Tag Archive: double


Victor: The Half-formed Man

So in case we weren’t already convinced, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory proves it: Victor is messed up. Based on Freud’s writing, I might also venture to say, it takes one to know one. This is my interpretation for how it all went down:

According to Freud, the “double” may be an external projection of repressed infantile material, that “the quality of uncanniness can only come from the circumstance of the ‘double’ being a creation dating back to a very early mental stage” (426). Victor’s manic obsession with giving life to the monster is then the resurfacing of his repressed infantile psychic, primarily in the form of his castration anxiety. Unlike most boys following “normal” development, Victor never resolved his castration anxiety: he never overcame his affection for his mother, and consequently has remained fearful of his father castrating him for this unnatural attachment. This is evident in his dream, in which Elizabeth, the natural object of his affection, transfigures into “the corpse of my dead mother.” Victor then “started from [his] sleep with horror,” as if realizing he still possesses an attraction for his mother and her appearance in “a shroud” condemns this unnatural affection.

The image of the “dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters” as the means of revealing what is uncanny to Victor (the monster=his double =his repressed castration anxiety) evokes Freud’s idea of the uncanny as the reappearance, the illumination of the familiar, but repressed aspects of infantile development. The uncanny appears in this scene as Victor’s double: the monster. As his double, the monster is then the embodiment of Victor’s castration anxiety. Not coincidentally, the first thing Victor describes is the monster’s eyes, how “his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me.” According to Freud, “that anxiety about one’s eyes, the fear of going blind, is often enough a substitute for the dread of being castrated” (424). Further, the monster appears with “one hand outstretched, seemingly to detain me,” a physical position which represents the penis Victor is afraid of losing. In Victor’s case, the uncanny is the resurfacing of his earlier psychic stages in the form of the double he has created, an unconscious effort to resolve his castration anxiety which actually, to his horror, illuminates it and perpetuates its torment of him. For example, when Victor later refuses to give the monster a mate, he prolongs his unresolved castration anxiety by refusing then to resolve the monster’s anxiety (manifested in his desire for a mate, which would confirm his possession of a penis).

Failed Identification

Victor, in his dream, is confronted with both the love (though strange) he felt from and for his own mother (read: creator), and the complete lack of love he has for his own creation. The creature highlights a strange twist in the parent-child relationship of Victor with his mother, and of Victor with his creature.

His parents, specifically his mother, raised him lovingly by his own account, as a child “whose future lot it was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery,” (42). This contrasts heavily with Victor’s own “parenting” of the creature, which he seemingly directs straight toward misery. Freud says that the double can represent “unfulfilled but possible futures to which we still like to cling in phantasy, ” (426). Victor’s fantasy seems to be that he can be a creator (like his idolized mother). “For this” he says, “I had deprived myself of rest and health” (60); this deprivation of personal care is not unlike what a mother does for a newborn. He is the newborn his mother had loved; yet when he himself creates a “newborn,” he is repulsed by it. The creature is the double of the child in this case, of the innocent, yet Victor cannot do what his mother had done.

Not only does Victor fail to identify “correctly” with his father, according to Freud’s model of the Oedipal cycle, he cannot even identify incorrectly with his mother. In the dream he does not find peace with his earlier identification as a Creator like his mother. This does not fit him either. He calls the creature “the miserable monster whom [he] had has created” and “the demonical corpse to which [he] had given life” (61). This is the passage that depicts everything Victor has strived for going wrong. In trying to be a creator, he has seen the failure of his own potential, the death of his own self-image.

In my most recent post, I vehemently defended my argument (at least in the comments) that the creature’s apparent behavior did not make it a subaltern character. The question is: Why? Why is it that exposure to identical conditions (discrimination, apathy, ignorance etc.) yielded a meek Safie and a rebellious Monster? Even a cursory examination of these two subjects reveals the only significant variable that changed: the characters themselves. But what was it that was so different between Safie and the Creature? To answer that would take us to the defining moment of a character’s development: the Mirror Stage.

According to Lacan, the mirror stage first manifests itself during infancy. A child who is aware of its uncoordinated motor skills looks into a mirror and sees something more than a reflection. It sees itself as a whole. In a manner of speaking it looks “up” at its ideal, imaginary self. And with the reality of its own fragmentation close on its heels, the child quickly dismisses the differences between itself and its perceived double, and instead adopts the reflection as something to strive towards. Now, the infantile mirror stage only incorporates obvious, physical parities. However as a person matures, society starts to play a part. The person sees in the mirror an ideal image that has been augmented by social judgments on aesthetics. And out of fear of rejection and fragmentation from society, and in hope of total acceptance, the person keeps striving towards his/her imaginary double.

