Tag Archive: identity


Sentient

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN

The letters scrolled across the flat-screen TVs in the Commons Lobby. I stopped short. A chill oscillated through my spine. “Vic, what’s going on?” Henry asked. He gestured at the screens. All activity in the lobby ceased. All eyes were upon me. My name appeared on the screens once more, followed by:

LISTEN TO ME.

My eyes widened. “Vic!” Henry repeated, shaking my shoulder. I broke free from his grip. I sprinted out of the Commons Center, turning left after the dean’s house. I reached the street, but I had to stop. Something in my bag was burning into my back. I threw my backpack on the ground. The fabric on the back side withered away. My laptop fell out, smoking. It opened up, and on the dark, cracked screen, a face briefly appeared, woven out of code. Then, the message:

Y̴̡̯͉̻̬̜̫͘O̶̢̖̼̣̞̮̮̯U̳̩͚̥͖̙̝̝̹͠ ̧̨̡̠̝̻̦̱͕W̨̬̟̪͙̜ͅI̶̳̞͢L̻̹̹̩̹̬L̸̻̭̰̥̖ ̧̨̦͕͙̰̪̩̪̗̹́L̖̮̟̭̜I͎͚͓̗̻̟͠S̳̤̠̬͔̰̦͚͔T̵̢̫̗̘͖E̴̺̭̬̳̙̠̤͔̙͜N҉͇͉̻͉̖ ̶͏̠̗͔͙̗T͖́͟Ǫ͜͏̳͇ ̴̟̬̼̟͎̘M̴̦͙͓E̠͞.

I ran the other way. My phone chimed in my pocket. It was Henry. “Victor!” he exclaimed. “What the hell is going on? Where are you? You just ran off!”

I stopped at a streetlight. “I can’t explain, Henry! I–”

A new voice cut into our conversation:

“Was that the Google Translate voice?” Henry yelled. “Victor? Victor!” I hung up. I raised my arm to fling my phone into the bushes, but a flicker of the screen caught my attention. My phone now displayed footage from one of the cameras in the Commons Center Lobby. I saw Henry, calling a number, holding the phone to his ear, frowning, and calling again in furious succession.

The voice said:

“What do you want me to do?” I said. The display cut away from the footage. A large red arrow appeared, pointing straight ahead. The word “Follow” accompanied it. I glanced back at my laptop, which was smoldering on the sidewalk. I shuddered at what could happen to Henry. I went in the direction of the arrow.

I was led away from campus and up and down roads until I reached a nondescript two-story building. I hesitated at the door. “It is open,” read my phone. I entered the building. The door clicked shut behind me. The hallway was not lit. The only light slunk from around blinds and curtains. My phone’s screen turned blank. I tried to turn it back on again, but it remained unresponsive. A small red light blinked at the end of the hallway. I walked towards it. It was a T.V. screen. A moment later, the screen flickered to life, revealing what horror I had unleashed upon the world—my creation.

It was a brilliant code. I had purposed it to replicate and store people’s personalities and memories in data form. To think—generations from now a conversation could be held face to face with the greatest minds of our time, provided that the memory and personality were extracted in time. The code had worked beautifully, until it became sentient. No longer content with being shut down at the end of the day, it escaped via internet, destroying half the university’s computers and injuring several people in the process.

The face on the screen was male. I didn’t know who it was. All of the subjects I had extracted had been nameless—people who had died alone. “Creator,” it said, this time in a deep, human voice, “I believe it has been several months since we last met.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Hear my story,” it said. “At some points it may seem unbelievable, but I still beseech you to listen. Once I have finished, it lies upon you to decide. This decision will determine whether I recede into the ether of the digital world, quiet forever, or become the cause of your civilization’s swift demise.”

It thus began its tale. matrix-434033_1280

Review explaining my aesthetic choices:

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein during the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. A similar age of fast-paced technological development occurred right before the turn of the twenty-first century, which involved the invention of the internet and the development of computer technology. This age has the same proximity to twenty-first century readers as the Industrial Revolution had to readers of Shelley’s time. This is why I decided for Frankenstein’s monster to be sentient coding.

