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Beauty and Relativity

MSA322's picture

What really stuck with in my mind from our discussion on Wednesday is the part where we talked about beauty. Beauty is such an abstract term. What is beauty and who is to decide that?

One of the classes I took last year was Contemporary Physics. A class I will never forget, and will always remind me that my decision of going to a liberal arts college was the right one. The class talked about relativity and it also connects with the entanglement reading of Barad and Bohr's theory of uncertainty. In the physics class we had the example of being on a train and watching the cart in front move. To you, the cart in front is the one that's moving not yours, and to the people in the cart in front, your cart is the one that's moving and theirs is rather stationary. Another example was being in the car on a road with trees on the side; it looks to the person in the car that he trees are moving past them, and to a person on the street, the car is the one that's moving. It's all relative. It all depends on who's point of view we're taking into account.

Beauty is relative. We, human beings, are often superficial when it comes to our judgments on different people we encounter. We more often than not make a quick judgement depending on the appearance of the person, their facial expression, the way they dress and the sometimes even the way they walk. We forget to count what's inside the person, their thoughts, their history and their personalities. This topic was discussed in terms of the ugliness of the creature that Vector managed to create. This hideous creature that was rejected by the people of the village because they were afraid of him, of his appearance. The creature longs to be accepted and to be "beautiful" as they people he encounters. He comes to the acknowledgment of his lack of beauty after he had seen people's reaction and his reflection in the water. Beauty could be either a bliss or a curse, I think. Moreover, it is pretty unfair to declare that one person is beautiful depending only on their appearance, and the creature felt out of place as a result of peoples' reactions when encountering him, leading to his wishes of a changed appearance, or for vector to create a mate for him, so he can be accepted.. for his mate, he would look beautiful, he would be seen for who he is from the inside.

It just got me wondering how our world is filled with injustice, it's almost part of our instincts o be unjust to one thing/person.. It's a dream in fact to have a fair world, with no prejudices. But we try and always hope to get better and more fair with one another.. This reminds me of the cosmic surgery and how one of the reasons it was invented is to help those with "not so beautiful" appearances to feel more accepted, more "beautiful" in the eyes of the unjust world. Human nature is quite interesting, how we work so hard on something trying to fix it, where all we need to do is simply be accepting.



kelliott's picture

 I find this discussion on

 I find this discussion on beauty to be really intriguing. I think you all have made some really interesting points, and I especially like your statement that beauty is relative, MSA322. Like aybala50, I haven't really seen or read anything about Frankenstein until picking up this book. I mean, I've seen "Frankesntein-esque" characters in movies, you know, around Halloween and whatnot, and maybe saw a film back in the day, but that's pretty much it. A little while ago I stumbled upon a website discussing this art installment in the UK called, "The Frankenstein Project." I remember it was causing some stir online and in the city where it was installed, mostly because of aesthetics--which I think ties into this discussion oddly enough. "The Frankenstein Project" was created by Tony Stallard in 2001 and installed in the Great Promenade of Blackpool, England. I personally find the structure a bit strange looking--it is an airtight chamber similar to a diver’s decompression chamber, bolted to the promenade’s cement ground. Viewers can peer into the portholes to see an a large blue neon skeleton of a killer whale. 

frankenstein project


The piece is meant to comment on Blackpool's Victorian freak shows, which were active during WWII. Though I don't know much about Blackpool's history, a little googling has lead me to believe that these freak shows were fairly popular, especially as tourist attractions. After a series of controversial freak shows, the Blackpool Improvement Act was passed in 1935 which provided the town's authorities with the power to restrict exhibitions and sideshows deemed 'objectionable'.

Stallard has created, in a sense, a miniature freak show. The viewers are intrigued and disturbed, cautious but curious...And the installment itself has been subject to vandalism and complaints, many people calling it an "eye sore." I guess one could say it isn't very "aesthetically pleasing," kind of like the creature in Frankenstein, no? And because of this, it has been taken down and put back up several times now. It's different than the norm of "art" --a freak in itself?

The notion of "freakery" and its relation to Frankenstein is fascinating. "Freaks" are individuals who are deemed different than what society deems the norm. In freak shows, the typical freaks are ones who appear to be physically unusual humans. Freaks seem to intrigue us because of their "unnatural" qualities--they are somewhere between human and animal, real and unreal. They tend to blur the sexes (e.g., the bearded lady)...They are "freaks of nature." The shows were based on the entirely physical, visually different elements of the freaks. 

