Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ben Fellows
Blog#2 Prompt#2- Heidegger and Frankenstein

In Martin Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology”, he refers to the four causes. He lists them off as “(1) the causa materialis, the material, the matter out of which, for example, a silver chalice is made; (2) the causa formulis, the form, the shape into which the material enters; (3) the causa finalis, the end, for example, the sacrificial rite in relation to which the required chalice is determined as to its form and matter; (4) the causa efficiens, which brings about the effect that is the finished, actual chalice, in this instance, the silversmith.”(Heidegger) These four causes could be related to almost anything that came into being for some purpose, and as such, they can be applied to Victor Frankenstein’s creation in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The causa materialis is the substance used in the crafting of a creation. This cause is of necessity as without it, that which is to be created would not be possible. In the case of Victor’s monster, the causa materialis consists of the bones and handcrafted body parts victor makes from other beings or in some cases from scratch. This method of acquiring materials seems grotesque, and that is because it is. Victor claims, “I collected bones from charnel-houses,” and that “the dissecting room and the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials.”(Shelley, 50) The fact that this accumulation of materials is dark in the first place helps to foreshadow that the creation of the monster could not have had a positive effect.

The causa formulis, or what the causa materialis physically becomes after being crafted, is of importance as this form has a specific purpose. In Frankenstein, Victor’s monster is crafted to be gigantic. His purpose, he states, is that “[a]s the minuteness of the parts formed a great hinderance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature.”(Shelley, 49) Victor clearly rushed in the formation of his monster, and as such, it came back to haunt him in the end. He had initially intended to create the being to be less that giant in stature; however, his reason as to why he had to make the monster gigantic was that average size “formed a great hinderance to [his] speed.” Therefore it would not have been impossible to create the being at a smaller scale, but he was so determined to finish as fast as possible, that he made a fatal flaw of increasing the size. This gigantic stature leads to great strength for the monster, and great fear from all human being the monster encounters. This causa formulis was not done in necessarily a dark manner, but in a hasty one. This hasty act of creation was not in the original plan for Victor, and as such, events, too, did not go as planned.

The causa finalis is what I consider to be of the greatest importance of all the causes. This cause deals with the purpose of the creation, and as such why causa materialis and causa formulis are necessary. Victor’s causa finalis for his creation appears to be of extreme selfishness and a result of his egotism. Although he does state that he believed he could one day renew life, his first order of operation was to go further than he should have, with creating a man. He states, “I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organisation; but my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man.”(Shelley, 48) Here, he is momentarily contemplating whether he should start slowly, with a lesser creature than man, but quickly shrugs it off in order to go as far as he is capable (and arguably further, considering the stature of his creation). These purposes for creating such a creature I believe go far beyond the advancement of mankind, and are much more deeply rooted in Victor’s wish to create something so profound that he would be believed to be godly, “[pouring] a torrent of light into our dark world.”(Shelley, 49) Because this cause of creation is so abject, I believe this also contributes to how terribly Victor’s fate spiraled downward.

Finally, there is the fourth cause, the causa efficiens. Victor himself is the causa efficiens in Shelley’s Frankenstein, as his knowledge and craft physically put the monster together. Heidegger refers to the causa efficiens as what is generally the definition of the word cause, “that which brings something about.”(Heidegger) This causa efficiens is perhaps the most troubling of all the causes that brought the monster into creation. Victor states that, “if the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures…, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind.”(Shelley, 51) Now, if Victor had followed this belief that he stated, perhaps he would not have gone through with the creation of the monster, or potentially would have taken much more time to perfect the being to a point that it would be safe and admirable. It is certain that Victor’s mind suffered from the toil he put into his study, and that it was indeed not befitting. Describing his work, he states that he “did not watch the blossom or the expanding leaves—sights which before always yielded me supreme delight—so deeply was I engrossed in my occupation.”(Shelly, 52) It is made clear that this work Victor employed himself with was not meant to be and that the process in which he crafted the monster was twisted in such a way that the results could never have been what the causa efficiens had been for Victor. Heidegger states, “The four causes are the ways, all belonging at once to each other, of being responsible for something else.”(Heidegger) When all four causes clearly had terrible implication in the first place, it is of no surprise what monstrosity came to being.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Undoubtedly, this is useful explication of how we can apply the four causes to Frankenstein. I have a couple things to say in response to the details of what you say, then a couple more meta things, bringing everything together.

The big detail which is on my mind involves the Causa Finalis: "Victor’s causa finalis for his creation appears to be of extreme selfishness and a result of his egotism." I'm very skeptical of this; its seems that at the heart of the cause which seems the most explanation, you practically fall down. Is selfishness a desired goal, or end point, or destination?

Surely selfishness helps explain why Victor has the goals he does - but it isn't the same as the goal or destination itself. "To master life and death"; "to create a race of subservient beings"; "to become the orderer of the world as standing-reserve" would all, to my mind, be possible things we could claim as the causa finalis. But selfishness seems problematic.

Your discussion of Victor as causa efficens was interesting: I think you were coming close to arguing that simply being the causa efficiens was devastating (maybe because of the causa finalis? Just guessing).

Those are details. On a more meta level, I have two things to say.

1) How does this help us to understand Shelley? I actually think it does - especially through your discussion of the last two causes - but I would have liked to see your actual claim clarified here.

2) Heidegger is at least ambiguously *critiquing* the concept of the four causes, by uniting them under "bringing-forth", or poiesis. That doesn't mean the four causes aren't an interesting or worthy way of approaching Frankenstein - but this is almost more an anti-Heideggarian than a Heideggarian reading of the novel. That's not necessarily bad but, again, should probably be explicit if you're going to do it that way.