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Heidegger and Frankenstein, and analysis of the role of Technology and it's functions both within the Novel and "The Question Concerning Technology"
A very complicated question has been at the core of the human condition; what are we here for, to what purpose does humanity report to? Martin Heidegger, was in many ways fascinated with this question. He was born in Messkirch, Germany and was educated in the study of philosophy. He also had formal instruction on phenomenology from his professor, and well known Phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl. In a publication entitled, Being and Time, Heidegger questions the nature of man's existence on earth. David Richter, in an anthology entitled, The Critical Tradition, states that, "Being and Time represents human beings as isolated individuals thrown helplessly into worlds not of their own making, who understand existence only through their interactions with the world they inhabit." The term "Dasein" that is coined by Heidegger in this book can be translated to mean "Being-in-the-World". And our being in the world helps creates a need for us to thirst for what he terms "Sein" or "true-being". This may be associated in some degree to romantic notion of the "sublime". However, unlike the Keatsian mode of thought that allows for an achievement of the sublime through an invocation of nature, Heidegger would posit that this higher level of being cannot be achieved by man. He was instead, concerned with the achievement of what he deems, "eigentlich" or realization of an authentic existence. This would differ in a large degree from the normal ideology of Existentialism.
In his movement from an assumption that the sublime, or some higher state of being is possible, to a removal of that state from the scope of human conception, Heidegger opens the door to a new type of thought. Under these precepts the structures of society and the functions of technology within that structure can be used as a means of exposing a more meaningful interpretation of just how man fits in to riddle of nature and existence. In an essay entitled "Holderlin and the Essence of Poetry" Heidegger makes some motions towards a more streamlined view of consciousness and language within literature. "The poetic word is only the interpretation of the "voice of the people." This is how Holderlin names the sayings in which a people remembers the totality of all that exists. But often this voice grows dumb and weary. In General even it is not capable of saying of itself what is true, but has need of those who explain it." Victor expresses his desire to find placement in the human existence in chapter III, "I had often, when at home, thought it hard to remain during my youth cooped up in one place and had longed to enter the world and take my station among other human beings. Now my desires were complied with, and it would, indeed, have been folly to repent." Victor seems to be aware of this "voice of the people" and has an intense desire to answer to it. This rhetorical structure that seems to question the "essence" of all things is one that is present in much of Heidegger's work. More specifically is this structure is utilized to reshape the definition of "Technology". This is where my concern with Heidegger and Mary Shelly takes root.
Heidegger makes a tight argument for the re-evaluation of the function of technology on the realm of man. At the opening of his essay "The question Concerning Technology" he declares that, "Technology is not equivalent to the essence of technology." To elaborate on this point, Heidegger points to "two statements" that we all associate with Technology. "Technology is a means to an end. The other says: Technology is a human activity." However, in a restructuring of these definitions and a move to the "essence of technology", Heidegger harkens back to an aristotilian or even platonic division of what he entitles "fourfold causality." This division of basic motivations that lead to, or cause the use and creation of, technology lead to another enlightening view of it. That is that, "they let what is not yet present arrive into presencing." Later he states that, "the modes of occasioning, the four causes, are at play, then, within bringing-forth."
In a similar declarative statement like the one that was introduced at the beginning of this discussion, Heidegger again attempt to redefine technology. "Technology is therefore no mere means. Technology is a way of revealing. If we give heed to this, then another whole realm for the essence of technology will open itself up to us. It is the realm of revealing, i.e., of truth." It is important to note a statement made by Professor Waldman to Victor in which his mission to unlock or "reveal" nature must have partially taken root because of the way in which he sets up the relationship between science, scientists, and the unknown. "The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera but these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows."
To some extent that is the nature of the passion that drives Victor to his
work. He is attempting to reveal the truth in the mystery of life. After listening
to Dr. Waldman's speech, Frankenstein says that, "so much has been done,
exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein--more, far more, will I achieve; treading
in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers,
and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation." This "bringing
forth" or "appearing" of knowledge is, eventually what drives
him mad. With this in mind, it would appear as though Victor is destroyed by
the power of a potential, "sein", and is then faced with the reality
of the "eigentlich". In a Heideggerian language, this realization
of Victors comes not within the chapters that are examined here but rather after
the physical creation of the monster and his subsequent realization of the societal
and natural implications of his experiment.
Richter, David H., The Critical Tradition, The Second Edition, Bedford/ St. Martins, Boston. 1998.
Shelly, Mary, Frankenstein, A Bantham Book with a forward by Diane Johnson, Bantham Books, New York. 1991.
Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology, and other essays. Harper Torchbooks, New York. 1977.
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