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Week Eleven (Mon, 4/4): Reading Frankenstein

portrait of Mary Shelley by Sarah Dolby, @ Frankenstenia

I. coursekeeping

vgaffney, marina

missing Liz today!

processing those panels:
too much/many?! good prep for your papers?!

that concludes the third section of the course, on the "intra-action" of Gender, Information, Science and Technology: processing this ??

smile: on Arab revolutionaries starting an online discussion and then meeting up in 'real life' -->

lemirella: I really feel like we should stop making this distinction between our online identities and the identities we have in 'real-life'... our 'real-life' identities ...are a part of us. Technology just makes it easier for us to come up with identities we could never have taken on without the internet and computers -->

aybala: I have more control over the online one -->

merlin: we all, to some degree, inhabit different identities which we can switch on or off at any given time in our daily routine -->

: all the internet users, especially the ones who interact with others online socially, need to realize the connection between their physical and virtual bodies and sometimes feel responsible for the actions of their virtual bodies.

turning now to the fourth-and-final (!) section of the course,
where we will explore these questions further:

make sure you see this weekend's internet "fool"!!

finish Frankenstein by Wednesday

make your postings on the novel, due Friday, in response
to postings done by the MIT class on Gender and Technology
(sticky @ the top of our course forum)

II. your initial reactions to Frankenstein, the novel?
(first or second read for you?
did you do a "close" or a "distant" reading?)

III. what would our other authors say about Shelley's novel?
Harraway and Clark re: the cyborgian elements?
Roughgarden re: the science of diversity?
Dull, West and Bañales re: cosmetic surgery?
Parens and Hausman re: surgical alterations of self?
Turkle re: performing self virtually?
Rowe and Grobstein re: presenting information?
Hayles re: role of digital processing in your reading?
Leeson's Emmy (Ada's mom) re: creating your own creature?
Subramaniam re: feminist science studies?
Barad re: entanglement, intra-action...?
any of your panelists, on meeting the creature?

write for five minutes, then go 'round and report out AS....

IV. a novel of (failed?) education?
calls into question aims/purposes of education:
what is Viktor educated for?
what ends does his education serve?
likewise the Creature...

V. feminist readings of the novel
--in narrative technique

1. multiple perspectives
(challenges validity of single point of view; refuses the "God-trick")
framing device of 5 narratives: Walton/Victor/Creature/Victor/Walker
concentric circles/ mandala?
cf. Wuthering Hts, move from "normal" to "abnormal"

2. showcases female spectatorship ("don't smile")
Walton's sister is occasion, subject, recipient of letters
we read as her, in her position, but she doesn't respond
frame of story is left open
(reverses Arabian Nights:
frame narrative, telling tales to keep self from death)

feminist also on grounds of content
3. projection of Shelley's ambivalence about motherhood
reading focuses on Victor's revulsion, guilt, dread,
flight fr. birth in filthy workplace
novel confesses depression, guilt, anxiety of giving birth
(Victor= "mother" who fails to love "her" child=Shelley)

biographical reading highlights proximity
of birth/death in Shelley's life

own mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died 10 days after her birth
1/2 sister Fanny poisoned self, left note ref. to illegitimacy
Percy's first wife's suicide, while pregnant by another
Mary's own first dtr. died, two weeks after premature birth
(after novel written: lost two other children and husband)
novel a dream of independence from biology of motherhood
(her dream=Victor's?)
requires a stretch: he stand in for her

4. alternatively: read Victor's Creature as woman:
marginalized, outcast

Gilbert & Gubar: creature is Eve, source of sin and death
"motherless" (Maria: "surely it is better to die,
than to enter on life w/out a mother's care")
also outcast because of physical appearance
another stretch: female beauty recast as male ugliness:
"soul as hellish as his form"
cf. Jane Eyre: insistent re plainness,
importance of looks taken to extreme: repulsed by ugliness
(cf. disability studies)

and/or Victor destroys  female creature because he can't control her
deeper than fear of female sexuality: fear of independent female will

5. focus on the male-centeredness of the book:
highlight 3 masculine autobiographies,
tale of male bonding, male friendships--but also a study of broken maleness

rather than account of outcast women,
read as fantasy of aggression against women
(focus on pure dead maidens: sexless orphans
Caroline, Justine, Elizabeth adopted into Frankenstein family;
none w/ lives or characters, and all destroyed)

frustrated women's book about male immaturity,
masculine violence, scientific takeover of female nature

(monstrous because severed from "the feminine"?)

