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Legends of the animated body :
the case of the monster

enPublié en ligne le 19 décembre 2017

Par David PUNTER

Abstract

L'auteur examine certains fondements mythiques de la « légende » de Frankenstein. Le roman concerne la cannibalisation du corps, le caractère physique de la naissance, la crainte de la décomposition. Il opère un déplacement culturel de la notion de fête sacrificielle. Mary Shelley nous parle du monstrueux (« hideous »), mais aussi de ce qui se cache (« hidden ») dans le labyrinthe textuel. Punter distingue deux aspects essentiels du roman : la dimension narcissique, la détermination du moi à reconstruire le monde à son image et la question de la perte, illustrée par le rejet par Victor des liens familiaux, (mais aussi par la série de deuils qui l'affectent) et par l'exclusion plus fondamentale de la chaîne des êtres du monstre innommé.

1It is with the greatest trepidation that I return yet again to a text which has become genuinely monstrous, a thing of display and exhibition, demonstrable precisely because it is well-nigh submerged in a sea of critical writing, a fit inhabitant for the watery Arctic wastes which are the monster’s destiny. Those wastes are the scenario for an endlessly adjunctive process, suchas one can also not fail to see in the destiny of Mary Shelley the author, adjoined to the career and signature, the very name of her husband. I think Frankenstein is an emblematic text here, a cardinal case if you like, a « legend » in the sense of that word which means that which is « readable », but inscribed in this « case » on the body ; but before proceeding I wish to go through a short theoretical detour.

2I want to begin by raising above the horizon the question of ways beyond the critical impasse between deconstruction and materialism, or, to put it another way, of working at the aporia of the symbolic and the Real. And in this endeavour it remains surprising to find that deconstruction, with its rigorous eschewal of the author and its pseudo-analytic questioning of the authority of the father, should have continual recourse precisely to named fathers, fathers who, it would not be going too far to say, are worshipped and endlessly « deferred » to : one such, an icon around whom all the anxieties of influence congregate, is Nietzsche, shown to us by Derrida as the ultimate sceptic, as the thinker whoabove all puts into question the naïvety of our assumptions about the relationships between text and world1.

3Let us, in response to this increasingly hegemonicinterpretation, bring forward one or two statements by Nietzsche. In Beyond Good and Evil he tells us that every great philosophyis « the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary unconscious memoir »2. This is a difficult statement to square with current approaches to Nietzsche. Here we have the « author », as it were, in full flight. If the « author » is a fictive construct of text, it is hard to see in what sensewe can ascertain the nature of a « personal confession » ; if discourse unpacks itself only in relation to preceding discourses, then there would be no possibility of discussing such movements, which I would want to call crucially movements, swayings, bendings of the soul.

4Or again :

5The function of reason is to allow expression of certain passions at the expense of others. A morality is a set of principles which restricts passions ; a successful morality is one which restricts only the life-stultifying passions, which may be fatal, where they drag their victim down with the weight of their stupidity3.

6Reason and morality are, of course, relative and pragmatic matters in Nietzschean thought ; what is not relative here, and what is not amenable to an all-encompassing pragmatism, is the levelof the passions. In pursuit of this we might also turn to a more recent philosophical formulation by Jerome Kagan :

Construction of a persuasive rational basis for behaving morally has been the problem on which most moral philosophers have stubbed their toes. I believe they will continue to do so until they recognise what Chinese philosophers have known for a long time ; namely, feeling, not logic, sustains the superego.4

7We may make several interpretative moves in the context of thisformulation. First, we may rewrite the passage not only as a comment on the difficulty of finding a rational basis for moral behaviour, but also as about the difficulty of finding a rational basis for reading, for the process of legend ; for reading is, of course, a form of behaviour, undertaken by men and women, and can hardly be exempt from the difficulty Kagan identifies. Second, we may note that he names this difficulty as specifically Western : I do not know why he restricts himself to the Chinese philosophers, for the centrality of feeling, the passions, and the endless conflict between their claim and the other claimswhich occur in the course of life have been the experiential substance with which Hindu and Buddhist philosophy over a wide swathe of Asia have dealt for millennia ; but the point remains.

