appears to be harnessed through some electrical-looking equipment. Apparently Shelley was advanced in engaging what a recent book on the topic, Frankenstein Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of all Kinds, refers to as a relatively new idea at the time – the use of electrical current to activate muscles. This book also points out that she anticipated by two centuries the ethical questions that robotics would raise. Interestingly, one annotator connects these ethical questions – i.e. should the scientist be considered a murderer if he destroys his own robotic creation? –  to a topic that arose during periods of slavery. That is, could a slave owner be prosecuted for killing a slave, since that slave was considered their property; yet if it were considered legal for the slave owner to be prosecuted, then the whole premise of slavery, and its reduction of humans to property, would be called into question. I didn’t read this book until after I made the film, but for me the Frankenstein story held remarkable potential for an allegorical extrapolation.

While we’ve been having this exchange, the political situation here has worsened dramatically. An abortion ban was passed in Alabama that was even more radical than those recently passed in six other states. And in regards to your comment about the monster being “a subject brought into being outside of heterosexual procreation,” a 1952 US citizenship restriction not actively pursued previously has now been latched onto by the Trump administration. It challenges the citizenship of a child of same-sex parents if the body that gave birth to the child did not have US citizenship at the time; i.e. due to non-citizen surrogacy in the case of one challenged male gay couple, and due to the fact that one birth mother in a lesbian marriage was not American when the child was born, while the other was. It’s an obvious attempt on the part of this rabidly xenophobic and homophobic administration to harass select groups (although Trump recently claimed he’s all for gay marriage). This is an instance in which children born outside of heterosexual procreation are cast as monstrous, as unnatural. At the moment, our court system seems to be resisting this move, but liberals in the US have for years mistakenly relied on the judicial system to save them from the collapse of democracy.

Do you think the monster in my film is a “queer” figure?

EC: I think That Monster draws attention to the ways in which hetero-normativity and militarism are closely interrelated (as with patriarchy too); there are direct parallels between the way homophobia and a pro-war mentality work to create enemies by casting others as aggressive, monstrous threats supposedly in need of containment. The slipperiness of the monster in That Monster is profoundly generative: throwing up all sorts of potential associations, even associations in conflict and tension with each other – a testament to how complex it is as an artwork. The female monster also asks important questions about gender; the gothic seems to have long been a particularly powerful site for feminist thinking – from Shelley’s novel, to Julia Kristeva’s psychoanalytic text Powers of Horror (1980), and many contemporary art practices. How does That Monster think through femininity and ideas of the monstrous?

I am particularly interested in the stakes of Trump’s masculinity in the context of the film: centrist journalists have spent a lot of time claiming “excessive” masculinity is the prime reason he is a bad president. This analysis rests on very conservative gender norms: the idea that masculinity is a spectrum – you can have too much (thuggish) or too little (effeminate) – but the figure in the middle, military masculinity, is the only subject able to exert “self-control;” and therefore has a natural right to exert that control and “order” over all those who supposedly cannot (women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color, nonhumans). In criticizing Trump on the basis of being “excessively” masculine and therefore a bad custodian, such attacks perpetuate the idea that a “real man” is needed to exert discipline.

If That Monster picks up some of these undercurrents (intentionally or otherwise), it is also destabilizing of the assumptions that underpin them, in the way it exposes and undermines group fantasies about “leadership.” You also see some of these patterns of identification and anxiety when it comes to climate change – the desire and demand that a “savior” will fix the problem without changing the structural system (capitalism) that has brought it about. Obviously, there are very long historical relationships between masculinity and custodianship of the land – ideas of ecological control often drawn on and profoundly subverted by the gothic.

