“To that which without gendered difference would only be a neutral experience of the space-time of perceptions and thoughts, an experience in which this feeling of incompleteness would be lacking as unhappiness, but only an experience producing a simple and pure cognitive aesthetic, to this neutrality gendered difference adds the suffering of abandonment because it brings to neutrality what no field of vision of thought can include, mainly a demand” (Lyotard 21).
“You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being” (Shelley 147).
In “Can Thought go on without a Body?” Lyotard evaluates different traits that machines will need to have in order to continue thought after the demise of humans, one of which is awareness of gender differences. He argues that without recognition of the gender it lacks, a machine will not be able to have true thought. In Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s life is destroyed due to the revenge that his monster seeks on him when he refuses to accept his wish. Frankenstein consistently regrets the moment that he gave him life, but was this really where he went wrong? If read in the context of Lyotard, his true mistake was not giving him life, but rather, giving him gender.
When Frankenstein’s monster enters the world, he is met with nothing but hatred from humans, especially his creator. He is truly distraught by this, which we see especially well as he watches the DeLacey family. He is literally outside and looking in, wanting only to be included and accepted into their family and life - he tells Frankenstein, “to see their sweet looks directed towards me with affection was the utmost limit of my ambition” (Shelley 134). He is not granted this wish, and so he continues on to find his maker and demand a female companion. The common thread here is that the monster is looking for something that is missing – someone to share the world with. He wants to be accepted by someone, or something. He says that he needs someone with whom he can “exchange the sympathies necessary for my being”, tying the suffering in his life to his existence in general.
Lyotard, too, writes of the bond between suffering and existence – “Thinking and suffering overlap” (18). He argues that if everything was perfectly fine and nothing was lacking then there would be no reason for thinking. Gender, then, gives us this feeling of lacking something - we lack the other gender, and this brings about desire. The monster desires to be accepted. He desires a female companion. According to Lyotard, the monster owes this feeling to gender difference. Lyotard makes the differentiation between how something without gender would interpret a lack of something and how something with gender would – an “experience producing a simple and pure cognitive aesthetic” versus a “suffering of abandonment” (Lyotard 21). Were the monster to not have gender, then, he would not feel this abandonment by Frankenstein and humans as he does. As these feelings are what lead him to his request for a mate and ultimately the revenge that he seeks on Frankenstein, the reason for them is really the cause of Frankenstein’s demise.
Frankenstein is not bothered by the monster’s mere existence – he originally dreams of a world in which a new species practically worships him as its god. Were the monster able to be a mere “machine” that Frankenstein could control he would have no problem with it – he is only brought to his tragic end by the monster’s retribution, which is caused by his thought and suffering. When reading Frankenstein, it’s easy to wonder why such a superior being would care about having a companion. Lyotard’s analysis of gender shows us how this can be. The monster does not see the world as an “experience producing a simple and pure cognitive aesthetic”. He has gender, and therefore faces “suffering without abandonment” (Lyotard 21). Frankenstein didn’t make a mistake when he created the monster – he made a mistake by allowing him to feel this lack.