8Thirdly, in suggesting a different constellation for the superego he is rehearsing arguments which have taken place within psychoanalysis over, again, many long years. They find still their most appropriate expression in Sandor Ferenczi’s analyses of the reliance on rationality as a key neurosis, the source of madness insofar as it is left untreated ; and it is left untreated while arguments among rationalists and antirationalists continue to be conducted on a shared terrain5.

9What might any of this have to do with Frankenstein ? One connection is paramount, and it is that the point of the intellectual suppression of the passions is to be found psychoanalytically in one place and one place only : namely, the disavowal of the body. The work of interpretation, which is the work we are engaged upon for much of our lives, can be expressed in a simple trope : it is the conversion of matter into what matters. As such it is modelled on the dreamwork, and about these connections between dream and interpretation there is much to say, but I will leave that aside for the moment. Matter, matters, matrix : I am aware also of the manifold connections here with the womb, and thus to women’s writing, inscriptions on women’s bodies ; the point can also be made politically, in the sense that the disenfranchisement of bodies is what intellectual work in the West is coming to be about. Bodies, especially starving, suffering bodies, are too tough to deal with naked, or too naked to deal with anything but toughly : within this lacuna, this absence, we downgrade and insult the Real in the hope that it – the starving millions, the growing western underclass, the terrifying body of Africa – will go away. And Frankenstein is a text which, crucially,is about the body.

10It is about the body in many different ways ; indeed, in my opinion it is more obviously about the body than any other novelin the Western tradition, the most immediate connection beingwith myth, not the stated myth of Prometheus, in which the body ismerely an adjunctive site of pain and punishment, but the Christian myth and the suffering body of Christ on the cross. Like the Christian myth, Frankenstein is a work of torment and torture, distortion and grotesquerie, the tender passions hungon the cross of pride and reason. More precisely Frankenstein is about, firstly, the cannibalisation of the body, the work of the charnel house, and thus about the threat of decay and of what happens after decay ; there is a sense in which the novel cheers us up because it assures us that even our remains might be of usesome day, that we might all become, if you like, brain donors. For the monster is not merely « born » ; he is reborn, of course as « a thing of shreds and patches » but nevertheless as a living reincarnation, thus a living Buddha in some sense of that term, but with the crucial difference that the material of his rebirth is body-stuff, not soul-stuff : he is put together from the detritus of the organic and he thus stands for the resurrection of the body which is to come.

11Secondly, it is about the physicality of birth. We know, of course, that this is a male birth, that it is birth from a father/mother who has rigorously eschewed nature, who has cast himself adrift, like the Herculean ego descending to Hades, from all ties of family and reproduction6. Let me dwell for a moment on this question of the Herculean ego. It is clear, I think, that Frankenstein makes a symbolic descent to the underworld : it is in the realm of graves, tombs and crypts that he discovers the material for his task7. We know also that this work with crypts is also work with secrets, and insofar as it is work with secrets it is womb-work, it is delving intoprimal, birth-giving matter, into the originary matrix, an unimaginable return to a hypothesised primal scene, be that scene the stuff of recollection or construction ; but it is at the same time and inevitably a masculist attempt to bring back that which cannot be brought back. The relevant myths here are those of Orpheus ; or of Persephone, « the destroyer ».

12But here there is a problem. In this patchwork of myth there arecrossed threads, dropped stitches, aporia ; especially in theassumptions about relationships between the world of Hades and the world of the womb. The neo-Jungian thinker James Hillman tells us in The Dream and the Underworld and elsewhere that there is nothing in common between these worlds, that the deadunderworld and the fertile underground are « worlds apart ». Yet I would want to argue that in Frankenstein they are precisely crossed and slatted together ; and the same might be said for British and German Gothic fiction as a genre. This leads us to two possible hypotheses.