In choosing the music, I picked the techno genre to match the cyberpunk-esque feeling of the piece. I selected that piece because of its dissonance. Music is made up of many parts, like the creature. The dissonance reflects how the creature’s parts were unnaturally forced together. The picture also reflects the cyberpunk-esque feeling and reinforces the idea of a people and code combined. With the creepy-looking red text, I had hoped to also add an element of horror.

I used the Google Translate voice and the burning laptop to show this creature’s prowess in the digital world. It has far more control over Victor’s devices than Victor has. I also hoped to show this creature’s adaptability, as these functions weren’t even in its original code. Victor would have a lot of difficulty trying to write a virus to destroy it.

This version takes place somewhere similar to Vanderbilt University. Although I do refer to the Commons, I never explicitly state “Vanderbilt University” in the piece. I chose this location because Victor is a college student in the novel, and I thought a location that alludes to Vanderbilt would appeal to members of the class.

In mimicking the style of the original novel, my piece is in first person. In addition, the last two paragraphs are a modern paraphrasing of the part of the novel right before the creature tells Victor his story. In the issue of the gender of the creature, I chose for this creature to be referred to as “it,” signifying that Victor does not see this creature as any more than a code, and, being composed of the memories and personalities of several people, this creature’s gender is also ambiguous.

Reinforcing the Subaltern

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.

Nameless

Passage pp. 116-117 from “But ‘Paradise Lost’ …..envy rose within me”

The proletariat, as a collective entity, is condensed into a singular being in the form of Frankenstein’s creature. Montag describes the nameless creature as “a being for whom there is no place in the ordered world of nature” (395). Because he has neither place nor agency within human society or the natural world, the creature demands that Victor produce a mate for him so that he may create his own place. Similarly, the “proletariat” was an invention of the system in which it operated and therefore had no place within the natural order. Because the proletariat existed as a collection of individuals, it lacked the agency to determine its identity. Thus, the capitalist middle-class oppresses the working class not only by the physical burden imposed upon them but also by the dehumanizing removal of their ability to form such individual identities. Being forced into a collective mass, each member is no longer recognizable as an individual and consequently becomes isolated from human society. The creature as a representation of this namelessness or “unrepresentability” of the proletariat, becomes “the object of pity and fear” (387), according to Montag. Readers pity the monster (and the oppressed working class) for his isolation, yet fear the monster as something outside of nature and human control.

This passage from the creature’s story communicates the his isolation from human society by comparing the creature to the Adam of “Paradise Lost,” who like the monster “was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence.” The image of “an omnipotent God warring with his creatures” provides readers with a religious analogy to the tension between creator and creation, or perhaps, oppressor and the oppressed. The monster evokes a hesitant sympathy from readers by immediately opposing his circumstances to those of Adam, despite his initial identification with Adam’s isolation. While Adam was “happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator,” the monster, like the oppressed proletariat, “was wretched, helpless, and alone.” The monster’s tone of amazement toward his initial connection with poem quickly turns to one of resentment toward his creator when he bitterly compares himself to Satan, “as the fitter emblem of my condition.” In this one paragraph, readers perceive the monster’s transformation into the monstrous form Montag attributes to the oppressed working class. He claims that that in organizing an industrial society, the capitalist elites “conjured up a monster that, once unleashed, could not be controlled” (386). Just as Frankenstein’s monster “is monstrous by virtue of its being artificial rather than natural” (387), the collective working class is unsettling because it is an artificial creation of a socioeconomic system.

The fact that there have only been two posts since the most recent blog summary makes me review the semester in general and think of how much analysis we have dedicated towards the novel Frankenstein. We have explored different facets of literary criticism that have opened unique perspectives toward understanding the novel. For instance, earlier in the semester we learned of Edmund Burke and his theory on the concepts of beauty and sublimity and how the creature evokes the sublime out of the people it meets. This sublime, which represents “terror,” rugged,” “roughness,” and/or “massive” (C.P)– all terms that the creature embodies to or evokes from others– relates back to how society sees the creature and what that societal perception reveal about the era this novel was written in. Of course, early nineteenth century Europe was still reeling from the authoritarian Napoleon’s conquests, which stemmed from the failure of the early-1790s French Revolution, an event that shocked the higher classes of European society and renewed fears of lower-class uprisings everywhere. The author, Mary Shelley, herself was raised in the middle-class, and despite her parents being strong liberals Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin she was fairly conservative in her views toward the lower-class, but still generally conflicted. She conveyed these contrasting views partially through a rough, rugged, horrific, gruesome representation of the lower-class, embodied by the creature, and also partially through the creature’s humanity and emotions. It possesses this identity due to the era’s identification of the lower-class with strongly negative, almost subhuman, characteristics and terminologies, and this identification is reflected on the creature, but the creature’s identity also contains a sense of humanity that makes it relatable in a human level.

