Broaden the Horizons

I remember when Wall-E first came out in theaters, I had zero interest in spending any money to go see it. It’s Pixar, and Pixar could rarely ever go wrong, but the movie didn’t quite reel me in. If the movie were brought up, I couldn’t help but wonder how a a robot could entertain me for two hours. Well, after watching the movie in our class this past week, it became utterly evident that my pessimism might as well have been slapped in the face.

Unlike much of our generations population, my technology-related habits are pathetically limited. I’m no caveman living under a rock, but I stick to the basics when it comes to technology. After reading Bruno Latour’s “Love Your Monsters”article, and finally watching a movie (that, when brought up in conversation, the people who had seen it bore puppy dog faces) the notion of ‘loving our monsters’ has become less vague. The braided intertwining of nature and our technology has grown more clear-cut in my mind. On page 3 of Latour’s article, he states, “Like France’s parks, all of Nature needs our constant care, our undivided attention, our costly instruments, our hundreds of thousand of scientists, our huge institutions, our careful funding. But though we have Nature, and we have nurture, we don’t know what it would mean for Nature itself to be nurtured.” It came to mind that our technologies are to be treated, guided, and appreciated as if they were our babies from our own wombs. We create all of this technology, its almost a natural part of society today, however we could forget about the consequences that tag along. We are not dominating nature, and grasping control, if we do not care for the technological concoctions we use day after day. As Slack and Wise note in their Culture and Technology narrative, “Whenever we’ve thought we understood nature, nature comes roaring back” (pg. 56). The reciprocation of love between two actors is pertinent for technology to not be so destructive.

After reading all of the class texts, and especially after watching Wall-E, I took a double take on the care I take for my souls of technology . I knew they wouldn’t lash back at me by running around, strangling everybody that I love, but I could see the kinks in my guardianship. My iPhone constantly has notifications on it for updates, and I never fully exit out of the apps I use– both of which tamper with the battery life, amongst other things. I learned it slows down my phone as well. These things are red flags in my mind now, and although it isn’t as dangerous as Dr. Frankenstein’s consequences, my iPhone is a major part of my life– and upping its care has taken some burden off.

Wall-E also put my perspective of caring technology on a completely different tangent. Towards the end, when the captain begins asking his computer to look up things about earth, like ‘dancing,’ I was baffled. He lives off of technology. His entire life is run by it. But between having it feed, clothe, and live his life, he never used it to enhance his knowledge about the planet he comes from. In the world we live in, technology is a natural factor. We can’t think of a world otherwise. Caring for this part of our life is crucial, and a subsequent act of caring is appreciation. I want to delve much further into this technological world than just the top layer of skin that I am in now. By caring for our technology, we should milk it for what its worth. It’s an engrained part of life, and should never be abandoned.

 

Advertisement

Shelley’s Archaic Dichotomy

As noted in several previous blog-posts, one of the many dichotomies consistent throughout “Frankenstein” is that of Nature vs. Science. Shelley makes it clear which to her is superior; she condemns Frankenstein to a miserable fate as punishment for his pursuit of scientific progress, while Clerval stands as a shining beacon of happiness through his appreciation of all things “natural.” Throughout his wretched wanderings, Frankenstein continually ventures to places of magnificent natural beauty — alpine lakes and winding rivers — in search of temporary solace from his all-consuming anguish.

Throughout the reading, this theme becomes clearer and clearer. Throughout the reading, I found myself more and more displeased with her message, and the existence of this dichotomy in the first place. Science is not something unnatural, not some brand of sorcery, but simply the systematic study and application of nature itself. When a monkey uses a stick to catch bugs, or an otter a rock to crack sea urchins, it is not unnatural. Just so, neither are more complex human innovations. In creating life, Frankenstein did not disrupt nature, but instead explored one of its many previously unexplored capabilities.

To defy nature is, in fact, impossible; anything that takes place in the natural world must be inherently natural. The dichotomy presented supports a purely dogmatic worldview — that certain actions are locked within the realm of the “supernatural,” and for a mortal to attempt and succeed at taking part is the ultimate sin, bound to inflict irreparable damage and suffering on the human-race. Using the monster as her mouthpiece, Shelley urges her audience to “seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries” (208).