13The first would be that these realms are less distinct than Hillman claims. We would need to suggest that within the dead cold of Hades where all bodies seem disanimated, where all animations – or souls – are disembodied, something nevertheless stirs, there is some hint of the organic which provides the slightest flutter of saving grace from which rebirth might be possible. And this of course is true in the myths : not everybody who comes down to Hades is enveloped, there is always the exception that proves the rule, just as Yama, the Buddhist Lord of the Dead, can sometimes be prevailed upon to return the soul which he has captured in his net if only the loving survivor can persist for long enough in her or his pursuit and entreaty. We would need also to suggest that within the world of fertility and reproduction there is something deadly, something which will never « return » in all the senses of that word, something, if you like, beyond recall or reconstruction, some ineluctable but undecidable primal scene which lurks like cold steel or like the biting snake at the heart of sexuality8 ; the thing Blake saw as the invisible worm in the sick rose, and the thing which haunts our recollections of the mother, the terror and the secret which makes the body forever irreducible. Heights and depths, strainings upwards and returns downwards, these are the topographies which structure Frankenstein.

14On mythic and psychological grounds this sounds a plausible hypothesis ; indeed, put in this way it is the alternative which wouldsound implausible, for to keep these realms totally separate would be to assert that the psychopathy of the one depth and the jouissance of the other depth were somehow held in different compartments of the psyche, as though one could sink wells in different places without the ever-present threat of unknown underground contact ; whereas we in fact know that everything in the psyche – as in Frankenstein – is flow, seepage, contamination. This, perhaps, we may see as the unconscious contentof Freud’s own over-cleanly hydraulic metaphors.

15The second hypothesis would be that there is that in Mary Shelley, in the bodily, pressured shape of Mary Shelley, which causes, or becomes the specific site for, this cross-hatching, this mysterious interlocking of birth and death. And this, I think, is also the case. We may put it this way : that the dropped stitches, the crossed threads, the lines in Frankenstein which run nowhere, all this is the work of the spider, it is knitting, but it is the knitting of a beginner, it is knitting at the threshold ; and in the shape of Mary Shelley, as we peer into the gloom, we see a series of thresholds which intervene between us andthe descent of Frankenstein into the depths. The most important of these takes us back to Mary Shelley as a woman writer, and we need to remind ourselves of the importance of not falling into the trap of gender symmetry. In order for a woman to become a writer, thresholds have to be crossed ; each one has its ritual, and usually, as we know, this ritual involves naming or re-naming, woman into man as the female body dons the cloak of the « author », but the main point about crossing thresholds in the mythic or psychic realms is the more general one that in any case you are not the same person on the other side of them as you were when you approached. The liminal change, which is a subtle or blatant reordering of power structures, of dominances and submissions, of stoopings and growings into fantasised « spaces beyond » (for in one sense there is never a space « beyond » the threshold, only « within » it) involves inner and outer : and so the « writer Mary » becomes a textual person bearing the marks of a different insertion into the patriarchal order, bearing them for example in a set of readerly and critical assumptions as to what « she » does, or should, know or not know, to what « scientific » knowledge, for example, she should have access ; and in that mere set comes the whole train of the logomorph. Just so the text of Frankenstein reflects in its hesitancies, in its narrativelabyrinths, the threshold of its own historical becoming : the moment of the arrival of a new discourse : the moment of scientistic and productive utopianism, or whatever else, in the slipping and sliding terms of Foucauldian historiography, we might like to call it. But the point is, of course, that allthese thresholds are represented in the convoluted structures of confusion, form themselves precisely into the impossibility of weaving a coherent cloak for change, symbolised, to take just one example, in the substitution of alchemy for science, as this particular threshold threatens us with inner and outer changes which are too powerful, too threatening to be represented direct.