Could all of these threads connect somehow: from the cultures of managerialism in neoliberal governance, the demand that “shepherds” subject nature to order and fruitfulness, the appeal for a Christ-like savior at moments of crisis, or even the fantasy of military masculinity exerting custodianship over women, people of color and LGBTQ+ people? At the base of all these things is the concept of control: a “natural” figure in charge, keeping the imaginative “monsters” at bay. But maybe That Monster puts pressure on that very desire, precisely by insisting on the constructed and slippery nature of monstrosity itself? Rather than presenting an image of a stable world or social order, the film is adamant that wherever there is power there will be resistance – and that regimes of power can never be total or absolute.

SK: The other day I came across some notes I made a few years ago on Mark Cousin’s 1994 text “The Ugly.” Cousins defines the ugly as that which is there and should not be there, or that which is not there and should be. The ugly frustrates desire, and in that sense, it haunts. It is not a negligible task for art to set for itself – to haunt the spectator with the unsettling of the easy categorizations of the other, which you pointed to at the beginning of our discussion. It is those easy categorizations that have made possible the intensification of a defensive split in the U.S., and I suspect in the UK as well. This is what neoliberalism exploits. As for how That Monster thinks through femininity and ideas of the monstrous, again, it may have to do with something being in the wrong place. The bride is barely a character in the novel or Hollywood film, but in That Monster—thanks to filmic editing she gets equal billing. She too has the capacity to be monstrous – ugly– to haunt, to represent psychical resistance. Cousins talks about beauty as a defense against human precarity – “beauty and symmetry induce the illusion of coherence and ideality into a subject who is in fact always close to the edge.” Let’s see if curators are willing to bring these monsters to spectators …

It’s infuriating to have witnessed the dramatic growth of presidential power (and personality) in the U.S. over the past few decades. Cheney masterminded this for George W. Bush; Obama contributed through his kill lists, his dramatic increase of executive orders, and his unilateral militarism; Trump has his radical enabler in his personal Attorney General William Barr. But none of this could have been accomplished without mass compliance. That compliance is connected to the desire for a savior from the chaos and confusion that neoliberalism has created for the many. One hears repeatedly how his base likes the fact that Trump is a “fighter.” And now we have millions falling for Biden as savior. Yet he is almost as megalomaniacal and domineering as Trump. Aside from his retrograde politics, Biden’s m.o. is that of the bully.

But I think that the characteristics of a savior today are complex because of the role played by mass projected rage. Trump-the-symptom lauds the reactionary tenets of masculinity – men should be very tall, have big hands that allude to a big penis, be generals (he likes them tall, in uniform, and not bald), be dominant and not listen to the opinions of others (including generals), ignore women when not insulting them (particularly women of color). But at the same time, he betrays enormous anxiety about his masculinity and behaves in ways that aren’t conventionally masculine. He’s not exactly the strong, silent type. He publicly exaggerates his sexual prowess, belittles the masculinity of men he can’t control, pretends he has a full head of hair, hesitates to engage in military aggression, etc. He performs anxiety. Centrists and those who have economic plenitude accompanied by other privileges have comforted themselves for a few years by holding onto the useless idea of “the grownup in the room” as savior, who more often than not is either a military man or a corporate man.

Recently I’ve had the sense that Trump is losing some support. The many who granted him a winning margin because he was the new “change you [could] believe in” are looking for their next change, something to stop the pain of an unidentified neoliberalism. The tragedy is that if some of his voters turn against him, it won’t be because they understand what drew them to him or what kind of change would actually alleviate that pain. Into that American vacuum are stepping a few truly progressive politicians who try to clarify the raw deal experienced by the 95%, but at the level of mass psychology, art remains one of the few potential players.

EC: Yes – culture and the humanities are as important as ever in making sense of the violent divisions, upheavals, and social struggles around us. That Monster not only does vital and urgent work in unpicking, unraveling and making sense of our current psychic-political landscape, it also leaves us with a powerful and profound message: no one can exert absolute control over themselves or others.

[To view That Monster, click here.]



  1. Myrel Chernick said:

    Hi Silvia, Wanted to watch the video. But the link doesn’t seem to work for me. Is there another way to connect? Thanks, Myrel >


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