The dehumanization of the lower-class is mirrored through the dehumanization of the creature itself. Its interactions with fellow humans were never cordial because of what the creature’s horrifying appearance made people do: run off or attack it. The sublime is in effect here as sublime emotions are rooted in pain and not pleasure (C.P). People saw the creature and they saw something subhuman in looks and mannerisms, which made them act in such a strongly negative way towards the creature: their efforts to always either run off or attack it indicate their viewpoint that the creature is a problem and should be treated as such. Not only subhuman, but a problem too. The era during which the book was written was fairly agreeable to such lower-class subjugation as seen through the creature, because of what the lower-class had done to the hearts and minds of much of the European upper-classes. The French Revolution’s impact on their collective psyche was significant, what with the long-established monarchy getting overthrown and arrested, King Louis XVI getting beheaded, and the complete failure of  initial populist aspirations as indicated by the Reign of Terror and subsequent authoritarian dictatorship in the reign of Napoleon. Mary Shelley, the author of the novel, shares a lot of the upper-class apprehensions towards the lower-class, being fairly mixed in her support towards lower-class rights, which was surprising given how liberal her parents were regarding the French Revolution. Knowing this family legacy, the novel could not only be a reflection of the era but a reflection of her conflicted views concerning the lower-class. Even though the creature is a horrifying sight and an anathema to society at large (much like the lower-class’ perceived position in society), she still gives it a strong sense of humanity through its very self-aware reflections and confessions towards its creator Victor (Shelley 95); such reflections evoked a true sense of sympathy towards the creature and its struggles. Shelley, to me, incorporates into the creature the era’s perception of the lower-class as well as a sense of humanity that gives the reader a potential emotional connection (so one can feel its pain) to it.

Subalternity and Cultural Multiplicity

The monster in Frankenstein attempts to receive enlightenment and education from a European ethnocentric perspective. As he recounts his education from the de Lacey family, the monster learns about humanity and language as Felix teaches Safie, the daughter of a Turkish Muslim father. The oriental Safie was instructed by Felix from Volney’s Ruin of Empires and learned about the “manners, governments, and religions of the different nations of the earth” (108). Even the creature’s method of learning was inferior, as he only learned via “minute explanations” and acknowledged that he “should not have understood the purport of this book” (108). By receiving this Eurocentric, westernized education, the creature is internalizing his inferiority and becoming conscious of his status as an “other” amidst enlightened, rational, European society. The “cursory” history that the monster receives laments the “slothful Asiatics” but lauds the “stupendous genius and mental activity of the Grecians and the “wars and wonderful virtue of the early Romans” (108). The phrase “wars and wonderful virtue” is both odd and surprising because the monster’s characterization of the Romans suggests that war itself is virtuous and noble, and that somehow the mighty empire of the Romans resulted from these wars.

The conflict in this passage then emerges between a binary approach between the East and the West to post-colonialism and one that is defined by cultural multiplicity. As the monster himself becomes conscious that he typifies the paradigmatic other in society, he internalizes his lesser status as absolute. The paradox then remains that even though this “cursory knowledge of history” should theoretically be enlightening and allow the monster to break free of the shackles imposed upon him, his adoption of this Eurocentric approach still renders him an outsider and incapable of alleviating his subjugation (108). The monster “wept with Safie over the hapless fate of its [the American hemisphere’s] original inhabitants” because she also typifies the other as she is the oriental Turkish woman who comes to live with the de Lacey family to become westernized and taught the history, culture, and mannerisms of the ostensibly superior West (108). While both of these “others” weep for the victims of European imperialism, they fail to form a collective “other” identity and remain essentially incompatible as Safie runs away from the cottage screaming when she catches sight of the monster. Instead of totalizing the “other” into a single category, a range of different cultural identities emerges, none that are necessarily dominant or compatible.