16Two hypotheses : one that claims a theoretical and analytic conflation of fertility and sterility, of reproduction and death, which the text cannot help but reinstate ; the other that sees in the shapings of the text the pressure, the negative image, as it were, of Mary Shelley, of a historically located woman in whom access and taboo are inextricably cross-hatched ; a hypothesis of psyche and a hypothesis of the body9. What we have to say is that these hypotheses are unassimilable and at the same time experientially inseparable. If we say that in the conversion into textuality these realms are always cross-hatching, we may interpret this phrase as also referring to the constant production of monsters, bodies without souls, souls withoutbodies, hybrids of animation and deanimation, « cases » indeed for the case history or cases as casings, outer clothings for the inherently contaminated, limping and indeterminable gods, birdboys and coughing ghosts, fantasy and Gothic. Thus the dream, thus the inherent and exultant unclassifiability of the soul, which is formed where psyche and body share a primal childbed, thus the importance of soul-work. Yet those cross-hatchings are themselves only incarnated, only renewed, only called into imaginal being from a differently natured realm by the specificity of circumstance ; they are precisely called, or re-called, by the passions, by the sound of voices from above whichare uttering strongly enough for some answer to be unavoidable, even though these things of the below have no wish, as we know from the unease which pervades Frankenstein, to be disturbed. Hindu myth typically reverses this process ; there we find a constant emphasis on the way excessive righteousness in the world heats up the throne of the king of the gods and he then needs to descend to the earth to discover what is going on : once here he may engage in a variety of actions, from rewarding the saint for hisascetic endeavours to punishing him out of jealousy that the saint himself might come to compete for the throne of the gods.

17What I am talking about here is the other way around : the way in which excessive suffering – is this suffering Mary Shelley’s or the young Frankenstein’s, or is it the suffering of identification, where the coat of the textual character irritates the withheld body of the female writer ? – in the wide, « passionate » sense which might simply be reducible to the term « excessive experience » might call out downwards and prompt an answering, and answerable, movement in the realms below. This, I think, is one view of the narrative of Frankenstein, not the narrative within the text but the narrative of conversion intoauthorship within which the text occurs.

18Let us return to more immediate questions. What does seem clear is that in whatever underworld it is he goes to Frankenstein behaves with true Herculean force : in other words he behaves, as do so many men roaming about in women’s world, « cruising the ocean woman », as Byron so ingloriously puts it, like an oaf, a lout10. He has no sense of natural rhythm, no sense of the organic : he instead settles for a panicky climax, a mechanicalputting together of bits and pieces. He goes down, we might say, to the all-important depths with his mind clouded : it is clouded precisely by the notion of a simply conceived linear task, for he is venturing into realms where such linearity is irrelevant and obscuring. He goes to Hades with it in mind, like Hercules, to perform a « labour ».

19But in the world of Hades there is no labour, and there is no lurching about in search of a goal. The world of Hades, although it is not women’s world, the world neither of Gaia nor of Hecate, and also despite its subsequent demonisation by Christianity, is nevertheless a world of subtlety. Hades, we need to recall, is the god not only of death but also of riches and wisdom : we are told in the myths that once we have heard the least hint of Hades’ wisdom we will no longer yearn for anything else. Hercules, of course, would have none of this, but contentedhimself with a quick in and out, and with killing a dog while he was at it. So much for the male version of sexuality11.

20And this is where, to my mind, the deconstructionist crux looms once again. As we try to make these interpretations, is it, after all, of no consequence that we are here looking at a text written by a woman? Is it not precisely because of this fact that theHerculean ego can stand exposed in such nakedness, can be subjected to such implicit ridicule ; or are we incapable of sensing the irony in the equation of Frankenstein to the modern Prometheus ? It seems to me that in Frankenstein we need, as it were, to read through the text to see the shape of the motivating passion behind it ; this is, of course, a metaphorical procedure, but so are all critical strategies. Scepticism is itself a metaphor, as Nietzsche knew well.

