Much of the power of this passage comes from paying meticulous attention to the use of language. What characterizes the early lines of the passage is a very binary logic, a sort of “us vs. them” mentality that polarizes history and places people/cultures into distinct categories. As the creature begins to speak of his lessons, his words are strong and assuming; there is a distinct separation of “the slothful Asiatics” and “the stupendous genius and mental activity of the Grecians”. This seems to continue when he speaks of the “wonderful virtue of the early Romans”, but there is a fumble: “I heard of…the wars and wonderful virtue of the early Romans – of their subsequent degenerating – of the decline of that mighty empire…” Read out loud, the sentence sounds clunky and awkward, as if the words feel unnatural to the creature as he speaks them. He basically says the same thing twice:  “…of their subsequent degenerating – of the decline of that mighty empire…” This repetition, combined with very strong punctuation that emphasizes pause, reinforces the feeling of uncertainty that surrounds his speech. What’s more, paying attention to the distinct binary that characterized the previous lines, we might expect a lesser “them” to appear alongside the Romans, but there is none. He speaks only of the decline of their “mighty empire”, a decline that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue too well.

The polarization of history reappears in the next line, but this time there seems to be less certainty: “I heard of the discovery of the American hemisphere, and wept with Safie over the hapless fate of its original inhabitants.”  There is a bit of an us (the colonizers) vs. them (the Natives) dynamic here, but this time his words are not quite as potent: there is a noticeable lack of adjectives to describe the discovery of the Americas, and even his use of the word “hapless” to describe the Natives is not very specific – as we’ve seen in this class, this word can be interpreted equally validly as an expression of sympathy and understanding, or as an acknowledgement of the necessity of colonization, or both, or neither. Instead of just debating what exactly the monster meant, I think it’s important to acknowledge the significance of the very ambiguity of the meaning. Does the monster know himself where his sympathy lies?

This speculation is made more justifiable when we look at the text on which Felix is basing his lessons: A quick Google search reveals that “Ruins of Empire”, as the title suggests, explores the historical destruction of powerful empires that seemed invincible until their fall. As a whole, the text also critiques what were, at the time, modern ideologies, and uses the past to justify their inevitable dissolution. The author, it is worth mentioning, was himself a revolutionist. Felix, too, is an exile from society, and so the fact that he is giving these lessons forces us to question the true nature of his education of Sofia. Why would his lessons seem, at first glance, so dominated by the masculine colonial discourse that defines the very society from which he is exiled?

I think that this passage signals a degradation of the traditionally dominant colonial ideology. Change and destruction are a universal law, as applicable to the Romans as it is to the “original inhabitants” of the Americas. I think that it is this, the discovery that history is not defined by clear-cut boundaries, but by a natural process of degradation and change, that disturbed the creature as he spoke of the Romans, and blurred his identification with either the Native Americans or the colonizers. And so the blurring of categories where before there were boundaries, the rising of an apparent confusion where before there was certainty and arrogance, are perhaps an indication of an ideology that is experiencing change, or if not, in keeping with the theme of “Ruins of Empire”, an ideology that requires it. And isn’t the nature of colonization inherently one that transcends the binary logic, since there is so much mimicry and blending of cultures? In that case, the phallocentric colonial discourse is, in a way, naïve, assuming, and destined to decline. As if to reflect this view, “Ruins of Empire” is itself written “in imitation of eastern authors.” 

In the face of these lessons and his own changing expression of them, the creature’s own role as a subaltern is necessarily ambiguous and dynamic. After his lessons, he reflects: “The words induced me to turn towards myself…what was I?” (109) But the fact that he internalizes this new knowledge of the world and is not immediately certain of its meaning suggests that whatever he is, and however little power he holds in society, he has the insight to define his own role and his own views. The subaltern is not voiceless. 

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