Similarly, the meekness and involuntary conformity of the subaltern comes from its latent optimism for eventual elevation. The subaltern does not, however, sympathize with the lack  that its image invokes. This is because the image is not a product of society, but of the colonizers/patriarchy. But the subaltern toils under colonizers’ expectations nonetheless. There is something to be said for the optimism that the mirror stage inculcates in every human. Like Spivak’s widow and Safie, the subaltern continues to choose paths that are the lesser of two evils in hope that one day the image it sees in the mirror will become real and lead it to freedom and acceptance.

But in case of the creature, the mirror stage is different. Unlike the infant, the creature is the epitome of physical prowess. However the image it sees in the water is that of a sum of parts. Where the infant looked up to its imaginary self as an escape from fragmentation, the creature (literally) looks down and sees itself as disarray personified. There is no ideal to strive towards. Optimism has become redundant. The awareness of its true self has set the creature free from any expectations. This freedom is sadist and damning, but it is freedom still. Where the subaltern perpetually strives to crawl towards the light at the end of the tunnel under mountains of expectations, the creature’s realization of reality blasts away the entire range altogether. So when it chooses to flirt with the idea of peace with the DeLaceys, or to condemn Justine, or to kill Victor, it is merely exercising its freedom like no subaltern can.

A close reading of the passage where Frankenstein’s creature first sees his reflection in the pool reveals that this experience represents the uncanny and Freud’s theory of the double. The creature desperately wants the cottagers to overlook his physical deformity and accept him, however it goes far beyond just that. The creature states that he “should first win their favour, and afterwards their love,” demonstrating that it isn’t just acceptance or assimilation that he desires, but rather love as well (Shelley 105). This is further emphasized when the creature mentions that he yearns for their “protection and kindness,” presenting the possibility of the cottagers serving as a mother figure (Shelley 118).

The creature was aware of his deformity prior to seeing his reflection, but he was suppressing the reality of the harshness of his physical appearance. He was practicing denial as a defense, or the “unconscious repression and refusal to recognize something,” (Parker 130). However, when he does look at his reflection the subconscious reality comes to life in the form of his double. He also becomes aware of the reality that he might never be able to compensate for his physical appearance, and therefore never find love or any sort of sexual pleasure. Evidence that part of what the creature is seeking is sexual pleasure comes from his desire that the cottagers “sweet looks be directed towards (him) with affection,” because of Freud’s belief that the “look” or “gaze is highly erotic (Shelley 118).

The creature goes on to detail that sometimes he allowed his thoughts “unchecked by reason, to ramble in the fields of Paradise, and dared to fancy amiable and lovely creatures sympathizing with (his) feelings, cheering (his) gloom; their angelic countenances breathed smiles of consolation,” indicating that it is only when he discontinues his repression that these feelings come out (Shelley 118). This passage also tells us that it is a female creature he is speaking of, because he continues to say that “no Eve soothed (his) sorrows,” alluding to the female biblical figure of Eve. After discovering the reality of his physical appearance through the vision of his double, the creature realizes that he will never find love and this realization can be described as uncanny. His desires do not match up with his reality, which causes immense frustration and disorder. This disorder is the cause of the uncanny.

The monster’s disgust with himself lies beneath his physical appearance. Although he desires that others look past his physical atrocities, he is “terrified when he views himself in a transparent pool.” (Frankenstein pg. 104) Through Freud’s psychoanalytic perspective, we will see that his reflection is representative of much more than his physical traits and that the text reveals why the monster was at first ” unable to believe that it was indeed  I who was reflected in the mirror (pool).”(Frankenstein pg. 104) We need to identify what the monster actually saw as he looked upon his reflection, and suggest why in fact the monster had feelings of “despondence and mortification.” (Frankenstein pg. 104)