21When I talk of passion, I need again to stress that the passions are crucially dealings with the body : when we think of lust, envy, greed, hate, we are immediately on the terrain of the body, with its inherent confusions about what is remembered and what is forgotten, and this is where we find ourselves as we follow the interactions between Frankenstein and the monster. In the exclusion from this dialectic of the female body we run the risk also of the exclusion of passion, so we must read parts of the textnegatively : the discussions between the creator and the created, fraught as they are with rage, are nonetheless curiously disembodied, as, of course, are all such intra-male arguments, while in the background the real action is going on – between bodies which are speaking quite sa different language, acting on quite another scene, which is what makes Frankenstein a text so amenable to treatment in terms of the expressionist cinema, whichis after all a theatre of bodies.

22So Frankenstein is a text about cannibalisation, and also about birth. It is therefore about birth through death ; and I would say that it is thus a text which enacts a cultural displacement of the sacrificial feast. But what it lacks in this sense – or rather, the lack which it represents – is a clear manifestation of accepted, or of acceptable, hierarchy. One central aspect of the myths and rituals we would normally describe under the heading of the sacrificial feast is that they take place in the presence of, and under the Aegis of, a clearly defined priesthood. Anything else is blasphemy and travesty ; indeed, the sacrificial feast itself is also blasphemy and travesty, but it is precisely sacralised by its acceptance into a religion, a culture, and it is the difference between this feast and thebloodshed and carnage it replaces which marks « civilisation », it is the transformation of blood into wine, or of the brute and savage stuff of inter-tribal warfare into a sacred repetition of, for example, the seasons – the harvests and wine-presses of Blake are a cardinal exploration of this liminal mythic and psychic territory12.

23Frankenstein the scientist is not sacred ; his secularity, which might be better renamed profanity, is emphasised by his desperateattempt to gather the ragged sacerdotalism of alchemy around him, just as, at another level, the nakedness of the emperor/patriarch seems to be evident to Mary Shelley, at some level at least, despite the attempt to clothe the disavowal and torture of the body in the raiment of intellectual argument and respectability and here lies one major reason for the text’s incoherence. We continue to wonder how it is that the « myth », as we like, for no doubt our own reasons and because of the inferiority complex of this « civilisation », to call it, of Frankenstein lives on, and this is surely one root of its longevity : that it enacts a drama on a stage on which rituals might be supposed to happen, but without real sanction ; it is a tragic drama without stagedirection, and thus poses us a continual problem. It signifies a point of instability, perhaps one of Lacan’s points de capiton ; we could say that it implicitly and symbolically queries the point at which murder becomes legalised as warfare or cannibalism by the belief in the greater good, the point at which this greater good – of the state, or of the species – overrules more simple ordinances of respect and duty, or that endlesslycontestable point at which passion becomes obsession.

24But its differance, the differance of Frankenstein, is that it does not represent this set of doubts, this overbalancing of dominance, through the apparatus of masculist argument ; it cannot do it through the work of the wakened consciousness, which is in any case always inferior to that work which proceeds without the intervention of the will. It does it through the body and thus it has to do with the dreamwork, with the inexorable, pointless,bizarre procedure – procedure which we fruitlessly try to recuperate through a distinction between different « logics »which the body espouses (and the impossibility of « espousal » is a further subtext which we cannot take the space to trace here). What further complicates the situation is that patriarchy sufficiently invades Mary Shelley’s image system to make it necessary for the monster to become articulate, and it is here,of course, that many of the contradictions really focus. Does the articulacy of the monster signify a coming to consciousness of the primordial matricial body, or does it signify an imperialist take-over by language of a state of bodily innocence ?