Her lesson is to squelch the desire to overstep the boundaries which contain men and impede greater understanding. Had Frankenstein not pursued such a lofty innovation, he would have spent his days cradled in his family’s warm embrace, instead doomed to perish among strangers in a frozen wasteland.

In breaking apart Shelley’s dichotomy, however, I do not wish to establish an inverted one of my own. Just as “disruptive” human innovation is not evil, nor is it intrinsically positive in consequence. Scientific progress itself is neutral, and must be judged based on its application. When Einstein helped invent the atomic bomb, he created an instrument capable of destructive power previously reserved to the gods — and destroy it did. However, most would posit that its use caused less destruction than had it not been created.

By refusing the genesis of a second monster, Frankenstein turned away from building his own atomic bomb — a scientific creation that could have either put an end to impending suffering, or multiplied it tenfold. “I did right in refusing, to create a companion for the first creature” (207), he declares on his death bed. In the end, he is content with his decision to cease playing-god, and Shelley places an exclamation point on her case against “gambling” with nature.

While Frankenstein should have been more comprehensive in his foresight, I think that Shelley goes too far in her condemnation of his actions. Do you think that, as stated in Connected, “growth for growth’s sake is cancer,” or is this a mischaracterization?

Disclaimer — I would  like to admit a personal bias: I am an entrepreneur, always trying to think up better, more innovative ways of doing things. Even if it “ain’t broke,” I still want to fix it. In my circles, “disruption” is a golden word, and, like Frankenstein, I know I’m not the most responsible of innovators, usually preferring to take the “jump-right-in” approach, rather than cautiously testing the waters. Don’t worry though, my “little monsters” aren’t going to be eating you anytime soon…hopefully. I just wanted to better frame the post with regards to it’s author.

Some Knowledge isn’t Worth Knowing

The progression of knowledge in Frankenstein happens very quickly, and is largely involved with the ontological nature of science. Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with altering the ontological equilibrium of nature and humanity. This altering ultimately leads to his epic downfall and the cease of all the people who love him. 

Through the reading, there are little details describing his scientific work; ultimately, leaving this up to the individual imaginations of readers. I believe this was the best way for Shelley to deliver this element of the novel because I feel the details could be outlandish therefore taken away from the imaginative, fiction nature of the story. As his knowledge progresses, he becomes ill. With each page he steps further into the altercation of ontological equilibrium, and nature responds by taking a piece of his sanity overtime he acquires more knowledge.

The monster is created, and Frankenstein becomes instantly sick. As Shelley describes his illness on page 64:

“But I was in reality very ill, and surely nothing but the unbounded and unremitting attentions of my friend could have restored me to life. The form of the monster on whom I had bestowed existence was forever before my eyes, and I raved incessantly concerning him”(64)

From the moment the monster was created, Frankenstein was a dead man. He was messing with the natural order of nature and science. He was altering the ontological equilibrium of man. He was diving deeper than any man before him. He would pay the consequences for his endeavors. 

After creation of the monster, Frankenstein is tormented. In the beginning, he is relieved that the monster is gone and doesn’t quite understand yet what he has released. The consequences start to become clear on page 77 in a letter from his father:

“William is dead!- that sweet child, whose smiles delighted and warmed my heart, who was so gentle, yet so gay! Victor, he is murdered! I will not attempt to console you; but will simply relate the circumstances o the transaction”(77)

The first death, the first backlash of his scientific endeavors. All the work he had done, all the pursuit. The energy, time, and sacrifices he made for that knowledge; and this is where he now stands! A murdered brother and frail soul!

Frankenstein messed with nature. Nature, consequently, responded.

 

A Missed Oppurtunity

In these chapters Shelley drives home the idea that the search for knowledge, when left unchecked, leads to misery.  She does this by drawing parallels between Frankenstein and his monster.  Frankenstein’s increase in knowledge eventually leads to the deaths of William and Justine which causes him great amounts of suffering.  The monster on the other hand learns how to speak and read by watching the De Lacey family teach the Arabian girl.  As he becomes increasingly aware of his situation he begins to despise his existence.  His experience can be perfectly summarized when he says “I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me: I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge.” (85).  It almost seems as if Shelley is trying to go with the “ignorance is bliss” route here or possibly the idea that nature will lead to happiness while knowledge will lead to ruin.  If this was indeed her goal it would have been beneficial to describe the process leading to the monsters creation in more detail.  This would give her the opportunity to talk about the abhorrent machinery and the gruesome acquisition of the body parts for Dr. Frankenstein’s creation.  She constantly makes reference to the immense power of nature, but never gives anything to compare it to.  Using the science would have given a strong contrast to nature in this way, further bolstering her concept of knowledge leading to misery.