The monster’s unbelief of his own reflection stems from his realization of the “double” effect. As the monster looks upon his reflection,  he realizes what is a representation of the “double,” that which serves as insurance against the destruction of the ego, or symbolically our deaths.(“The Uncanny” pg. 9) It can be represented through many mediums, one of which is a reflection. (“The Uncanny” pg. 9) The monster comes to the unconscious realization that what is framed by the pool is a reflection, or representation, of the double or what has been created to preserve himself.  There is a sense of horror that the monster experiences as he realizes he is the source of the reflection in the pool for two ideas I believe lead to the same conclusion. First, the significance of the “transparent” pool should be explored.(Frankenstein pg. 104) By definition, transparency “allows light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen, easy to perceive or detect.” (Merriam Webster) From this specification, the monster and the reader can trust that what the monster sees in the pool is indeed a reflection of himself. The first of the  two ideas is that the monster cannot touch or feel his reflection as though it were a tangible entity. This must create some confusion due to the idea that he is indeed a living, tangible being, but is capable of creating an intangible image in the pool. And if indeed this reflection is a representation of the double, a safeguard in place to preserve life and counteract the destruction of oneself, how can something so intangible and inanimate accomplish such a feat? The second of the two ideas suggests that the monster may have some difficulty processing the duality of his existence. The monster has unconsciously doubled himself, proved by his “reflection in the transparent pool,” as an insurance against his degeneration. This makes him a living being with, let’s say, a “reinforcement” in place for his survival. However, within this same being is the  “reality of a monster” experiencing “fatal effects of this miserable deformity,” (Frankenstein pg. 104) reason for  the reader to associate him with ideas of “unnatural or extreme ugliness, deformity, wickedness, or cruelty” subjects so opposite the existence and preservation of life. (Merriam Webster) If the creature is in fact a monster, how can he feel assured of the validity or effectiveness of his double, if indeed it is a true reflection of his monstrosity? For these reasons the monster cannot look past his feelings of “despondence and mortification” at the sight of his reflection, despite his desire for others to excuse his physical appearance.

While Otto Rank associates the idea of the double with a feeling of preservation and immortality, the monster’s vision of his own “miserable deformity” (104) more likely is associated with the “castration by a doubling or multiplication of the genital symbol” (Freud 425). The monster covets the appearances of the DeLaceys, “the perfect forms of my cottagers – their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions” (104). The DeLaceys serve in Freud’s Oedipal complex as the mother, with the monster being the young son in the stage of polymorphous sexuality and desiring the mother. However, the monster becomes “terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool… unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror” (104). This terror is due to the fact that the monster sees the separation between him and his mother – he has a phallic penis while she does not, and thus he can never be like her, just as he will never have the perfect form of the DeLaceys. This terror stems from his fear of castration; he sees that the DeLaceys are different than himself and worries that his phallic penis will also be taken away. His hatred for himself represents the Oedipal hatred for the father with whom he associates due to the common penis, but whom he believes has stolen the penis of the mother (or created the differences between himself and the DeLaceys). Eventually however, he identifies with the father when he “became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am” (104).
Freud mentions the “unfulfilled but possible features to which we still cling in phantasy, all those strivings of the ego which adverse external circumstances have crushed, and all our suppressed acts of violition which nourish in us the illusion of Free Will” (426). The double is a representation of these unfilfilled and suppressed actions. Even though the monster wants others to overlook his deformity, he can’t help but be disgusted by the unconscious feelings of desire for his mother and hatred for his father. The double is also associated with early ideas of narcissism, rendering “it possible to invest the old idea of a ‘double’ with a new meaning and to ascribe… those things which seem to the new faculty of self-criticism to belong to the old surmounted narcissism of the earliest period of all” (426). Initally the monster is unable to even believe that his own reflection is staring back at him out of the pool, which is a protection provided by his early stages of narcissism. Our senses of self-criticism and the ability to accept ones flaws revert back to narcisssim with the incorporation of the double. When he sees his reflection in the pool, his double reflection prevents him from being able to look at his appearance objectively and he reverts back to the more basic form of narcissism to form his self-image giving him the “bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification” (104).

The creature perceives its reflection differently when its talks about it on different times. However, an interpretation of the Creature’s monologue requires an understanding of the Oedipal dynamics at play in its frame of reference. The Creature wants a union, so to speak, with the isolated bubble of civilization depicted by the DeLacey family. However its desire is repressed by the judgment of Society as a whole that seems to the Creature as the arbiter of its fate. The very same overbearing and judgmental society governs the DeLacey family (as the creature finds out through Felix’s and Safie’s letters). So in the end, all the Creature desires is a severance of the connection between the DeLaceys and society and its judgment (which resonates with the father and the Father’s No), so that it may find its way to fulfillment without hindrance.

When the Creature first sees its reflection (p.104), it has just taken refuge from the overwhelming rejection it faced in the towns. The creature knows that it is undesired, but is in the dark when it comes to the reason. This blindness, so to speak, puts the creature in an uncanny atmosphere. But then over the course of time it observes and so learns the DeLaceys’ perception of beauty (which is the same for the society, for the most part). And then, equipped with some cognizance of aesthetics, when it sees its double in the water, the Creature for the first time realizes the reason behind its rejection. Even though the Creature’s encounter with its “double” is not strictly the Freudian understanding of the concept (that a double embodies unacceptable desires/notions suppressed by the ego), the effect on the Creature’s conscious mind, be it from the resurgence of desires or merely from their apparition, is the same. Thus, the Creature, realizing that it is incompatible for the union it so desires, is filled with “despondence and mortification”. Therefore the creature’s disgust is born of frustration, and not of surrender to the whims of its Uncanny Double.