25The answer can only be that the two are inseparable, and this inseparability is itself not fully to be distinguished from the inseparability of universal and temporal « cross-hatching » I spoke of above ; and this is a revelation to which the text of Frankenstein, in all its many reincarnations, can uniquely bring us – and of course the brute material fact of the many incarnations of Frankenstein, its endless making over into the social substance of different epochs, its amenability to changes of mood, tone, temper, is crucial to our attempt to apprehend the text, whether we are concerned with its phenomenology or with its never dismissable relation to an historic or mythic noumenon. It must also be appreciated that this revelation,which is an image for the inherent ambivalence of the gift of articulacy, is implicitly a rebuttal of one of deconstruction’s main cornerstones, its appropriation of Lacanian analysis, for one of the main distinguishing features of such analysis is its unequivocality in « naming » the name-of-the-father as the « name »of the gift and the oppression ; in this univocality it betrays precisely, as does all univocality, the fear which motivates it. For with Lacan we see again the formation we have seen in previous generations of analysis.

26It is my belief that this Lacanian (and Bloomian) efflorescence of concern with the patriarchal lineage is a deflection, and one which, I think, Mary Shelley well understood, provided one can accept that the unconscious has its own understandings – and after all it is only the unconscious which understands. An aside, a sub-narrative, an anecdote, if you like13. The psychoanalyst Otto Rank broke with Freudian orthodoxy over a question of interpretation of the Don Juan legend. If you « recall » the original substance of the Don Juan legend, you will remember that the force of retribution is the Commendatore, whose daughter Juan has seduced and who reappears as a stone statue to beckon, or drag, Juan down to the underworld. Rank’s analysis of this legend calls attention to the mismatch between the implications of Juan’s actual behaviour, which is clearly born of a desire to revenge himself on women – to avenge, in other words, his birth and the masculised figure of the Commendatore14. Rank’s understanding of Freud’s version of the phallic was that this power of the male interdict, the formation of the superego through reason, was by Freud taken literally, through the construct of penis-envy ; whereas for Rank it was clearly a disavowal, and the stone statue, the figure of inexorability which defeated time and preceded and succeeded the « dramatic » action of life, was a displaced representation of the female, specifically of the mother ; which is also to name it as an exiled, refugee version of the passions and to put the primacy of castration through a further twist15.

27To return from Rank to Lacan, just so we might say that the name-of-the-father is open to further interpretation, and Frankenstein is especially emblematic in this sense because behind the narrative position we know that there is a hidden female. The hiddenness is itself important, because it figures as both the Heraclitean hiddenness of nature, physiskryptesthai philei16, precisely that hiddenness which Frankenstein invades and brings to light when light is not its element, and the hiddenness of the woman behind the facade of masculist strife. One or two people here might understand a reference to Christine Berthin’s work on Frankenstein if I say that the text only appears to be about the « hideous » whereas it is really about the « hidden », which is so much simpler and so much more impossible. So we return to the question of the author from a different perspective : not armed with the super-oracular question of where the author is in the text, nor of where we can situate the text in the context of the vanishing of the author, but with the decrypting message which addresses the question of where the author might be hidden, where she or he might be waiting to spring out and play her androgynous hermetic tricks. We are here in the presence of the maze, the labyrinth, with the monster, the Minotaur, at its heart ; the masculist myth will hold to the Ariadne version, to the notion of the compliant female who will save the Herculean hero from the consequences of his folly, but there are surely other versions, in which the Minotaur is itself the woman, waiting patiently at the end of all things, beyond the thread, consorting with violence and slow time while the hero is trying still to fumble his way along the linear narrative which is, from beginning to end, a lie and a disavowal, merely the story repeated to Walton who is, in any case, a lost solitary engaged on the exploration of other worlds still further removed from the human, from the passions which provide the deeper level to which all scepticism about narrative must still remain responsive ; or be silenced.