 Throughout the story thus far, author Mary Shelley has had multiple chances to make mention of Dr. Frankenstein’s scientific procedures and she has failed to do so.  Why is that?  She can write for days about the layout of the mountains in the story as seen on page 66 where she writes, “The abrupt sides of vast mountains were before me; the icy wall of the glacier overhung me; a few shattered pines were scattered around; and the solemn silence of this glorious presence-chamber of imperial Nature was broken only by the brawling waves of the fall of some vast fragment, the thunder sound of the avalanche or the cracking, reverberated along the mountains, of the accumulated ice, which, through the silent working of immutable laws, was ever and anon rent and torn, as if it had been but a plaything in their hands.”  However, when she makes passing comments about Victor’s work such as on page 92, “It was your journal of the four months that preceded my creation.  You minutely described in these papers every step you took in the progress of your work; this history was mingled with accounts of domestic occurrences.” It makes the reader question why it was even brought up in the first place.  She seems almost scared to talk about it, as though these portions of the book were just a necessary evil to spur along the story.  This leads to the probable conclusion that she simply has little or no grasp of the subject.  This seems detrimental when she tries to lay a foundation for some of her themes throughout the story, one of which was discussed in the previous paragraph.

 

Discussion Question:  Do you think the omission of the science hurts Shelley’s tale?  Is it inconsequential?  Would it possibly distract from the other points she was trying to make in the book if she did go into detail about the various scientific aspects?

Why Not Nature and Science?

Why is it always nature vs. science? The classic argument always pits progress against the environment, one extreme against the other. Shouldn’t the real definition of progress, though, revolve around the idea that our built and natural environments should coexist? I think this is a point that Shelley has not articulated well enough in the novel so far. Most of the scenes have either centered on Victor going into beautiful soliloquies about how awesome nature is, or he is complaining about how miserable he is because he used science to conquer nature.

His thoughts exist solely in the two extremes: “Remorse extinguished every hope. I had been the author of unalterable evils, and lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I created should perpetrate some new wickedness…The field of ice is almost a league in width, but I spend nearly two hours in crossing it. The opposite mountain is a bare perpendicular rock.”

Yes, these are very vivid descriptions, but so what? He has yet to consider anything in the middle of these two extremes. Classic conflict involves two immovable factions entrenched on their respective sides of an argument. We usually find that the answer lies somewhere in the middle; in this case, Victor could learn that science can be used to enhance our built and natural environments. Isn’t this what we should be getting from Shelley?

Victor recognizes the beauty of nature and has shown the scientific prowess to make it better for all parties but he has yet to put these two extremes together to form a dynamic idea. This reflects back to the left brain, right brain conflict that was addressed in “Connected.” His left brain recognizes nature and his right brain produces his scientific prowess. Shelley could develop Victor’s ideas into dynamic solutions to the nature vs. science argument, but I don’t see that happening.

Maybe Shelley is making the argument against excess technology by showing what can happen if we don’t use our right and left brain together to consider nature and science together. But personally, I find it maddening that Victor cannot recognize that science should be used to develop nature, not conquer it.

Frankenstein: The Deleted Scene

As I lay in secrecy upon the straw in my hovel, sleep evaded me.  Relentlessly, I despaired in the truth that I was wretched and utterly unaided.  An icy desolation tiptoed up my pilfered vertebral column, driving my hands to seek shelter for any degree of warmth the pockets of my dress could bargain.  From the pocket I recovered a detailed journal accounting four months prior my most vile creation.  You particularized every exhaustive detail in the evolution of your work and if the truth of my own wretchedness declined my slumber, the absorbing of this journal may well negate sleep forever as I ponder and digest its content.  Notwithstanding the fact that I loathe your negligence in plummeting your creation into a pitfall of despondency, but as I read of your plans after you formed my carcass, I cannot help but esteem your genius:

Preparatory phase complete:  successful recovery of autologous fibroblasts results in a culture of viable human induced pluripotent stem cells.

