Tag Archives: REVOLUTION

VIVA LA CREATURE

26 May

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An argument against feminist criticism in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

               Frankenstein is a novel of parallels and although Professor Mellor makes a convincing argument that the novel is an allusion to the repression of female sexuality and the negation and usurpation of nature, it is the anthropomorphism of nature as female that weakens her argument. One could with equal authority claim that it was God in his heaven who was the creator of all and that nature is simply and extension of himself if one chose to sexualize creation. It’s true that throughout classical literature, nature has consistently been characterized as female; obvious given the parallels between the mysteries of child birth and the seasonal earth processes attributed to Mother Nature: it’s Mother Earth after all who is credited with the bounty of the harvest and the caprice of the seasons.  One only has to consider the abduction of Persephone to understand the relationship between natural processes and the female. Given her authority in the field of feminine criticism and her declared position as a feminist it’s forgivable that she underwrites her own argument with cherry-picked inferences and lobbies the importance of what was almost certainly the emergence of a proto-feminist voice and the hypothesis that “Frankenstein” is representative of female equality and suffrage. By her own admission and the evidences of further reading, it was Mary’s mother –Wollstonecraft – who was the feminist and not she herself. Consequently, parallels between Shelly’s life and the novel are much easier to accept than imputations to gender rhetoric. Evidently there were larger social issues at hand – during the period that Frankenstein was written – than just the awakening of female equality.

                The novel was written in 1816; the year after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. For the entirety of Mary’s life England had been at war with France and consequently the subject of revolution and the divine right of kings would never have been far from public discourse. Rather than the emancipation of women as the burgeoning topic of the day it would have been the emancipation of the proletariat as evidenced by the Slave Trade acts of 1807 and the French Revolution of 1789. To give the professor credit she does touch on this at the end of the lecture, comparing Napoleon to Prometheus which I believe is the true nature of the novel. Personal inference of the author’s own life experience within the novel aside, the creation of the creature and the application of a Marxist theory reveal the clash of political ideology and the turmoil in which Europe found itself during and after the revolution. If one where to characterize the Revolution as “the creature” then the creation of both can be seen as world changing events. Frankenstein is a novel of public awakening and social realization; the creation of a “brave new world” by the common man contrary to the hegemony of the old world order. The creature personifies both the aspirations and fears of revolutionary change

               From the very beginning Frankenstein is enamored with the ancient order and determined to follow the path of alchemy. It isn’t until he goes to the university to receive enlightenment that he’s confronted with a new way of thinking and comes to understand that there is an alternative approach to the scientific model. By utilizing both theoretical and practical methodology he quickly surpasses his peers and arrives at the idea of creating life itself. An aberration perhaps of the nature of man but an exciting prospect that something else is achievable; that the old ways don’t necessarily have to be adhered to following the axiom that age is no guarantee of wisdom. Coming from a wealthy, ranking family as he does, his perspective is bourgeois and therefore his creation is more of a challenge than it is a correction to accepted nature. Frankenstein symbolizes those ancient European hierarchies who – rather like the gods – toy with their subjects knowing that no matter the outcome of their social experiments and repressive politics they can always revert to the old customs; or, as in Shelley’s book, simply kill the creature. What is not understood by those institutions, portrayed by the character of Frankenstein, is that given the tools of life the creature, or the proletariat, comes to realize that “they” too are relative beings and, just as the feminists proclaim their own equality, so they proclaim the “Rights of Man.”

               It’s interesting that just as we read in chapter one the view point of Frankenstein and the bourgeoisie we are allowed to hear the common voice of the “prols” via the creature in chapter two. Having been endowed with the spark of life – or societal recognition depending how one wishes to view Shelley’s analogy – the creature wishes nothing more than to emulate those who created him. Similarly the books read by the creature to educate himself describe both the fall of man – Milton – and failed empires –Plutarch – and that this literature is pertinent to recent historical events and isn’t coincidental. Milton’s “Paradise Lost” was famously used for rhetorical purposes to support and decry both states of being both pre and post revolution. Having been given life the creature wants nothing more to share in the most basic of human values. He doesn’t seek wealth or prestige, despite the fact that given his physical attributes he could probably achieve both, but instead craves the most basic of human traits, that of inclusion. Therefore, the creature doesn’t threaten the status quo but simply asks to be recognized by it.