As the Creature spends time observing the DeLaceys, it matures. It learns to speak and read, and peruses several works on history and philosophy. It is almost as if the creature is in denial. The train of its thoughts stays clear of its depressing deformities for the most part of a year. It lives its life through Agatha, Felix, their father and Safie. However, after reading “Paradise Lost”, the creature is faced with the inequality between itself and another creation: Adam. This comparison, coupled with the creature viewing its reflection forces it in the uncanny position of facing its very recent but infantile past. However, the creature, now indoctrinated in the ways of men, is under the influence of the Super-Ego reserved only for members of society. And so when it labels itself a ” wretched outcast” (p.118), it is because the creature’s biased sources of education have left it no alternative.

In some cases, ignorance is bliss indeed.

When the creature sees his reflection, he is “terrified” and views his own appearance as “deformity” (Shelley 104). This is because the creature is an uncanny creation. Though he was created from human flesh, he is not human and never will be. His very creation is one without birth, which makes him an unnatural being born of death. In some ways, he is a more uncanny version of Otto Rank’s double, “originally an insurance against destruction to the ego” that “becomes the ghastly harbinger of death.” (Freud 425). His creation from death makes his very existence a reminder of mortality, just like Freud states the double as being. So when he stares into his reflection, he simply sees the fear which we attempt to repress most, death. No matter how much he works on his personality or grace, he will never be able to get around the death which his creation symbolizes or the unnatural method of his creation (though my preferred psychoanalytic reading shows his creation as Frankenstein attempting to fulfill natural Oedipal desires, the creature is a being created without actual sexual reproduction. That is what I mean by unnatural). The disgust in his image is a natural, human reaction to his appearance. Though his brain an psyche are stitched together, he seems to still have a human unconscious.

For next week’s blog post (Monday 3/18), answer the following questions from a psychoanalytic perspective, using Freud’s idea of the uncanny double or Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage:

What does the creature see when he looks into a reflecting pool of water (p. 104, 118)?  Why is he so disgusted of his self-image if, ultimately, he wants others to overlook his physical deformity?

 

 

For inspiration, students can recall my graphic in-class drawing of Victor Frankenstein’s “wildest dream,” what Freud would call an uncanny return to his unconscious childhood desire before the Oedipal stage: to have sex with his phallic mother, an incestuous desire displaced from Elizabeth (his “cousin-sister”), to his dead mother, and finally to the hideous monster (the double).  Wow, this novel has some serious psychological trauma (or maybe this image reflects my disturbed transference!!!).

Students can learn from this image about the importance of taking the time to do a close reading, how to base your interpretation on key words, phrases, images, motifs, and symbols.  Remember, don’t over-intellectualize the novel (that’s a form of repression); instead, think psychoanalytically at the emotional level; in other words, think perversely and pornographically–in the most twisted way–and you will discover the secret of the uncanny.

 

Here’s my explanation for the image below:

Victor’s dead mother folded in the flannel = the binding of the mother in an idealized “safe” form (repression) kills her, displacing the unconscious desire to kill the father onto the mother instead (an “abnormal” Oedipal cycle)

the graveworm = the penis linked with maternal death, thus the phallic mother.  I see a connection between this image and Victor’s recollection of his childhood: a boy bound to his family by a “silken cord”: the biological umbilical cord.

sweaty forehead = the penis forehead in the act of ejaculation, sexual pleasure prior to castration (the uncircumcised penis)

Victor’s sweaty body and convulsing limbs = the son having sex with the mother or, conversely, the phallic mother having sex with her son; incest is not a taboo before the Oedipal stage, thus Elizabeth, Victor’s lover and sister, reverts to maternal love

the moon shining in from the window = the dark, horrible secret of the uncanny has been revealed in the light; the return of the repressed.

the horrible, nameless monster = the uncanny double that reveals the horror of Victor’s secret unfulfilled wish: to have sex with his mother; but he could also symbolize the missing father figure, the super-ego (external observer) that denies incestuous love.  Thus, the creature is a condensation of the mother-father figure, the embodiment of the phallic mother Victor encounters unconsciously in his dream.

uncanny photo

 

 

Here’s an inspiring YouTube video on Oedipus veggies, the story of Oedipus told through vegetable actors.  Be warned: this video contains graphic scenes not suitable for vegetable viewers.