Hypothesis:  Pluripotent stem cells in the presence of whole blood and telomerase will stimulate tissue and organ regeneration to reanimate the subject’s deceased form.

Reanimation protocol:  Infuse via injection straight to the heart organ a homogenous mixture of 5.6 liters whole blood, telomerase to aid in DNA sequence repetition, and IPS cells.  Once heart organ is viable, deliver 1000 volts via defibrillation to restore organ perfusion rhythm.

End deleted scene…

To read Frankenstein in the 21st century is to know that in 1818 the realms of scientific knowledge were limited.  In fact, depending on whom you ask, the realms of scientific knowledge may still presently appear infantile.  Students north of the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning will typically define the term “cell” as the structural and functional unit of life; these students after all are most concentrated near the campus’s science buildings and laboratories.  However, south of the Cathedral and nearer the School of Law, students will typically define the term “cell” as an enclosure: that with which to contain a criminal.  Location and time is all relative.  Given Mary Shelley’s location and time, I would venture to hypothesize the impossibility of even fathoming the above deleted scene due to the lack of scientific knowledge and innovations of her period.  It was not until the year 2007 that the use of induced pluripotent stem cells traversed the planes of scientific research, so how can we begin to expect Mary Shelley to account of Victor Frankenstein’s scientific protocols other than to meagerly mention his “chemical instruments” (111) throughout the text.  Yet, knowledge knows no bounds and certainly extends beyond the realms of science.  Enter Nature, (as it relates to the development of morals)… the challenger.

“To be a great and virtuous man appeared the highest honour that can befall a sensitive being; to be base and vicious, as many on record have been, appeared the lowest degradation, a condition more abject than that of the blind mole or harmless worm.” (84)

Through the attainment of knowledge via Volney’s Ruins of Empires, we witness the creation ascertaining intelligent conclusions regarding human morality.  Simply, he learns that it is noble to be good and shameful to be bad.  The journey he takes in his education ironically forces him to contemplate upon who he is as he considers his hideous form and deficit of material riches:  “I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me:  I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge.  Oh, that I had forever remained in my native wood, nor known nor felt beyond the sensation of hunger, thirst and heat!” (85)  “Increase of knowledge only discovered to me more clearly what a wretched outcast I was.” (93)

Science versus nature.  Nature versus science.  The battle between both so vividly evident in the creation’s mind that while he yearned the knowledge of who he is, from where and why he came, the terms science and nature almost blur and become homogenous.  Consider our basic human needs:  food, water, and shelter; and thus, consider a deleted scene or alternate ending had Victor’s creation shunned knowledge and remained in his native wood instead of taking revenge on his creator.

 

Torrent Which Has Swept Away All My Hopes and Joys

Mary Shelley is showing us Victor Frankenstein’s childhood and education so we can understand why he develops such an interest in the power of nature and magic. She also wants us to see the transition in Victor’s life between light and dark. Victor’s childhood is very peaceful and his parents are very down to earth people. They adopt a child and his father comes from money, but they support and help people living in poverty. In chapter 2, page 20 the author states, “I feel exquisite pleasure in dwelling on the recollections of childhood, before misfortune had tainted my mind, and changed its bright visions of usefulness into gloomy and narrow reflections upon self.” Now the reader is anticipating that something bad is going to happen in the future.

Victor reads Cornelius Agrippa and becomes fascinated with his works. He is told by his father that he is wasting his time and the books are trash. This only propels him more to understand nature and what gives living things life. Victor tells the story of a thunderstorm that strikes a tree leaving only the stump.  This is Victor’s first experience with electricity and the true power of nature. Mary Shelley is building this character throughout the story. As the reader you can see changes occurring to this character and it makes you want to know what is going to happen to this character. It seems like there life is going so well. What could go so wrong?