               In later chapters we see the entire Histrionic of the French Revolution from the Terror – the stalking of Frankenstein’s family – to the ultimate failure and the death of revolution – the killing of the second creature and ultimate suicide of the first – and the return to accepted normality. Just as the creature was a well-intentioned experiment that got out of hand, so too the Revolution came to personify the worst rather than the best in humanity. With direct allusion to social indifference and the inequality of 19th century society, Shelley has penned a political novel that – although shrouded in Gothic tropes – attempts to trace the rise and fall of revolutionary France and in doing so recognized the necessity for change whilst advising caution.

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SORRY SEEMS TO BE THE HARDEST WORD…

3 Feb

 

One can only imagine the depravity of conscription in a land such as Egypt; twelve to thirty six months dependent upon social standing and familial circumstance, followed by up to nine years of reserve status. Years of servitude at the behest of a corrupt regime. Military service regulated by a despotic government with no regard for individual politics or social leaning, the young men of Egypt complying in order to go forward with the rest of their lives. The situation is thus – no military service, no school – refuse to comply and you may never receive a ministry of defense regulated travel visa. Without national service the only expectation of the conscript dodger is to be ostracized from every job and every opportunity available. It is easier to go than to stay. The shame upon the family is unbearable, the disdain of the neighborhood unlivable. Therefore when Mustapha’s number came up there was only one thing he could do.

His father drove him to the depot, his younger siblings in the back of the dilapidated truck, his mother at home crying into her neighbor’s shoulder. Climbing out of the cab, his father waves goodbye and drives away leaving Mustapha to join the line of conscripts waiting outside the bolted gates of their soon-to-be new home. Six o’clock sharp the gates swing open and they’re ushered in by screaming sergeants and an expectant military regime.

As the old song goes, “There are hundreds who want to be soldiers, but there are millions who want to be civilians!”

I’m driving on the I-10 with the heat turned up because I’m freezing my arse off in subzero Arizona. Billy Bragg is warbling through the speakers and I break into yet another American Idle-esque rendition. A song about breaking through the barricades, usurping the corporate bosses, exercising personal freedoms. One tune is quickly followed by the next and now Blake is bursting my eardrums as I wend my way through the dark satanic mills of Corporate America. I depress the pedal and increase the speed of my chariot of fire, preparing to swing my sleepless sword and let fly my arrows from my bow of burnished gold. Just as I reach the ear-splitting windscreen-cracking crescendo, the car in front of me starts to pull out….

Dragged from proletariat reverie, away from my love for my fellow man, I divest myself of socialistic utopian ideals and lay my hand on the horn like a bastard. A continuous blast, which wakes the dead, and scares the shit out of the errant lane changer in front of me. I zoom past preparing to unsheathe my two fingered salute, only to discover, to my not-utter-amazement, she’s using her phone. Doing what everybody does who claims to be a multitasking genius – several things badly at the same time! The perpetration of simultaneous gross inefficiency.

Blood boils and steam comes out of my ears. In an instant she flashes me a smile and waves her apology. This helps to abate my instinct to murder, maim, kill. Instead of giving her The Archer I accept her apology and motor on. Within seconds the incident is forgotten and I go back to the picket lines of my mind, happy with the resolution and my return to comradely affections; content with the excuses bidden me by a stranger, who may have been on the phone for any number of reasons. Perhaps it wasn’t random chit-chat, perhaps there was a death in the family, perhaps her daughter has gone missing from school. Perhaps, perhaps…

Basic training was barbaric but after completing his sixteen weeks young Mustapha is posted to a tank regiment. Coming from a long line of Bedouin Arabs his short stature makes him ideal for the cramped conditions of a made in the former U.S.S.R. tank. Unable to read or write, the controls of the vehicle are beyond him; however his position in the crew as gunner suits him just fine. Using his strength to heft the shells and his keen eyesight to operate the machine gun, he quickly graduates from tank school and moves on to join his tank regiment in downtown Cairo. Domestic defense as it is called; tanks in the center of the city in case of public unrest, or god forbid insurgency from antigovernment forces. No fear of invasion as the old enemy Israel is on speaking terms, so there’s no danger of canned death in the Sinai.