28But the question remains of what passion Frankenstein itself incarnates. If, as I have tried to suggest, the connection with passion underlies and underscores the restrictions of textually based scepticism, then how can we further structure the dealings with passion which constitute, on this view, the primary process of the text ? We need to recall that the word « passion » comes from the same common Greek root as « pathology », and so in approaching the passions one is simultaneously approaching a pathology. The crucial difference is one of emphasis : where pathology emphasises precisely the logos, seeks truth through mechanism and reason, passion stands for an approach through the organic. The pathology of the text, as I have tried to outline it through the myth of Hercules and Hades, is about narcissism, about the ego’s determination to reconstruct the world in its own image, to convert the unamenable into the intelligible ; but the passion, I think, lies one layer deeper than that, in that from which narcissism springs : the sense of loss. This loss structures Frankenstein on many levels. It is loss of a sense of home, family, community, imaged in the scientist’s rejection of domestic ties, in the monster’s transcendental homelessness. It is loss of name, which is the clue to the monster’s namelessness but is also redolent of the experience of women down the centuries. Behind all this, I think, lies loss of the inner world : in the part of the textual psyche represented by Frankenstein himself the imagination has been drained outward, fantasy made real ; which is, paradoxically, to kill off the inner life. In that part of the textual psyche represented by the monster there are clear signs of this imagination coming to life again ; but the rage of the ego cannot allow this happen, and thus the internal duel to the death which the text becomes.

29In psychic terms we are confronting the loss of the body, the making over of the body into the control and power of another ; again we are looking here at women’s experience. This sense of loss, I think, goes beyond scepticism but it may be true that scepticism and its contemporary forms are a further series of strategies to accommodate and countermand loss. At all events Frankenstein, I believe, contains and hides that which resists reduction to the free play of discourse : bulkier things than words loom out of the shadows. Which brings me back full circle, to Mary Shelley and her husband, to a life lived in the shadow of another, which is another way of referring to loss of self, a real-life constellation without consideration of which criticism is doomed to a collusive circularity in which words speak only to words and we repeat Frankenstein’s own mistake, which is to suppose that he can create something external when he has destroyed, ignored, disavowed the greater reality inside him, a reality which Mary Shelley, with a prescience which we can truly classify as « uncanny », knew to be under threat and pressure of loss in herself, and which she was able to, or perhaps we should say forced to, articulate and incarnate in a speaking image which still haunts us today, which we seem endlessly to need to recall ; and which perhaps also, from some other place where the products of the cross-hatching breed and merge, is always recalling us.

30What we are now talking about is a legend which is in a sense unreadable and nameless. Or, perhaps better, unnameable : as the body is itself unnameable, as its naming dissolves in the charnel house and what is born from it is beyond the realm of names and bears the mark of the nameless goddess, the great mother, who presides in so many myths over the activities of her lesser, named and differentiated underlings. What is crucial is that the not naming is also to do with the not giving birth : with the character who is never allowed to appear in the novel, and yet who might, were there time enough and space, provide the key to these mysteries : the unborn bride of the monster, the solution to all taboos, the incarnation of incest anxiety, the resolution to the text which is – at least in this text itself if not in some of the later films – always postponed, always delayed ; woman as the gift which cannot be given, that which is withheld by the father to keep the son in a state of perpetual submission. But to see woman as gift is once again, of course, to enter into the hall of mirrors, for it is, after all, she who gives, who makes a life of shreds and patches into an organic whole, a whole which seems to me to persist in the imaginary long past the intricate severances and dealings of deconstruction. The « monster », we need to remind ourselves again, is etymologically « that which is shown » ; the feminine quality of writing is « that which is hidden » ; perhaps in that dialectic lies the route towards a further dealing with myth and the psyche, with the mutual pressure of body and mind which gives rise to soul ; or which is endlessly prevented, in the textual labyrinth of which Frankenstein is one cardinal example, from doing so.

Notes

1  See, e.g., Ch. Norris, Deconstruction : Theory ans Practice, London and New York, 1982, p. 56-73.

2  Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil : Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, trans. R.J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth, Middx., 1973, p. 19.