Then we find out Victor’s mom dies and he later leaves for Ingolstadt. At the university, M. Waldman is enthused about Victor’s interest in Cornelius Agrippa and inspires him to continue to invest his time into these subject matters. This is the point in the story where we can see Victor’s addiction to science and life begin to build. He watches the dead body’s decay and finds out how to give life to something without life. Then he works night and day to create a monster and feels terrible about what he has created. Victor later goes home and finds out the monster killed his brother. The reason that Mary Shelley tells us all these details is so we can create an attachment with the main character and understand why he feels sad, addicted, insane, happy, etc.

When he is creating the monster in chapter 4 there is a focus on Victor’s health and his family. He is becoming addicted to his work and forgetting about the world around him. He is no longer communicating with his family and friends. I think this is almost a message the author is sending the audience. She is saying that if you work too hard in life you forget about what is most important to you: family and friends. There is also a focus on life and death and the human body in chapter 4.

Why do We Always Mix up the Name “Frankenstein” with the Monster?

Upon reading Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, Frankenstein, one finds that the original story is quite different from its modern representation in pop culture. In the former, there seems to be no iconic clash between a band of torch-wielding villagers and the towering monster; even the hunchback Igor fails to make an appearance! In fact, the first three chapters of the original story are dedicated to the life of the young Victor Frankenstein, in the years before he creates the infamous monster. One begins to understand that this original story, unlike its modern manifestations, centers not so much on the horrible creation and its path of destruction, but rather on its woeful creator. Shelley includes the life of Frankenstein prior to his ultimate creation so that we may understand his extraordinary achievement of reanimation as a result of very human motivations. Additionally, the segment dedicated to Victor’s younger years helps the reader to understand the profound changes that the creation has upon Victor’s character and life. Both the act of reanimation and the ensuing changes upon his character develop the story as a warning against the very human tendency to exploit the properties of nature with unintended consequences.

 

The story begins in the present with the letters of an English pioneer by the name of R. Walton, who writes about his daring adventures into the unknown, frozen reaches of the Arctic Circle. During his journey, he and his crew rescue a man stranded on a floating ice sheet with his only remaining sled dog. The man turns out to be a weathered Victor Frankenstein, who is clearly described as both mentally and physically burdened; he had both a “decaying frame” and “an expression of wildness, and even madness” (10, 9). This characterization of Victor, as weak and broken, is in clear contrast with his former self. Shelley uses the first chapters of the book, which recount the man’s childhood, in order to emphasize this change in character. “No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself [Victor]” (19). Indeed, Victors describes his early life as living in ease with loving family. The reader begins to wonder how this happy youth could have befallen such a drastic change, and to have wound up in the freezing reaches of the North. Clearly, something absolutely horrible must have happened to elicit this change in his demeanor. And it is through Shelley’s first three chapters that the reader becomes connected with Victor enough to feel sorry for this fated individual, whose only crime was venturing too far and too quickly into the unknown.

The author’s focus on the changes in Victor as a result of the creation of the monster becomes more evident in the fourth chapter, which describes the events leading to the reanimation. Most of the chapter recounts Victor’s feelings as he dedicates himself to the pursuit of his dark science. Apprehension and restlessness replace the initial excitement, and time becomes meaningless. He is consumed by his work, even though he describes his “human nature [to] turn with loathing from my [his] occupation, whilst still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased…” (33). Despite his aversion with some of his work, he is nonetheless a slave to it. This chapter’s emphasis on Victor’s growing obsession and apprehension demonstrates that Shelley is concerned more with the impact of the invention upon the youth rather than the invention itself. This focus, in turn, corresponds to a greater idea in the developing story; exploiting nature, such as the permanence of death, can often lead to disastrous, unintended consequences. Such is evident in Victor’s transition from a beloved youth into a conflicted investigator and, finally into a woeful, withered man as a result of the reanimation.

 

As we begin to consider the consequences of Victor’s experimentation, can we draw any parallels between his ambition of reanimation and that of R. Walton’s to explore the Arctic Circle? Both of those goals view nature as something to be conquered or controlled. In relation to the documentary, Connected, how has this mentality of dividing and conquering affected the course of our history and development as a species? And, lastly, why do we always mix up the name “Frankenstein” with the monster? We now know that “Frankenstein” is the creator; what can this fact tell us about the story’s focus as it relates to the title?