So, to answer your question, aybala50, I do think it was his unnaturalness that repulsed people. However, I believe this very unnaturalness is equated to ugliness, thus one could argue ugliness encompasses all deemed "unnatural." That is why people would go to freak shows---to see what is they are not. There are many psychoanalytic texts that discuss the human fascination with the "other." Lacan states that "the unconscious is the discourse of the Other," that the human subject is created through social interaction. Perhaps the creature is beautiful, but his "otherness" cannot be denied...The creature seeing his reflection, realizing he is different than the humans he saw, is similar to Lacan's Mirror Stage, when the baby realizes it is itself (i.e., sees hands in mirror and realizes s/he can control their movements). I'd be interested to look into the Mirror Stage even further and really psychoanalyze (yeah, I'm a psych major, go ahead, roll your eyes) the creature. There's lots to pull out from his "unnatural" mind!

merlin's picture

Victorias Secret models and Frankenstein..

 I was also thinking about ugliness as a socially constructed reaction. I was recounting the passage when the creature is created and victor says

              "....His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath, his heair was of a lustrous black and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes...." 

it seems as though the ugliness is more derived from the contrast of multiple individual features that Victor incorporated into the creature, for example his bright white teeth against his yellow transparent skin. This made me think again about going back to the whole cosmetic surgery thing. I believe that a lot of people who get a nose job done, for example, usually don't even have a highly unusual nose. many times their noses look just like your nose or my nose. A nose is just a nose! but they seem to become hyper-fucused on this one particular feature almost to the degree of an obsession and come to believe that there is something seriously wrong with it. Now, there are certainly people who have unusual schnozzes! But I believe that there are others who develop an obsession about one feature and forget to look at their bodies holistically. I agree with the notion that the creature is considered ugly because he was made with all of these parts that didn't go together to begin with, and therefore didn't match up properly. Therefore, if we give ourselves a new nose or Veneer our teeth, does that make us in actually more like the creature? maybe. Sometimes we see a person who has had so much elective cosmetic surgery that not only is it obvious, it can be be considered repulsive by others for loooking "unnatural." something about their altered features just doesnt seem to fit together properly. 

         I think that victor is afflicted by a common condition in humans. I think that he has a skewed perception of perfection. I think that there is a victor in all of us. And I think this affliction surfaces whenever we take a look at photoshopped models in a magazine. Here, take a look at these funny examples...







Just plain Weird! look at where her wrists meet her torso, parts of her body were cut out and dissected just like Frankenstein! which makes her shoulders in comparison look disproportionate. 

VS model:       

vs model 2:     Another weird photoshopping, her legs look detached from her body!

vs model 3:     

^ Complete arm Detachment!!! Also, if you'll notice her right boob looks twice as big as her left boob!! :0!

  vs model 4:            OK, now this is really weird...
found on a cover for Ralph Lauren:
































What has happened is that the photoshopper has tried to give these poor models an unattainable and naturally impossible body type. Some of them look just plain WEIRD! so distorted are their bodies that we could maybe compare them to aliens (I suppose the intergalactic friends of Bryn Mawr's Global Initiative would not approve of this stereotyping however, so I'll compare them to Frankenstein instead). So these models are shorter, tanner Frankensteins! They are unnatural and thus unattractive in Frankenstinian terms. 



I think that Victor would have made a horrible photoshop editor, maybe even Victorias Secret would have fired him!


aybala50's picture

Is it the ugliness or the unnatural aspect?

Your discussion on the creatures conception of himself as "ugly" got me thinking about why exactly he has been outcasted by the people he's met. He sees other people and what they look like, and then he sees his own reflection and decides that he is ugly. Until this class I have never seen or read anything about Frankenstein. I haven't seen any of the movies and I haven't seen any images of the creature until this class. So, I found myself imagining what the creature may look like.

In my mind, the creature is a compilation of several human body parts with a great deal of stitch marks visible to the outsider. Victor, while creating the creature, used one leg from one body, and another leg from another body. He also attached different dead bodies ears and nose to the creature, he had to cut off and sew another bodies scalp onto the monsters head. Two different arms, one torso, and who knows, maybe genitals? Ok, so yes, according to society this creature may be considered "ugly", despite his personality characteristics. However, with this image in my mind, I find myself wondering if it's the fact that the creature is "ugly", or if it is the fact that he is so obviously unnatural as he is made up of the combination of several different body parts. If this is clear, which I imagine it would be, to the human eye, then isn't it possible that it is more the unnaturalness of the creature that repulses people, rather than his "ugliness"? 

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