Attack Life On All Fronts: The All-Encompassing Philosophy to Master all Areas of Life
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Thus the second awakening enacts an overshadowing of the fecal child's pre-Oedipal significance by castration anxiety, but only a partial one. The intensity of the disparagement directed at the creature here and throughout the rest of the novel testifies to an obtrusive conflict between competing economies of desire and identification, fueling the excessive violence with which the Oedipal economy repeatedly disavows and repudiates its opponent. In Freudian terms, the novel plays out a struggle between perversion and normality, healthy development and regressive desires, infantile anal-erotic fantasy and mature genital sexuality.
But even Freud's own work points beyond the evaluations imposed by such terminology. In Totem and Taboo , for instance, Freud's consistent equation of western European infantile psychology with non-Western "savage" maturity surely indicates, once the ethnocentric bias is removed, that mature, normative sexual arrangements in one sex-gender system may well be considered perverse, immature, and criminal in another.
Thus Frankenstein's project, rather than being merely perverse or hubristic, also expresses the utopian possibilities figured in the gift economy of the Frankenstein family. His desire to give to the world the same gift his mother gave to him pits itself against the social norm of patriarchal appropriation and tries to introduce an alternative sex-gender system into the world. Rubin could almost be glossing Victor's project when she announces her own version of the feminist utopia: "Cultural evolution provides us with the opportunity to seize control of the means of sexuality, reproduction, and socialization, and to make conscious decisions to liberate human sexual life from the archaic relationships which deform it" "Traffic" The failure of Frankenstein's project recapitulates a pattern familiar to any reader of the period's literature, the dissolution of revolutionary ambition into tortured repetition of the system it endeavored to overthrow.
Like the fate of the Poet in Alastor or of the would-be revolutionary Rivers in Wordsworth's The Borderers , Victor Frankenstein's attempt to break free of the social contract ends up merely reiterating its deep structure. Yet this reiteration, by making that structure explicit, exposes it to the possibility of critique. Another way of putting this is that the story of Victor Frankenstein, quintessential male hysteric, shows how the splitting of genders within the patriarchal sex-gender system of Freud and Jehovah paradoxically eternalizes or naturalizes a radical denial of difference between men and women.
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Castration anxiety splits men from women by differentiating the way they bear a common signifier, the phallus. The wandering phallus of the male hysteric is not pathological because it moves about. On the contrary, the "proper" journey of the phallus is the very map of normality. The problem with the male hysteric is that his phallus wanders from the prescribed circuits of ownership and exchange.
It should not be unexpected that these movements refer to normality in ways that are normally kept hidden. The character Marlowe in Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer , for instance, who is struck hysterically mute in the presence of "proper" ladies, finds himself entirely comfortable with women whose sexual favors can be had for money because, as he puts it, such women "are of us, you know" II. The exchange of money for woman reassures Marlowe that manipulation of the anal-phallic signifier effectively negates sexual difference.
Victor Frankenstein's wandering, demonic fecal child exposes the same negation in a far more startling, emphatic, and critical way. That Shelley's novel aims beyond delineating a moral dilemma regarding the proper use of science, for instance , the shortcomings of a particular male personality-type e. Although the pathos of the creature's situation would seem to depend upon its utter privacy, his problem is anything but private in the crucial sense that everyone who sees the creature rejects him in the same immediate, unthinking way Victor does at the creation scene.
Shelley's Godwinian demonstration of the creature's natural benevolence being perverted into criminality by his miserable circumstances depends upon this universal, unthinking rejection and exclusion.
2. Cultural Property
The irony of allowing the creature to so eloquently voice his desires is that he can act upon them only within the severely restricted range given to him by his "nature," that is, by the unthinking and immediate rejection and exclusion he meets with on all fronts.
Victor's decision to keep the creature isolated and secret, thereby channeling his extraordinary strength and energy into serial homicide, acts out a repression woven into the social fabric. The fact that the creature's limited options are imposed upon him most actively by Victor, and therefore seem to reify Victor's desire, encourages the illusion that the creature is merely Victor's double.
They are indeed locked together in their secret misery, as the bizarre pas de deux of the final chase sequence most clearly illustrates, and their actions are at times ironically symmetrical as well, as when Victor's disposal of the aborted female runs parallel to the creature's strangulation of Clerval. But these examples serve to emphasize the way the creature's actions are constrained to the field of possibilities imposed upon him by Victor, or rather by society at large with Victor as its intermediary.