3  See R. C. Solomon, The Passions, New York, 1976, p. 126.

4  J. Kagan, The Nature of Child, New York, 1984, p. xiv.

5  See S. Ferenczi, Final Contributions to the Problems ans Methods of Psychoanayisis, ed. M. Balint, London, 1955, p. 246.

6  This is the basis of one of my previous discussions of Frankenstein, in The Literature of the Terror : A History of Gothic Fiction from 1765 to the Présent Day, London, 1980, p. 121-127.

7  See for thèse references see J. Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld, New York, 1979, esp. p. 23-687 ; N. Abraham and M. Torok, Cryptonomie : le Verbier de l’homme aux loups, Paris, 1976.

8  See N. Lukacher, Primal Scenes : Literature Philosophy, Pschoanalysis, New York, 1986, esp. p. 136-167.

9  My argument hère has some similarities with that of Elisabeth Bronfen in Over her Dead Body : Death, Feminity and the Aesthetic, Manchester, 1992, see in particular p. 110-139.

10  Byron, Don Juan, Canto XIII, 40 : 2, Byron, ed. J.J. McGann, Oxford and New York, 1986, p. 775.

11  An interesting sidelight is throuwn on the processes by the « voice of barbarian » in Iain Banks, The Bridge, London, 1986.

12  Blake, e.g., Vala or The Four Zoas, Night the Ninth, 11. 692-794, and Milton, 27, 1-41, Complete Writings, ed. G. Keynes, London, 1966, p. 375-378, 513-514.

13  The references here are to Otto Rank, The Don Juan Legend, trans. D.G. Winter, Princeton, N.J., 1975.

14  Rank, e.g., p. 95.

15  On thèse matters see my « Don Juan, or, The Deferral of Decapitation : Some Psychological Approaches », Theory in Practice : Byron’s Don Juan, ed. N. Wood, Buckingham, 1993, p. 122-153.

16  H. Diels and W. Krantz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, Berlin, 1952, 22 B, p. 123.

Pour citer cet article

David PUNTER (2017). "Legends of the animated body :
the case of the monster". Cahiers Forell - Formes et Représentations en Linguistique et Littérature - Archives (1993-2001) | Autour de Frankenstein – Lectures critiques.

[En ligne] Publié en ligne le 19 décembre 2017.

URL : http://09.edel.univ-poitiers.fr/lescahiersforell/index.php?id=513

Consulté le 24/08/2019.

A propos des auteurs


Autour de Frankenstein – Lectures critiques - n°12

Depuis sa publication en 1818, Frankensteinn’a cessé de fasciner des générations de lecteurs et l’œuvre a donné naissance à un véritable mythe littéraire, prolongé au cinéma par d’innombrables adaptations, dont les deux chefs-d’œuvre de James Whale. Longtemps négligé par la critique,le roman de Mary Shelleysuscite depuis quelques années un tel intérêt, aux USA en particulier, qu’il est presque devenu un enjeu théorique et esthétique à propos duquel s’affrontent divers discours issus, en particulier, de la psychanalyse et de la critique féministe. Les raisons de cette fascination sont multiples. Le roman s’ancre dans diverses traditions philosophiques et esthétiques et bénéficie d’un héritage littéraire exceptionnel, celui de la littérature gothique et romantique. Il opère une relecture de mythes fondateurs, pose la question centrale de l’origine en relation avec le contexte scientifique de son époque. Il réinvente le couple savant démiurge/créature qui ne va cesser de se reconstituer dans les textes et les films. Il propose enfin une approche novatrice du monstre, à la fois figure d’altérité et sujet du discours. Les textes recueillis ici émanent de chercheurs européens qui s’efforcent, après bien d’autres, de prendre en compte les différentes facettes de l’œuvre, d’analyser sa structure, ses conventions narratives, d’explorer ses paysages, sa relation au mythe, à la littérature et à la science, son « discours du corps ». Ce volume propose également de nouvelles lectures et constitue un bilan critique provisoire, prélude à d’autres exégèses.

Illustration : (crédits : Philippe de Jozelon).



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