Saturday, September 28, 2013

Chapter 63: Frankenstein: The Destroyer as Creator

So I've been working on something a little more academic and wanted to post it just because. I've been on this "creators are destroyers" theme for a while and was thinking about that stupid argument of "destruction as a form of creation". In this post though, I get more scholarly and not so "fun". I also see that I haven't posted in far too long. I need to do that more, especially with all the stuff I have going on. Not amazing stuff, but stuff I can at least write about. Sort of.
Any way, this argument I summed up in this little post. What do I think? Can art be destruction? Is destruction creation? If you don't know the story of Frankenstein (I mean the real one. Did you know there is no such thing as Igor? I didn't even know who that guy was until a few years ago. Who the heck even made him up??) then please read it. It's actually very short and can be read in a day if you have nothing else to do. So here is my argument against destruction as creation. (A quick note: this is a very close reading of the first few paragraphs of chapter 5. Not the whole book. I used Barnes and Nobel Classics Edition [you should read the essays in the back, so cool!] in paper back, and cited the pages for you in case you want to check for yourself. But they're all pretty much from page 51. I love citing...)

All quotes taken from the revised version of "Frankenstein" (1831) by Marry Shelly (original 1818). 

Alec Newman and Luke Goss in
Hallmark Entertainment's "Frankenstein", 2004
Prometheus was an Olympian who brought fire to the mortals of Greece. With fire, they could not only warm themselves and cook and see in the dark, but fight each other and use the flame to burn down the homes of their enemies. They could forge weapons for destruction and then sharpen metal. Basically, fire lead to knowledge of destruction and means of killing. Prometheus didn’t mean for that happen. He only wanted the mortals to be able to see in the dark. He was the light-bringer. Mary Shelly’s “Modern Prometheus” didn’t intend for death, sadness, and destruction to follow his invention either, but that is the overall theme in Shelly’s gothic science fiction novel “Frankenstein”. The irony that she presents is how creation leads to destruction; or light to darkness. Chapter five displays the theme of creation (light) to destruction (darkness) in three parts: the setting of the scene, the creature’s appearance, and Victor’s reaction to what he’s done. Just the first few paragraphs off this unity through a close reading of the electrified text.    
The first level of language is for setting the scene. The dreary night outside of the laboratory was probably nothing compared to the emotions Victor Frankenstein was feeling as he finished the preparations for his creation to come to life. It’s dark as the “rain pattered dismally” against the creator’s windows. The scene is fixed with details like the nearly burnt out candle and the “half extinguished light” (51). The text is dealing with the balance of life and creation, which in the case of the scene is the fight between light and dark. The night outside is dreary and cold, but it is kept at bay, outside, for now. However, we can see from the candle that is burning low and is almost out, that soon destruction and darkness will emerge. The struggle is already there and eminent; there is no escaping the darkness to come unless the candle could somehow be made to burn longer. Darkness is coming.  
It is with “anxiety that almost amounted to agony” that Victor “gathers the instruments of life around him” in this tense scene. From this description, an excited, eager life-giver is ready to “infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing” (51). The language is charged with words of tension and description. Words like “spark”, “glimmer”, and “light” bring electricity to the scene even though the night is dreary. Victor is nearly a mirror of the night around him, lending himself for this moment to scene. He is anxious and in agony over his creation—excited but apprehensive. All contrasting emotions like the darkness outside and the burning candle inside with the instruments of life. He is more light than dark, more creator than destroyer with the “spark of being” he holds in his hands. This spark is another image of the light and life inside the room that battles against the waning time.    
The second level of language used is to describe the creature and its own conflicting presence and appearance. Just before the candle goes out entirely, leading the way to darkness, the “dull yellow eyes of the creature opened; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs” (51). The language here draws tension on the belief of whether the creature is really alive or not. With the candle having gone out, our vision of light and life, a tension of foreboding has entered the room and now the only light or life left in the room is this creature where the “spark of being” has been ignited. The words used to describe the new life are permeated with death as if to say, “You have created death, Victor”, which, in a sense of the rest of the novel’s events, he has. If the eyes are “dull” and “yellow”, then is it really alive? They’re not flickering and are even duller than the burned out candle. The color yellow is not often associated with life. Yellow is more of a decaying color. The creature’s breath is not easy either. It is convulsive and hard; far from relaxed.  There is a tension of opposites here in the words. Life has happened but the words to describe it are not entirely life-like. The creation is not “light” and pleasant.  
The third level is Victor. He does not feel the joy he expected to find after creating life—his own spark and light. At the sight of his creation, his light goes out and he says it is the “wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form” (51). It is not the life he wanted to create, as if he can see its destructive capabilities already. To expound on this idea and show how life and death are both embodied in the creature, he described it as “limbs in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful” but then Victor exclaims “Beautiful!” as if to dispel what he has just said. This strong exclamation tells the audience that he is in disbelief. This thing does not look like life or light. It appears to be ugly, or rather dead and made for destruction. It could even be viewed as bring death to life or creating destruction, which goes back to the theme and unity of the novel. He goes on to explain why: “His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and the arteries beneath” (51). The image is gruesome with such vivid detail and yellow is again mentioned. But again, we see the tension in the words as he finishes describing the creature with “lustrous” and “flowing” black hair and “teeth of pearly whiteness” (51). There is light and there is darkness in his creation; we can see the result embodied in this creature, life and death. From creation comes death and the monster with its contrasting appearance is both, just as Victor was both at the start of the chapter.  
In a way, Victor feels like he’s failed. He set out to create something wonderful and he is not satisfied. He moans, “The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body” (51). What he means is that he does not feel about his creation as he thought he would or should. He is also insinuating here that what he has created is not human or even alive, even though it clearly is. He also tells us that he had “worked hard”. This phrase could have been something more scientific sounding but instead, he uses simple words showing us just how worn out and tired he is. He is almost whining. He’s not the great creator after all. Then what is he? He says, “I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation”, he knows how unattainable this idea was, “the beauty of the dream vanished” (51). Victor’s light, hope, of creation has gone out like the candle before him. From his creation, he has spelled out his doom and he knows it. He is distraught because he is aware of the destruction he has created.   
Lastly, he says he was, “breathless with horror and disgust filled my heart” (51). The descriptions of his fear are filled with excitement but not the kind he desired or the kind at the start of the chapter. In a sense, his dream has died; the light has gone out, his path from creator to destroyer already begun where it will end in chapter twenty when he destroys the creature’s mate. He has not had any physical exertion and yet he is “breathless”. He has created life and yet he is filled with disgust. He is “unable to endure the aspect of the being” that he has created and yet he cannot even go back to confront it and change his human nature’s reactions. He has tried to justify his running away and abandoning his creation by examining the horror of it. Even though he has succeeded and created life, he is not satisfied because he sees that creation leads to destruction (destruction of his dreams and hopes for now). From this feeling of horror and fear, the path for death and destruction has been placed before the creator.
Just as Prometheus did not intend for his fire to corrupt mankind, neither did Victor Frankenstein understand what he brought into the world: his own destruction by his own hands through the means of his creation. Like Prometheus, he was doomed. With the fire came the knowledge and ability to create and harm; from the creation of Frankenstein came death and destruction and ultimately the maker’s own death. There cannot be destruction if there was not first creation, and there can be no creation without destruction.