The illusion of doubling is also supported by Victor's tendency to misrecognize the relation between himself and the creature, repeatedly imputing his own failures of insight or responsibility to the creature's malevolent intervention. When Victor describes his misunderstanding of the creature's wedding night threat, for example, he claims that "as if possessed by magic powers, the monster had blinded me to his real intentions" In such instances the creature functions as a mere exteriorization of Victor's psyche, but this function is only another aspect of Victor's mystification, an illusion depending on Victor's narcissistic perspective.
Rather than being the "vampire" Victor projects as his nemesis, however, the creature wants nothing more than normalcy. Perhaps the most pathetic thing about the creature's situation is that the novel's strongest voice for normative heterosexuality is his. The creature's yearning for a female companion carries far more conviction than Victor's tepid acquiescence to his marriage with Elizabeth, and it is the creature who wants to turn Victor into an unambiguous father and identify his paternity with the authority of the Hebraic-Miltonic creator.
The creature's disastrous infatuation with the De Laceys acts out all too well his relation to the patriarchal paradigm he yearns to inhabit. His appearance is scandalous, its effect traumatic. The patriarch's health can only be restored by abandoning the spot and re-establishing the family elsewhere. The novel remains fascinated with the creature's poisonous intimacy with his creator, and its considerable emotional power emerges from their secret and deadly romance. The popular adaptations, however, seem from the start to have taken a clue from the De Lacey family. Any adaptation of Frankenstein perpetuates the contamination of the natural and the paternal enacted by exposing the motif of the fecal child inherent in Jehovan or Promethean creation.
However much the retellings elide the rest of Shelley's plot, the monstrous non-birth of the non-person holds firmly onto its central place, so much so that it often draws the name "Frankenstein" away from Victor and onto his creature. Nonetheless the theatrical and film adaptations of Frankenstein also consistently set themselves the task of containing the critical energies of Shelley's fable within a resolute reaffirmation of patriarchal norms. The hallmark of this reaffirmation is the project of curing Victor Frankenstein—a plot development that highlights one of the singularities of Mary Shelley's novel, the absence in it of any recognition that Victor needs to be cured.
Of course Victor has his breakdowns in the novel, and his recoveries as well. But Victor's self-righteousness, Walton's admiration, and the creature's eulogy all conspire at the novel's end to deny the unregenerate narcissism and willful misrecognition evident throughout the story of his pursuit of the creature. The adaptations, in contrast, make Victor's departure from and return to conventional sexual normalcy a far more explicit and integral feature of the plot.
The ending imposed upon James Whale's immensely influential Frankenstein —wherein Baron von Frankenstein repeats his wedding toast to the "son of the house of Frankenstein" while, through the open bedroom door, we see Elizabeth administering to the recuperating Victor renamed Henry —epitomizes this strategy. The project of curing Victor Frankenstein predates the Universal Studios production by more than a century, however. The earliest stage adaptations stake out a coherent set of strategies, later adopted and modified by Whale, to cure Victor and to restabilize "natural" paternity.
The clear tendency of both R. Milner's Frankenstein; or, The Man and the Monster! The 28 July playbill to Presumption tells its readers: "Exhibited in this story, is the fatal consequence of that presumption, which attempts to penetrate, beyond prescribed depths, into the mysteries of nature" quoted in James, 88, and Forry, 5. Milner puts the sentiment in the mouth of Frankenstein himself: "I am the father of a thousand murders.
Shelley's edition itself picks up the chorus, both in the introduction, where Shelley recounts her original vision of the "pale student of unhallowed arts" whose work inspires fear because "supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world" , and in the emphatic cautionary motive Victor declares for sharing his narrative with Walton: "'Unhappy man! Do you share my madness? Have you drank also of the intoxicating draught?
Hear me, — let me reveal my tale, and you will dash the cup from your lips! In the plays, once Frankenstein recognizes his guilt, he consolidates his moral recovery by immediately pursuing and attempting to destroy the creature. But the relatively unambiguous moral resonance of all of this depends on a number of other related changes to the story. An obvious change is the addition of Frankenstein's assistant to the cast of characters. Both Peake's and Milner's assistants are comic foils to Frankenstein's ambition. Peake's Fritz opens Presumption with a song "Oh, dear me! Milner's assistant, Strutt, instead brags in the opening scene about his master's ability to make gold.
