Nick Ivins

Derrida and Frankenstein

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein incorporates elements of science, religion, and the fear of both. Dr. Victor Frankenstein is the obsessive and self-centered creator of a monster centered in others. As the creature has a progenitor but no actual parentage he is more evident as a concept than a person and will be treated as such. As this story is positioned on the eve of empirical "actual" science's transformation from pseudo-science and superstition, the creature will encompass both forms of science in their mutual opposition to Nature. In Frankenstein, alchemy, galvanism, and a crude from of empirical observation and experimentation represent Science (capitalized [in both senses of the word]) and Science's object to "penetrate into the recesses of nature . . . ascend into the heavens"(Frankenstein 33). The rapacious hunger of "Science" ravages a gendered Nature and usurps the power of God (or Creation; used interchangeably here) by "command[ing] the thunders of heaven"(ibid.). Shelley opposes Science (embodied by the Creature) to Nature and to God/Creation. However, Shelley separates Man, Science, Nature, and God in Frankenstein. Man creates Science to control God's Nature in an important paradox of implication. The first implication is that Science is somehow not "of" Nature as control is exerted by a force/object anterior to the object controlled or manipulated. Derrida's interpretation of Rousseau's "dangerous supplement"(Of Grammatology 149) is at work especially within the frames of creation (as the Creature and as Man's creation of Science). Man has created an imperfect being reinforcing God's design referentially through its absence; he does this with a system at once imperfect and supplementary. Man has somehow usurped God's control of Nature (however ineptly), which raises an important group of questions: Can God be usurped? Is God present in Frankenstein? Is Dr. Frankenstein in fact usurping God? One interpretation: God creates Nature and within Nature is Science. Science cannot be exterior to Nature and cannot exert control. Dr. Frankenstein is a natural aberration and is dealt with by Nature. Second interpretation: God somehow opposes Nature by creating Science and Nature corrects God. Third Interpretation: Man opposes Nature and God and creates Science. Mary Shelley has created a variety of opposing circumstances perhaps "rooted" in the 19th century "scientific" tradition. God and Science are also alike in almost every representation in their mutual opposition to Nature. God allows Science to arise and Science opposes nature by the "fault" of its own existence (not unlike the Creature). In an interesting oblique reference, this feminized Nature "repels" (literally and figuratively) Man and "absorbs" his scientific creation.


Works Cited:

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. John Hopkins University Press, 1976.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Bantam Classic Edition, 1981.

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