Nietzsche and Frankenstein
"It is not the slumber of reason that engenders monsters, but vigilant and insomniac rationality."
--Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (Deleuze 112)
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, we may find the expression of Friedrich Nietzsche's criticism of modern science as the triumph of reactive forces and nihilistic thought (Deleuze 2002, 44). We see something of Dionysiac frenzy in Frankenstein's youth; he tells of the inconceivable "variety of feelings which bore [him] onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success (Shelley 32)." However, as he looks back upon and evaluates his youth, Frankenstein maintains that a "human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquillity (ibid. 34)." He characterizes any pursuit leading to such insensitivity towards simple pleasures as "unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind (ibid. 34)." This submission to some "law" or "good reason" represents the capitulation of an affirmative will to ressentiment.
Having discovered "the cause of generation and life" (ibid. 31), Frankenstein proceeds to construct his monster, "urged forward" by an "almost frantic impulse" rendering his "eyes . . . insensible to the charms of nature (ibid. 33)." Such insensibility functions as a reflection of Frankenstein's alienation from nature--the reverse image of nature's "reconciliation with her prodigal son, man" that Nietzsche finds in Dionysiac rapture (Nietzsche 421). When, after nearly two years of work, Frankenstein looks upon the life he has created, his heart is filled by "breathless horror and disgust"--a remorseful cry of "No!" (ibid. 35). Seeking an escape in sleep, Frankenstein dreams of Elizabeth, but the initial comfort of her appearance disappears upon their first kiss as her lips "became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and [he] thought that [he] held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms (ibid. 34)." Here, we find not only the replacement of women and the subjugation of nature by technology, but also the final and complete subordination of active to reactive forces.
The reactive orientation of the science through which this goal was realized had already been betrayed by Frankenstein's prior assertion that "to examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death, (ibid. 30)" yet it is only with Elizabeth's transformation in Frankenstein's dream that this capitulation, previously forestalled by an "ardour . . . far exceed[ing] moderation (ibid. 35)," is completed. No longer do we see the will to power in which life and death appear as "ideal bounds, which [Frankenstein] should first break through", but rather, the negative or reactive subordination of life to death (ibid. 32). The possibility of "bestow[ing] animation upon lifeless matter"--an affirmative, if problematically egoistic prospect-- takes the reactive form of a desire to "renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption (ibid. 32)."
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.
Deleuze, Gilles. Nietzsche and Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Ed. David H. Richter. Boston: Bedford Books; 1998.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publications, 1994.
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