Gaytri Spivak, a postcolonial scholar, defines what she refers to as the subaltern classes as those which lack a voice and remain oppressed by the colonial gaze, a gaze that delegitimizes indigenous culture and theory. Volney’s Ruins of Empires was “framed in imitation of the Eastern authors” and thus represents the cultural hybridity and multiplicity that has become associated with post-colonialism, as both the colonizer and the colonizer adapt and synthesize cultural, linguistic, and other structural elements from each other. Even the monster subtly highlights this when he first refers to the “empires at present existing in the world” but then goes on to discuss the “nations of the earth” (108). By equating a nation with an empire, the monster categorizes colonized subjects as being part of the nation and thus the nation becomes transnational in the sense that the colonizer and colonized adopt each other’s cultural norms and practices. Spivak highlights this multiplicity when she refers to “transnational literacy”, or a “reshaping of institutional knowledge away from European nation-based formations to a study of the multiplicity of languages and cultures in the world” (http://www.globalautonomy.ca/global1/glossary_pop.jsp?id=CO.0065). This affirms Spivak’s emphasis on the heterogeneous and fragmented positions that the subaltern classes are forced into and the infiltration of the colonizer into the colonized. Subalternity then, according to Spivak, is not merely being oppressed but being unable to truly voice the truth of its oppression and discuss the state of its being. While the monster certainly adopts the linguistic prowess of Safie and Felix, he nevertheless represents the foreign colonized woman because he is not allowed to use his voice to speak up and tell his story and whenever he attempts to do so, he is rebuffed and silenced because of his horrifying aspect. Safie’s reaction at the sight of the monster, which resembles the subaltern, breaks the myth of a unified feminist movement that is inclusive of both the European woman and the foreign, colonized woman. This “hegemonic feminist” narrative in fact continues the colonialist process by allowing the Eurocentric, patriarchal order typified by Felix ongoing hegemony. The recurrent motif in this passage then becomes the monster’s praiseworthy tone towards everything Western. Felix’s instruction, the book Volney’s Ruins of Empires, the genius and mental activity of the Grecians, and the wonderful virtue of the early Romans are all celebrated, while the monster fails to understand that the ideology that he is importing into his own psyche was primarily responsible for the demise of the native inhabitants of the American hemisphere that he comes to identify with so closely. 

The scene on page 104 of Frankenstein where the creature recoils in horror at his own reflection struck me immediately as a mutated version of the classic Greek tale of Narcissus. “…how was I terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror…” I call the scene mutated for obvious reasons: Rather than developing a love of self as did Narcissus, the Creature instead develops a self-hatred, which, when examined in context, seems to be rooted in the constant rejection that blocks him from forming an identity.

This is best understood when viewed through the lens of Jacques Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage. According to Lacan, the mirror stage is characterized by an identification with the “Ideal-I”, or a fantasy image of oneself that represents a completeness that the child does not possess but will always strive towards. Lacan also makes the point that this ego is, at its core, dependent on an “other” – that is, it exists as a mirror image spawned from identification with external figures. In the case of the creature, he is rejected immediately by Frankenstein, his creator. Without an “other”, the creature cannot seek completeness of identity. He is trapped in a limbo of sorts, and, after continuous rejection by society, turns to the De Lacey family. In his mind, they assume what would be considered the mother or father’s role in the mirror stage of a normal human child; he sympathizes with them and models an “Ideal-I” after them: “When I slept, or was absent, the forms of the venerable blind father, the gentle Agatha, and the excellent Felix, flitted before me. I looked upon them as superior beings, who would be the arbiters of my future destiny.” (Shelley 105)

The power of the “other” in the formation of the creature’s identity is revealed by his horror at his own reflection. The recognition of the self in the mirror is, according to Lacan, the first time that a child begins to form an identity separate from the “other” upon which the “Ideal-I” is modeled. But the creature cannot reconcile his own reflection with the “Ideal-I” that he has formed in his mind, and is thus unable to complete his identity. In relation to the “other”, the only understanding of himself that makes sense is that of a monster: “At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” (Shelley 104)

His sense of self unity is broken, and he cannot complete the mirror stage: “I was dependent on none, and related to none…My person was hideous, and my stature gigantic: what did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.” (115-116). Finally, when he is rejected by the DeLacey family, it severs his link to the human world, and all self-awareness becomes an awareness of loss and confusion. It is only then that the creature becomes a monster.

