Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Enemy is Us!

The very word 'Frankenstein' has come to mean 'monsters of our own creation' but more generally, monsters beyond our control. 'Frankenstein' has come to symbolize the Faustian bargain made by man with his own technology. The '50's Sci-Fi classic, Forbidden Planet, echoed Shakespeare's The Tempest which, likewise, dealt with the same theme. [See: Monsters From the ID]

The world is now threatened with several forms of extinction:

  • a slow demise from the disregard with which we have treated our environment;
  • a descent into either lawlessness or fascism for our neglect of the rule of law;
  • the prospect of a quick but not painless end from nuclear annihilation.
These monsters threaten to destroy us utterly. These monsters are our own creations. These monsters are the by-products of the Faustian bargain mankind has made with the universe. These monsters are 'Frankensteins' of our creation. Or, as Pogo might have put it: 'We have seen the enemy and it is us!"

The worst crimes were dared by few, practiced by more, but tolerated by all

--Tacitus, Annals (writing of the decline of Rome)

Over the course of time, Frankenstein's monster has usurped the very name of his creator, Victor Frankenstein, the precocious student of natural philosophy from Geneva, where Mary Shelley was living with two gifted poets, her husband, Percy, and George Gordon, Lord Byron, when she conceived the strange Gothic tale. A period of bad weather in Switzerland bred a compact between Byron, Percy, and Mary, that while at the Villa Diodati, each should write the kind of story the trio were so enjoying reading.

Numerous twentieth-century films attest to the story's durability, perhaps because of what science has become in western society over the past two centuries. The subtitle, "The Modern Prometheus," suggests the mythic dimensions of the three-fold tale.

The author, incredibly not quite nineteen at the time of composition (and, moreover, a teenaged mother), draws a correspondence between young Frankenstein's hope of scientific glory prompting him to manufacture a monster and God's creating the archangel who would become the rebel Satan. God's making of man is also at issue in the epigraph that Mary Shelley takes from Milton's Christian epic of creation and original sin, Paradise Lost.

--Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" (1818)

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