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Zakharieva starts his essay with a really interesting point about how Branagh’s film advertises itself as a production of the original novel, as being a “resurrection of the authentic Frankenstein”(416) and how in trying to mimic “the original artistic codes of the Romantics”, it actually parallels Victor’s attempt to mimic the “codes and mechanisms of Nature” to make the Creature. I could definitely see this attempt to stick to the novel’s storyline and it mostly does, with a few deviances, until we get to the end where it COMPLETELY and with no warning, swerves off track with the making of the female monster. Zakharieva discusses this scene but he doesn’t comment on how out of the blue it is, considering how relatively closely the movie was following the actual narrative. Why does Zakharieva talk of the attempted authenticity of the film but ignore the fact that it later consciously gives up being authentic? Was this deviation for theatricality, or for showing how one cannot truly copy something and that the result will always be an imperfect abomination, or did Helena Bonham Carter just want to try out a new look?

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Frankenstein 1994

Let’s talk a bit more about the creation’s birth scene. Bouriana Zakharieva, in “Frankenstein of the Nineties: The Composite Body,” writes that in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), “[c]reator and creation embrace in an ambivalent scene of struggle and affection; their hug is an expression of a desire to separate from each other and at the same time to help each other stand erect” (422). The claim is that this moment symbolically represents “human evolution” (422) and their eventual “love-hate relationship” (423).

But for me, I think this was downright one of the most comedic scenes of the film. Victor fails at least six times to get his creation to stand in that slimy mess, and the camera makes no effort to disguise the pitifulness of it all. I didn’t see much animosity so much as a little creator so desperately wanting his creation to stand.

I have way too many questions, but oh well:

Why did Branagh introduce this “standing-up scene,” which Mary Shelley never put in her novel? Does its comedy (if you agree that it’s funny) serve some purpose? How does it, as Zakharieva claims, represent “human evolution”? Finally, why is it only after the creation’s actually chained up that Victor questions, “What have I done?”

The Female Creature

One of the things that Zakharieva’s essay leaves to be desired is a thorough analysis of Branagh’s introduction of a female creature. He very briefly touches on it at the tale end of the essay, but kind of leaves things very open. I would have liked to see more of an in depth cultural analysis of this. Why did Branagh do this, and in the context of cultural criticism, how was this choice affected by the 90’s time period in which the movie was made?¿?¿?

The Ending

One major difference between the book and the movie that wasn’t discussed much in the essay was the ending. The book ends with the creature disappearing into “darkness and distance,” while the movie shows the creature lighting Victor’s funeral pile and burning along with him. Is this an attempt to redeem the creature? By burning alongside Victor, the creature could be trying to atone for his killings and trying to prevent any more from happening by destroying himself. In doing this, does the creature upset the dichotomy of “Nature/Woman/Good versus Science/Man/Evil”? What does the more concrete finality of the movie suggest?

What about the sex?

I thought it was unusual that in discussing the “hypercorporality” of Branagh’s film adaptation, Zakharieva did not discuss the film’s portrayal of sexuality, particularly in the relationship between Victor and Elizabeth. I thought it was significant that Branagh deviated from Shelley’s text in choosing to portray the physical aspects of their relationship (ie. to the point that the marriage was consummated before the monster kills Elizabeth). I wonder whether the attention to a very sexual corporality (Branagh even makes Elizabeth’s death more sexual by having the monster rip out her heart, leaving her covered in blood) is reflective of the moral looseness of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Or is Branagh really heightening the sexual crises of the novel (ie. the monster’s sexuality is ambiguous or nonexistent)?

No blog post will be due this Thursday (4/9).  Instead, students will post short questions on Bouriana Zakarieva’s essay, “Frankenstein in the Nineties: The Composite Body” (416-431). The question should focus on anything that you find perplexing, interesting, confusing, or unusual about this essay.  This small assignment will count only as part of your participation grade.  Students should read each other’s questions before class and come prepared with answers.

Students will be answering each others’ questions in class, so please bring your laptop to do some in-class blogging this Thursday.

Please categorize under “Frankenstein and Film” and, if possible, create some relevant tags.

