Saturday, March 24, 2012

Heidegger and Frankenstein (Second Revision)

Note: I cut around 5 pages or so worth of material and added in 2, so this is 3 pages shorter than my first revision. I hope the conciseness is appreciated.

In Frankenstein, there is a passage in which the monster questions the reason for his existence. He asks “My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination?”(Shelley, 143). According to arguments present in Martin Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology, these questions can be answered through the “four causes: the causa materialis, the material…the causa formulis, the shape, the form of which the material enters…the causa finalis, the end…the causa efficiens, which brings about the effect that is the finished”(Heidegger, 3). All of the monster’s questions about his identity can be analyzed using the second of these causes, which, in turn, provides information on his relationship with Victor Frankenstein, poiesis, and mankind’s current state of being.

However in order to address mankind’s modern state, we must first establish that Frankenstein’s monster is, in fact human. Under Heidegger’s definitions, he cannot be a simple piece of technology, as modern technology “puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such”(Heidegger, 8) and the monster is not a physical reserve for energy like an oil well or a coal mine. However by Heidegger’s summation of mankind’s relationship with technology, he is human. According to Heidegger, humankind’s relationship with nature is to reveal its hidden purposes in order to exploit it for whatever it may provide, which is exactly how the monster spends the beginning of his life. He mentions how he “…found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth [he] experienced from it” and shortly afterwards, how “…the fire gave light as well as heat; and that the discovery of this element was useful to me in my food…”(Shelley, 112-113). The monster initially recognizes the fire as a means of providing warmth to protect him from cold, and later, on his own, discovers that the same thing can be used to provide a second purpose, much in the manner that Heidegger describes man’s poiesis of technology. Both man and monster gradually explore the natural world and find ways to use it for each’s respective needs. Frankenstein’s creation, as an individual with primitive and unmaterialistic needs, does not use nature to provide the quantities of energy required for the production of firearms or textiles, but rather to provide a tiny enough amount for the survival of a single individual. The monster, in a way, is like early man who discovered the use of fire, the most primitive of technologies, discovering more and ways to exploit nature for the benefits of humankind.

This provides a strong contrast to the way in which Victor Frankenstein exploits nature. In his Embodying Technesis, author Mark Hansen presents an interesting and very Heidegerrian way of viewing both individuals respective poieses. With regard to Heidegger’s example of the Rhine as a power generator, Hansen claims that “[w]hat makes the power station monstrous is not its explicit destruction of nature but the way it corrupts the mode of revealing characteristic of poetry (poiesis). In the place of a nature that is discursively disclosed, modern technology substitutes a purely instrumental model of nature, the significance of which is found not, oddly enough, in its ontic effects but rather in its poverty as an ontological mode of revealing Being(Hansen, 120). Under Hansen’s interpretation of Heidegger, Victor Frankenstein’s poiesis is inherently immoral because it is instrumental, artificial, and forced; whereas the monster’s exploitation of nature does not infringe upon morality because it is entirely natural.

While both individuals may be human, their relative methods of poiesis vary significantly from each other. Victor Frankenstein desires the poiesis of an entire human being, taking parts that are natural and using them for the creation of something entirely artificial. Hansen’s description of a “purely instrumental model of nature” holds true here, precisely because the monster’s creation is, in fact, purely instrumental. He exists, not because Victor desired children, but because a scientist with a god complex decided he wanted complete dominance over the natural world and that such a creation was necessary in the process. Frankenstein’s poiesis of his creature is purely instrumental.

In contrast, the monster uses nature not as a “means to an end”(Heidegger), but as a means to many necessary ends. As mentioned previously, nature provides him with the ability to survive, much in the way it allows animals to do so in that the kind of poiesis the monster performs is not one of instrumentality, but of coincidence. He does not seek to discover fire; rather he reveals its purpose through direct observation and happens to discover that it provides warmth and cooking ability. Nature is not a tool to him. He experiences an almost commensalistic relationship with it and even though he benefits from its existence, there is no harm done to the natural order because he does not seek to gain deity-like power in the same manner as his creator.

Heidegger’s second cause provides an explanation as to the nature of the monster’s existence, identity, and relationship with Victor Frankenstein. And it is through the monster’s questioning of these that allows it to be investigated further and for the true nature of he and his fellow man to be revealed. But what exactly is revealed? To investigate, let us consider one final Heidegerrian view of the world using a notable contemporary example.

In a recent New York Times article, two journalists, Charles Duhigg and David Barboza expose recent practices of technology giant Apple Inc. Apple has recently angered many labor rights organizations due to hiring Foxconn to manufacture its expensive goods. Foxconns’ infamy stems from labor practices deemed exploitative in Chinese factories, where employee suicides are so common that the company was recently forced to install safety nets outside its windows as a prevention tactic. Workers toil for more than twelve hours a week for miniscule wages in working conditions reminiscent of the early Industrial Revolution.

In a Heideggerian sense, Apple’s goods have multiple purposes. They reveal themselves to be not simply tools for individuals, to access the internet or to place phone calls, but as devices to supply Apple with as much money as possible, even if it results in the destruction of the humanity in humanity. Swollen limbs, exposure to dangerous chemicals, and endless, relentless shifts that overwork employees to the point where suicide is a reasonable alternative are cost-cutting measures, all of which contribute to this almost-mechanization of mankind due to human desire for the poiesis of new technology.

In a sense, it is highly ironic that in this Heidegerrian viewpoint of man, Frankenstein’s monster becomes more human than this segment of humanity, as he has the freedom to explore nature and to reveal the purposes of objects, whereas Foxconn’s employees are treated as standing-reserve, being “ordered to stand by, to be immediately on hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering”(Heidegger), in contrast to the traditional, naturalistic form of revelation that the monster practices. Like the creation of the monster, this virtual mechanization of humanity is caused significantly by human impulse, as Apple consumers, Foxconn, and Victor Frankenstein desire the poiesis of new goods as quickly as possible to the point of potential consequences becoming entirely secondary, and like the monster’s own experiences, the indifference of society to ailing conditions leads to negative changes in the essences of the oppressed.

Heidegger’s causes and the monster’s questions allow for exploration of many simultaneous states of being. And these states of being, as evidenced above, can all lead to important revelations about the current state of man. Frankenstein’s monster’s final question is “What is my destination?”. At the end of the novel this question is answered when the monster determines that his actions have been too destructive and leaves Walton’s ship to end his own life. With the impulsive, overexploitative, dehumanizing nature of mankind in its current state, are we on our own form of destructive poiesis?

Works Cited:

Hansen, Mark B. N. Embodying Technesis: Technology beyond Writing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2000. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. "The Question Concerning Technology." The Question Concerning Technology. Trans. William Lovitt. Wright State University. Web.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Lynd Ward. Frankenstein: The Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.

Duhigg, Charles, and David Barboza. "In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad." The New York Times. 25 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2012.

"'Mass Suicide' Protest at Apple Manufacturer Foxconn Factory - Telegraph." - Telegraph Online, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph - Telegraph. Web. 10 Feb. 2012.

No comments: