Thursday, 16 October 2014 00:00

Monsters on campus at ETSU Featured

Written by Lance White
Dr. Ana Grinberg's Monster Studies class explores the political and social climates surrounding monsters in literature. Dr. Ana Grinberg's Monster Studies class explores the political and social climates surrounding monsters in literature. Photo: Lance White

The human mind often wanders towards the edge of its understanding. The edge of understanding is where imagination begins, and things that are beyond reason can exist.

Walking into Dr. Ana Grinberg's office, one can easily recognize a setup common of any other professor who teaches English courses at East Tennessee State University: shelves crammed with books, chairs for students to sit in during conferences and a desk – clean and computer-occupied – in the corner of the room.

Yet the books lining Grinberg’s shelves are not typical of a professor: "Dracula," "The Vampire in Europe," "Gods, Heroes, and Monsters" and a myriad of other monster-related novels. Grinberg will be teaching a course on monsters in the spring of 2015 at ETSU.

"The Monster Studies course will not so much be the study of monsters, but the study of the political and sociological climates of the humans that created them," Grinberg said. The darkness that rests in a person's soul can be ousted in a creative fashion to explain and chronicle the times in which that person lived.

Grinberg was born in Argentina and her heritage can be traced back to Eastern Europe. She spent a great deal of her life in Mexico having moved there with her parents at the age of 4.

She has always been fascinated with monsters. Upon being asked, Grinberg blamed her parents for her interest in the monstrous. Edgar Allan Poe is no less responsible than her parents, though.

One of Poe’s short stories in particular was more influential than others. 

"The Masque of the Red Death was the first real interest I had in the horror genre.  I read it and ... I could not sleep that night.  It was awesome!"  Grinberg said.

"Many monsters were born within borders of physical, sociological and political ideas."

                      – Ana Grinberg

Grinberg did not begin her academic career in the pursuit of monsters. After graduating high school at Bachillerato Alexander Bain in Mexico City, she attained her bachelor’s degree in social psychology from Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco.  She attained her master’s in women's studies, and is a graduate of the Intensive Latin Program that was held in the summer of 2007 at San Diego State University.

In 2013, she acquired a doctorate in comparative literature with a focus in medieval studies from the University of California-San Diego. 

Grinberg doesn't just teach, though.  She has worked as a translator, once wrote for a magazine as a "Dear Abby" figure while she was in Mexico, and has a number of short films listed on IMDB.       

Grinberg said that she teaches her Monster Studies course in three separate sections. These sections each focus on a different monster that she and a group of like-minded thinkers believe are important to history and social issues in an era.

Giants, werewolves and vampires are the monsters that will be studied next semester during her Monster Studies course. Each of these monsters can be linked to a different era and socioeconomic climate.  

Grinberg’s first thesis was on Bram Stoker's well-known novel, “Dracula.” Her colleagues at San Diego State University began noticing her as the woman who studies vampires.  While this was not necessarily true at the time, Grinberg said, it would become so in the future. She would continue not only studying vampires, but a variety of other monsters as well.

Grinberg is also interested in the medieval encounters between the West and the East, and more specifically, religious encounters between those two worlds.  She believes that monsters are a representation of political, religious and social tension of the times in which they became popular.

“Dracula” is an example of this. In Stoker's novel, Count Dracula lived on the border between Christendom and the Ottoman Empire in the region of Transylvania in Romania.

"Many monsters were born within borders of physical, sociological and political ideas," Grinberg said. "Monsters like Godzilla had an opportunity to discuss things man could not as it was too sensitive."

Godzilla was a monster that was mutated and awoken by the testing of the atomic bomb. The beast rose from the ocean to wreak havoc on Japan not long after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  "Godzilla" came out in 1954, with the nuclear horrors still fresh in the mind of the Japanese public.

Another example of this can be pointed out in the Soviet Red Scare during the Cold War. At the time, there were a number of movies pertaining to Mars, which is commonly referred to as a red planet. "Total Recall," a cult classic from the '80s, largely took place on the fourth rock from the sun.

Grinberg has collaborated with a number of other monster theorists on an organization known as MEARCSTAPA (on the Web at mearcstapa.org). The website is actually a reference to the classic monster Grendel, one antagonist in the novel “Beowulf.”

Grinberg Wood

"Mearcstapa means wanderer on the border, and can be used to describe a number of monsters, not just Grendel in 'Beowulf,'" Grinberg said. 

The mission statement on the website states that those who study monsters believe that creations of horror are a reflection of ourselves, just expressed in a manner that can be accepted by a general audience.

Grinberg believes that Monster Studies will be her new favorite class to teach. Though the idea was met with hesitation at first, with enough determination and persistence a person can accomplish many things.

Grinberg is many things, but a pushover is certainly not one of those. She believes that this study will help people better understand their ancestors. To really know someone, you must have a grasp of what terrifies them.

"Monsters are present in every culture," Grinberg said. "No matter what area, and no matter what era, we have always come up with things to scare ourselves at night."

 Grinberg peers through a stick sculpture on campus at ETSU. Photo: Lance White

En español: Monstruos en el campus de ETSU

Read 1293 times Last modified on Tuesday, 22 September 2015 15:15