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 track 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.
Explaining that the word "monster" is derived from the Latin for "omen" or "warming", Hanafi begins with an exploration of the monster's early identity as a portent or messenger from God. While monsters have always been considered "whatever we are not", they were gradually though of more as mechanical devices when new discoveries in science and medicine began to reveal the mechanical nature of the human body itself. In analyzing the historical literature of monstrosity, magic, and museum collections, Hanafi uses contemporary theory and philosophy of technology to illuminate the timeless significance of the monster theme. She elaborates the association within medical literature between women and the monstrous and sheds new light on the work of Vico -- particularly his notion of the conatus -- by analyzing it in relation to Vico's own personal health. By explicating obscure and fascinating texts from much 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 their audiences with monstrous wit.
Drawing from a variety of texts from medicine, moralphilosophy, 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.
Zakiya Hanifi is an independent scholar who divides her time between Seattle, Washington, and Venice, Italy.