The First Step Toward Neocolonialism (https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/the-first-step-to-neocolonialism/) poses a good argument for the ambiguity of the Creature’s status as the subaltern or the oppressor, and I think it can be extended to say that this ambiguity defies the imperialistic essentialism of the colonized being completely separate and different from the colonizer, and so destabilizes imperialism.

The Creature is oppressed, or subaltern, because he is under the power of humans with relation to language, knowledge and progress.This is seen in how he says that he “should not have understood the purport of this book had not Felix, in reading it, given very minute explanations.” (108) Felix as a representative of the Western colonizer, holds power over the Creature because without him the Creature has no access to language and information. The “minute explanations” also tints this instruction with a sense of belittlement, as if the subaltern Creature and Safie are so grievously unintelligent and uninformed that they need the smallest item explained. His identification with Safie, with their joint instruction and his weeping “with Safie” (109), also support his subaltern-ness. Additionally, the Creature is despised mostly for his appearance, as a “figure hideously deformed and loathsome” (109), and it is on this basis that Victor justifies hating and wishing to destroy the product of his science. This has a strong parallel to various colonizing events all over the world, where the native people were thought of as primitive and backward simply because they looked different, as in Africa, such that the colonizers could justify their taking over and oppression of the people as a favor to this poor, undeveloped society.

But as the teaching continues, the Creature appears to begin to be instilled with colonialist ideologies and stereotypes. The author of this post observantly notes that the use of the word “hapless” to describe the Native Americans has connotations of it-was-going-to-happen and sounds very close to ‘helpless’, taking the power and voice away from them. I would say that this does not just uphold colonial ideas but his weeping may be an expression of ‘imperialist nostalgia’ which Parker describes as when “colonizing people often mourn for the past of the colonized cultures they have tried to destroy” (Parker 285) . The Creature goes on to gain great command over language and in effect he learns the colonizing culture better than most of the colonizers. He takes on the status of the colonizer, as is evidenced by how he plans to go to the “vast wilds of South America” and probably start a family there, in effect colonizing it. His shift in perspective to colonizer can clearly be seen here in his description of South America as wild simply because its indigenous people live differently. After this he begins to oppress Victor, as he sets him to labor and punishes him for not doing what he was told by killing his loved ones.

But this position as colonizer is never solidified either, as the Creature notes that the education he receives from Felix gives him “a view” of the empires of the world, and as he recognizes that this may be just one of many perspective, he does not fully embody the essentialism of the colonizer who is certain of the absolute characteristics of different peoples. Also he plans on dying by self-immolation when he learns that Victor is dead, which recalls the practice of sati when a widow steps into the funeral pile of her dead husband, and this identification with the subaltern woman confuses things.

This ambiguity about whether the Creature is a colonizer or part of the colonized raises great tension in the novel and in this passage, and undermines imperialistic essentialist views and so imperialism itself, which was so central to the Western culture of the time, and this may be the reason why he is the victim of such rejection and hatred.

 

Responding to The Power of Ambiguity: https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/the-power-of-ambiguity/

In this post, the student argues that the ambiguity of the language and relationship between the colonizer and the subaltern gives the Creature, one of the subalterns, a voice. I am greatly intrigued by the question of whether ambiguity, of which much exists in Frankenstein, allows for the formation of identity independent of social structures, or whether ambiguity simply reinforces the sense of “other.”

In the passage on page 108-9, the creature reflects on the stories from Ruins of Empire after Felix has read them to him and Safie. He struggles with the dichotomy of how man could be “at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?” (109). The problem, for the creature, is that both the good and the bad qualities in the stories of fallen empires are embodied by the same people. On the smaller scale, then, might Felix both be acting as colonizer, but also as something far less proprietary and more actually beneficial to Safie? After all, Felix is not teaching Safie in Turkey, is not teaching her the glory of the West while in another part of the world. She chose to come to the West, unhappy with the ways of her culture, and there he is teaching her about the part of the world she has come to.

The ambiguity in all of this, for I will not say that Felix cannot be seen as a colonizer, nor that he can only be seen as such, does not allow so much for the formation of the Creature’s own identity, in my mind, as for the Creature to accept that the model his identity is formed after is flawed. He says “For a long time I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow” (109), and yet, even recognizing that this is part of the “vicious and base” (109) aspect of man, this is what the creature goes on to do. Excepting the fact that the people he kills are not “his fellow[s].” The creature, no matter how much he might forge a path between colonizer and colonized is still other, still subaltern, and when he speaks, or rather kills, it is with the rage of the colonized rebelling against the colonizers. He does not kill his fellows, he kills the fellows of the species who created his situation, thus reinforcing, not subverting, the colonizer/colonized relationship.

