The Monster in the Machine

Magic, Medicine, and the Marvelous in the Time of the Scientific Revolution

The Monster in the Machine

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 16 b&w illustrations Published: September 2000

Author: Zakiya Hanafi

Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Pre-Modern Studies > Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

The Monster in the Machine tracks the ways in which human beings were defined in contrast to supernatural and demonic creatures during the time of the Scientific Revolution. Zakiya Hanafi recreates scenes of Italian life and culture from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth centuries to show how monsters were conceptualized at this particular locale and historical juncture—a period when the sacred was being supplanted by a secular, decidedly nonmagical way of looking at the world.
Noting that the word “monster” is derived from the Latin for “omen” or “warning,” Hanafi explores the monster’s early identity as a portent or messenger from God. Although monsters have always been considered “whatever we are not,” they gradually were tranformed into mechanical devices when new discoveries in science and medicine revealed the mechanical nature of the human body. In analyzing the historical literature of monstrosity, magic, and museum collections, Hanafi uses contemporary theory and the philosophy of technology to illuminate the timeless significance of the monster theme. She elaborates the association between women and the monstrous in medical literature and sheds new light on the work of Vico—particularly his notion of the conatus—by relating it to Vico’s own health. By explicating obscure and fascinating texts from such disciplines as medicine and poetics, she invites the reader to the piazzas and pulpits of seventeenth-century Naples, where poets, courtiers, and Jesuit preachers used grotesque figures of speech to captivate audiences with their monstrous wit.
Drawing from a variety of texts from medicine, moral philosophy, and poetics, Hanafi’s guided tour through this baroque museum of ideas will interest readers in comparative literature, Italian literature, history of ideas, history of science, art history, poetics, women’s studies, and philosophy.


“[A]n insightful lesson in Early Modern ‘thinking with monsters’. . . . The Monster in the Machine stands out as an exceptionally readable and enjoyable essay on seicento (mostly) Italian intellectual history, guiding its readers through a great number of colorful places.” — Georg Modestin, H-Net Reviews

“[Hanafi’s] tour of the horizon, making comments and connections, is of significance not only forward to our so-called postmodern thinking but backward to The Renaissance.” — Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance

“[T]hought-provoking, like a good conversation, . . . Hanafi’s work will be of interest to historians and literary scholars of monstrosity in the early modern period, as well as students and admirers of the culture of baroque Italy.” — William E. Burns , Sixteenth Century Journal

“By explicating obscure and fascinating texts from such disciplines as medicine and poetics, she invites the reader to the piazzas and pulpits of 17th-century Naples, where poets, courtiers, and Jesuit preachers used grotesque figures of speech to captivate audiences with their monstrous wit.” — Tech Directions

“Throughout the volume an extremely broad range of sources is brought to life, and this will certainly help scholars of the seventeenth-century widen the geographical reach of their research and cross some still-too-rigid disciplinary boundaries.” — Silvia De Renzi , Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“Wonderfully dense and highly connective, The Monster in the Machine is a complex, provocative, and masterfully written piece of scholarship that rewards careful attention.” — Andrea Jones , Comitatus

"[A]n original and fascinating study of monstrosity that blends nicely with other historical works both on early modern Italian history of science and on studies devoted to the wondrous. . . . [A]n exciting entrée into the changing nature of monsters and, by association, of humanity." — Michael R. Lynn , Journal of the History of Medicine

"[I]nteresting and important . . . ."

— Sophie Page , Isis

"[M]eticulous and informed—sometimes even inspired. . . . Wide-ranging in its coverage and application, the book is excellent, especially in its early chapters, and represents a revealing study—penetrating enough for the specialist, general enough for the novice. . . . Hanafi’s contribution in this book lies not solely in her fine analysis of individual early modern texts, but also in the general approaches to the monstrous that she provides. . . . Hanafi has certainly succeeded in providing an accessible, compelling, deftly executed study of the early modern monster that, while perhaps of greatest interest to the scholar of Italian teratology, should resonate with scholars across the humanities." — Andrew Tumminia , Configurations

"For the general audience, the book is written in lucid, highly engaging prose to narrate the story of how the 'monster' (which we demarcate ourselves against) in effect becomes the machine (which we construct)." — Caroline Joan (Kay) Picart , Review of Communication

“A well-researched, engagingly written, rich, and enlightening study.” — Deanna Shemek, author of Ladies Errant: Wayward Women and Social Order in Early Modern Italy

“This is a superlative and highly inventive piece of scholarship.” — Giuseppe F. Mazzotta, author of The New Map of the World: The Poetic Philosophy of Giambattista Vico


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Zakiya Hanafi is an independent scholar who divides her time between Seattle, Washington, and Venice, Italy.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations




Chapter 1: Monstrous Matter

Chapter 2: Monstrous Machines

Chapter 3: Medicine and the Mechanical Body

Chapter 4: Vico’s Monstrous Body

Chapter 5: Monstrous Metaphor



Works Consulted

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2568-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2536-9
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