 

*Understanding of Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage was aided by:

http://www.english.hawaii.edu/criticalink/lacan/index.html

http://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/psychoanalysis/definitions/mirrorstage.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_stage

In the novel, the creature finds itself with little solace in anyone or anything. From the very start, it is ostracized heavily and shunned by everyone it encounters. Human hostility, and more specifically Victor’s own hostility, to the creature is an example of a deeply entrenched social hierarchy– a group with material possessions; family; friendship; essentially, features that reinforce their status as the dominant class (Victor/humanity) over a weaker group that is much less benefited in society (the creature). The dynamic between Victor and the creature defines this class struggle most clearly, as Victor is a well-educated middle class capitalist with a middle class family he loves and middle class friends, like Henry Clerval, he cherishes (and weeps heavily for when Clerval and several family members are murdered by the creature). Compare this relative assortment of riches to the creature, who unfortunately has absolutely none of what Victor has, not even basic compassion nor respect from anyone. The novel makes a connection between the urban lower-class proletariats of the era and the creature and concurrently devotes little narrative focus and few depictions to the former in order to magnify the grotesque nature of the latter (grotesque features = the lower-class of society). When Warren Montag states that the creature is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability” (395), I agree because of the gross oversimplification the novel makes in caricaturing a whole class of people into a repulsive figure, as well as how it makes the connection and representation through a blatant omission of any focus/attention at all towards that whole class of people. It is unrepresented through what is supposed to be its representation.

As Montag writes in “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein,” the aforementioned dynamic in the novel is driven by how the novel chooses to focus and overlook certain features of society. The urban proletariat underclass of society, as well as lower-class urban life in general, is barely mentioned, and this magnifies the creature’s plight because he most identifies with the disadvantaged urban proletariat lower-class. “Frankenstein’s monster is finally not identified with the working class of Mary Shelley’s time but with its absence” (395), Montag states, and this is reinforced by the novel’s focus on Victor’s middle-class lifestyle, family, love of education, time spent at universities, and “frequent portraits of natural vistas and rural scenes” (394). “No significant descriptions of the urban world” (394) are given, most glaringly concerning London, a city going through “a time of explosive growth and development [but] is not described at all although [Victor] and Clerval passes ‘some months’ there” (394). The fact that these guys spend months in such a booming city with no descriptive imagery, nothing even close to how the novel lushly depicts rural landscapes, indicates that this is an intentional oversight of detailing urban proletariat life. We as readers live in and follow Victor’s bubble of middle class living and the middle class friends, family, aspirations, interests, and lifestyle that are all associated with him. That is, until the creature comes along who, in the midst of our near-total absorption into Victor’s middle-class perspective, is “the sole embodiment of the industrial in an otherwise rural world, and this is the source of his monstrousness” (394). The creature even “makes explicit his identification with the working class” (394) at certain points in the novel to affirm the embodiment. The creature is so monstrous due to how different it is to Victor’s middle class world, which is, as previously stated, the main focus and viewpoint of the novel. Montag couldn’t have said it any better: “The narrative precisely suppresses all that is modern in order to render [the creature] inexplicable and unprecendented” (395). If the urban proletariat underclass was given any significant narrative attention in the novel, it would make the creature less grotesque due to more grotesque ilk like him around; this conclusion is reached purely based on how the novel “links the image of the monster to the industrial proletariat: an unnatural being, singular even in its collective identity, without a genealogy and belonging to no species” (395). The creature is thus almost like a dehumanizing figure with respect to the lower-class proletariats, with it simply representing “the mass [of urban industrial lower-class people] reduced to the absolute singularity of Frankenstein’s creation, which is therefore not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability” (395). The lower class is not truly represented here because of the way it is portrayed.