Thoughts on “The creature leaves the subaltern hierarchy”
https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/the-creature-breaks-the-subaltern/

A deep thought has surfaced after reading this post. So far we have talked about why the creature is the representation of the subaltern and have used evidence to prove that. What if the creature is not subaltern however and is actually the failed representation of the subaltern? During his last line the blogger states, “While Safie remains silent, the monster is able to relate his tale to his creator and, in turn, to Walton, removing his status as a voiceless other.” The creature cannot represent the subaltern because in speaking, he is no longer voiceless.

I agree with the points that the blogger has made to show that the creature is not a member of the subaltern and I would like to add one more important point to that. When the blogger mentions that the creature has accepted a higher rule set my mind jumped to an interesting observation. Of all the people in the story, the creature is the only one that transcends the frame narrative of the story. Walton, Victor and Felix/Safie stay in their respective frame narratives for the most part. The creature plays by a different set of rules however.The creature does stay in his frame when he is retelling his story but when he talks to old De Lacey, he has jumped into the Felix/Safie frame. When he visits Frankenstein on several occasions and talks to Victor he jumps into that frame. Even in the frame that is farthest removed from him, the creature ends up speaking to Walton himself meaning he jumps into that frame as well. According to Spivak, the creature even has the ability to jump completely out of the frames of the book. She states that, “The frame is thus simultaneously not a frame, and the monster can step “beyond the text” and be “lost in darkness” (Spivak 851). The monster is not subaltern. He is portrayed that way but I think that could be deliberate in an attempt to hide the real power that he seems to posses over everyone else in the novel.

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If not for Frankenstein I probably never would’ve heard of Constantin François de Chassebœuf, comte de Volney, let alone his seminal work, Ruins of Empires.

It’s not a widely read book these days, but remember, it’s the exact one from which the creation “obtained a cursory knowledge of history” (Shelley 108). Listing the “different nations of the earth” (108), he talks about Asiatics, Grecians, Romans, Christian kings and even Native Americans — but never explicitly the British.

I never noticed this, but the student gfeldtx did, and in “Powerful Omission,” claims, “Through omission, Shelley has rendered the most powerful nation on earth voiceless. This is the same voicelessness that categorizes [Gayatri Chakravorty] Spivak’s idea of the subaltern.”

A commenter added: “Felix is French, and Volney is French, yet there is no mention of anything regarding Napoleon and his French empire, or honestly just anything regarding France in general.”

No mention of Britain. No mention of France. What’s up that?

I contend that this omission of the British and French empires does not render these empires voiceless. In fact, I think the omission calls more attention to these nations, which cannot be confined within a “cursory knowledge of history” but are at large within the novel through the manifestation of the creation as the revolutionary working class.

Based on the despairingly great lengths I took to actually understand what Volney’s 1791 book is about (you can find a pretty decent summary here), I wish I could articulate it better. Here’s my attempt: Volney highlights the constant dispute between the higher and lower class as the source of all social conflict, and he proposes that through the progress of science, all people will become enlightened and will then work for one another’s interests. Now, I know, we’ve commented at length about the creation as proletariat, but lend me your ear real quick.

I hesitate to paint broad strokes, but the creation embodies the mob. He is the lower class, the French revolutionaries, the British revolutionaries. He cannot be contained in Felix’s teachings because he is present history, the people who “possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property” (109) and have the collective capacity to

Throughout Frankenstein lies this tension. While there may be no mention of France and Britain in relation to Ruins, remember Elizabeth’s letter to Victor: “The republican institutions of our country have produced simpler and happier manners than those which prevail in the great monarchies that surround it. […] A servant in Geneva does not mean the same thing as a servant in France and England” (66). But what happens to Justine?

If I had more time, I’d go further than this. Remember the very first words of the novel? “To Mrs. Saville, England” (28). And when the novel closes, where is Walton returning? “I am returning to England” (183). Everything we’ve read has come through the lens of the English. They’re on the outside of this confined text. And so is the monster.