Soon after, the assistants both begin to deliver Frankenstein's "dabbling" from its isolation and secrecy by being clandestine witnesses to the creature's birth.
It is only in Whale's film that the lab assistant Fritz again begins to take on some of the responsibility for the bad end Frankenstein's project comes to. The Fritz's misshapen body and his delight in terrifying and mistreating the creature mark him as a kind of Mr. Hyde to Frankenstein's Jekyll, less a foil than an embodiment of Frankenstein's sick desire. Fritz's botched brain theft has been deservedly ridiculed James 91 , but the perverse relationship he shares with Henry Frankenstein serves a more important function as the diseased counterpart to Henry's healthy attachment to Elizabeth.
The function of pointing the way toward Frankenstein's cure is already served quite differently by Milner's Strutt, however, whose sociability and straightforward pursuit of the butler's daughter, Lisetta, implicitly rebuke his employer's self-serving, secretive, and devious ways.
A more decisive strategy for making Frankenstein's situation less ambiguous is the reconfiguration worked on Victor's romantic attachments. Presumption erases any trace of Victor's alliance with Elizabeth, instead attaching her to Clerval.
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Victor plays the role of the father in approving and helping to arrange this match. The novel's odd, endogamous gift economy disappears along with Alphonse Frankenstein, to be replaced by this thoroughly proper, exogamous transaction. Victor himself is then quite suitably wed—so to speak—to the De Laceys. We find that Agatha De Lacey is the love of his life, and that his "blighted love" for her they were separated by fate, and he thinks she is dead has driven him into his obsessive pursuit of "abstruse research" I.
On the wedding day of Elizabeth and Clerval, which has been disrupted by the return of the De Laceys bearing news of the creature's recent enormities in the countryside, Victor and Agatha are reunited at the moment just after Victor, in a soliloquy, has dedicated himself to taking responsibility for the effects of his "cursed ambition" by pursuing and destroying his renegade monster III.
His resolution to place the public safety above his attachment to his research clearly runs strictly parallel to his turning away from his strangely begotten child to the proper sexual object, Agatha. By the time he dashes off in pursuit of the creature to meet an unhappy end when the two are buried together by an avalanche in the play's spectacular finale he has undergone the cure prescribed for him in the play's opening scene by Clerval: "I am bound in duty to counteract this madness, and discover the secret of his deep reflections.
I will seek the cause, and, if possible, effect his cure.
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The Man and the Monster accomplishes even more explicitly Victor Frankenstein's reclamation by conventional sexual mores. Frankenstein now becomes a mere cad who has abandoned his wife at least she calls herself his wife; whether a legal ceremony has taken place remains vague and infant child! In the final scene of Act I, at a ball given by the Prince in Frankenstein's honor, Frankenstein confronts his monster in public, taking this opportunity to make the play's moral crystal clear: "I am the father of a thousand murders.
At this point the play's thematic development is over; the monster promptly abducts the wife and child, an extended chase sequence ensues, and all ends once again in the destruction of both man and monster. What happens to the motif of the fecal child concomitantly with the pat moralization of the fable and the normalization of Victor's sexuality? If the interpretation pursued here is valid, one would expect the creature to become more phallic, and for castration anxiety to become more predominant in his representation, his actions, and his dealings with Victor.
The adaptations fulfill these expectations abundantly. The logic of castration tends to overshadow any hints of fecal reproduction, for instance, when instead of the "filthy process" by which Victor manufactures his eight-foot behemoth, the theatrical tradition begins to develop the idea that the creature has been stitched together from dead body parts, eventually producing the wounded-looking, sutured figure familiar to twentieth-century cinema.
This decision could be considered a way of adopting the perspective of the creature and dramatizing his desire for normalcy, for while to a reader of Shelley's novel the creature's eloquence is one of its most striking features, what really matters to the creature is that no one is willing to listen to him. At the same time, however, this strategy now presents the mute creature to us as unspeaking brute energy hysterically disconnected from rational control: he becomes the wandering phallus of the male hysteric.