Dark o’clock this morning now seems a long time ago, when the corporal walked into the barrack rooms, kicked them out of bed and ordered them into their vehicles. No coffee, no nothing – straight out into the streets. They had gunned their engines and in thick plumes of diesel wended their way to Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo where even now they stood assembled facing the angry mob in front of them. Despite the darkness of the hour and the plumes of CS gas wafting through the streets, he could make out the banners and the flags of the irate populous through the gunner’s slot. He felt a familiar kick in his shoulder and acted accordingly. The thump was an intentional order from the tank commander- lock and load. Knowing only obeisance Mustapha reaches forward, pulls back the bolt, lays himself across his weapon and puts his finger alongside the trigger guard.

I walk past my boy’s bedroom and once again there’s a pile of dirty underwear and socks. I’ve only told him fifty million times that his dirty undies won’t make it to the wash machine by themselves. We’ve had the whole discussion about teenage boys being horrible, sweaty individuals – that he needs to pick up his crap otherwise he’ll stink up the whole house. Simple case of doing what you’re told, when you’re told so that we can continue to live in domestic harmony. I don’t hang my skids from the lamp shade nor do I stuff my socks in between the coffee cups! Likewise I expect him to do the same.

Enough is enough and I ban him from Life. No play station, computer, phone friends, going out ….. Nothing except staying in his room and reading… which I know he loves so much. He stands in front of me with head bowed, that look of you’re a complete bastard in his eyes; but he can’t say it because he’s a kid, and I’m in charge.

I know it, he knows it!

Once again he suffers the wrath of the despotic ruler that just happens to share the same house. I am determined this time that he’ll learn his lesson. I’m sick of picking up his shit. He looks at me with his big eyes, tells me how sorry he is, that it’ll never happen again – at least until the next time. I refuse to break, and although accepting his apology, I remain fast in my decision; I am determined that he will see his punishment through.

How else is the boy supposed to learn? It isn’t like the gulag system didn’t imbue the right sort of work ethic on its inmates. The door opens the next afternoon, he comes in from school, and after twenty four hours of reconsideration I relent. Once again an apology does the trick and I am prepared to forgive and forget – but the next time it happens! I draw my finger across my throat. He smiles, dumps his school bag, and goes back about his life as though nothing happened.

Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo is starting to fill up. There are uniforms of every kind; local police, militia and army standing side by side. On the other side of the wire, women, children, youths and old men confront the forces of the Mubarak’s regime. It’s not like they are demanding pallets of gold bullion, all they want is regime change. After thirty years of the same Western-supported puppet they’ve had enough. They want better conditions, better services, functional schools and hospitals where people go to get better instead of to die. Seems reasonable enough, however it’s totally out of the question. The crowd starts to surge, dragging the barriers out of place, making their way through the razor wire.

Mustapha can hear the stones bouncing of the steel hull of the tank, watches nervously as the troops in front run for cover behind the armored vehicles. The crowd comes closer; he can see then now, not just a mob but a bunch of individuals, boys around his own age who, if it weren’t for an education or extenuating circumstance, would be sitting in his position.

The kick to the shoulder comes quickly and he responds immediately. He has been taught well, instructed by some grizzled old vet from the Egypt-Israeli wars complete with battle scars and healed bullet wounds.

Depress release, depress release.

Three-second bursts while remembering to articulate the weapon in a thirty degree radius thereby laying down an effective field of fire and achieving an impenetrable killing zone. He feels the cold steel of the trigger on his finger, feels the weapon buck against the shoulder, sees nothing but flame and smoke as the machine gun spits death and destruction into a point-blank crowd. Brass shells clatter to the floor of the vehicle; he can smell the cordite from the expended rounds. The aperture in front of him is completely shrouded in smoke – once again he feels the kick to his shoulder and stops firing.

….Last night in central Cairo, twelve anti-regime subversives were killed by concentrated small arms fire around the area of Tahrir Square. The victims are believed to be anti-government demonstrators, confronted by pro regime forces. Given the close proximity of armed forces to civilians, it was only a matter of time before casualties occurred….

…President Mubarak has offered his apologies and prayers for both the victims, and the victims’ families…

Somehow I don’t think that’s an apology I can accept.