Wollstonecraft, Enlightenment philosophers
advocated dominance of intellect over emotion
Shelley, Romantic poets railed against that
ranking as demoralizing, immoral, reversed it
novel critiques masculine immaturity/lack of empathy/
lack of involvement in family life
--which literally destroys the family
(p. 74: his own vampire, let loose; p. 84: I true murderer!)

reading condemns imbalance between/
segregation of ambition, domesticity

intellectual, family obligations
knowledge, sociability
intellect, emotion
dangers of passion: unreasoned, unrestrained

reading of Victor's fatherhood as fatherhood writ large:
w/out thinking of responsibility engendered w/ child--and calls him to account

6. most interesting in context of this course,
esp. feminist science studies:
a related set of readings see the novel as

critique of positive power of rationality,

celebrated by Enlightenment tradition, particularly by Wollstonecraft
(Vindication of the Rts of Women:
woman is rational creature w/ capable brain;
her body irrelevant to design of her education)

self-consciously or not, novel suggests that
Shelley lacks her mother's confidence
that the fate of sexual biology can be overcome

this book acknowledges bodily imperatives,
insists on ugliness that can't be rationally assimilated

creature's BODY IS HIS FATE: impure, mortal, filthy,
pure flesh which can't reason itself out of itself

in this reading: this is a novel about the limits of reason:
if her mother's feminism reduces what is human to a rational corpse
here: creature's status as CREATURE blinds all
who see him to his status as a rational being
more essentialist, naturalist
(cf. belief in nurture: children become what we tell them they ARE)
source of alternative strain/2nd wave feminism: focus on physical difference,
indicts feminism that denies/devalues the body (contemporary eco-feminism)
a la Rousseau: "my belief is--whether there be sex in souls or not--
that the sex of our material mechanism makes us quite different creatures"

alternatively: relation of reason to revenge?
reason no guide to kind conduct
new technology/science no guide to its wise use...

7. 19th c. studies: Marxist readings:
creature represents the working class

central story: radical empathy for the social outcast (Satan: jealous)
classic liberal text: empathy for the criminal
causes of crime: lack of sympathy 96, 140
context in suffering/cries for empathy 193, 208, 211
novel a cry to/for love 210

8. Safie's letters as feminist core of book?
body discovers self as spirit, needing congenial social world
his fate hers: that of woman denied reason, cultivation of soul (200, 206)
regarded as, reduced to pure flesh
none can see their status as rational beings,
as spirits needing to be treated as such
those ltrs. DeLaceys' sacred text
(Felix happy, Agatha goodness, Safie wisdom)
complete correspondence: cf. other letters, listened to, not responded to
evidence of TRUTH of tale
Safie's letters to lover who responds
answered letters, completed dialogue, circle @ center

9. literary sources: Paradise Lost
Prometheus (Ovid: created first mortals, out of earth and water)
Shelley's Prometheus Unbound: better known version, brings fire to humans
bound on mt-top to have liver torn out by eagle, grow back each day
like Victor, wants to know too much
his sin, tragic flaw: usurping power of the creator/creative powers of women
(or simple failure to love?)
transgression of sexual, psychic, geographical boundaries
Faust/failed Bildungsroman
Rousseau's Emile

10. historical period: parliamentary bill passed 10 years after,
opening up educational opportunities for non-Anglicans
(at time of writing, Shelley's circle would not have been allowed..)

11. genre conventions:
gothic novel
other readings overflatten it/don't attend enough
to specific contextualization of period:
males not expected to be responsible for family emotional life, as today
domestic life celebrated later in 19th c.
interiority of family not recognized/represented yet as trope
was family (rather than school) seen as source of education?

Course Notes: vgaffney and marina