David McNally argues that monsters within fiction allow for the discussion of systems and anxieties that would otherwise be invisible. In particular, the monsters he discusses make visible the monstrousness of global capitalism and industrial capitalism that have otherwise become normalized and, therefore, invisible.
Notes & Quotes
- There is a lot of focus on tales of torture, body horror, and dismemberment in McNally’s introduction:
At its heart, this book is about these monsters of the market and the occult economies they inhabit. In the chapters that follow, I argue that a whole genre of monster-tales, both past and present, manifest recurrent anxieties about corporeal dismemberment in societies where the commodification of human labour- its purchase and sale on markets- is becoming widespread… In so doing, our investigation tracks themes of dissection, mindless labour, and the vampire-powers of capital… Across all these readings, it shows how and why fears for the integrity of human bodies are so ubiquitous to modern society. (4)
In analyzing these processes, Marx resorts repeatedly to the language of monstrosity. Capitalist manufacture ‘mutilates the worker,’ he writes, ‘turning him into a fragment of himself.’ Describing capital’s appearance in the form of the modern automated workplace where machines dominate workers, he refers to it as ‘a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories,’ and he denounces its ‘demonic power’ over living labour. (15)
The laboring human body cannot remain natural, pure, and uninfected by the forces of capital in modern society. In parts of McNally’s text, he even provides extreme examples of people being forced or coerced into selling parts of their bodies. This focus on dismemberment is reminiscent of Jesse Oak Taylor’s The Sky of our Manufacture… perhaps there is a connection to ecohorror and/or petroculture to be made here…
- McNally’s reading of Foucault’s labor power is also helpful:
And capitalism abstracts (detaches, cuts off) labour and its products from the concrete and specific individuals who perform unique productive acts, treating all work as effectively identical and interchangeable…All of this has important implications where workers are concerned. It means that rather than their own life-force, their fundamental human creative energy, workers’ laboring power becomes a commodity, a separable and detachable thing that can be sold, handed over to someone else… In buying labor power, then, capital takes possession of labour, effectively draining it of its substance as a series of unique and unrepeatable acts tied to specific human personalities. Commodified abstract labour is thus effectively disembodied, detached from the persons who perform it. (14)