Productivity means different things to different people. Businessmen and Industrial Engineers look at it through numbers and studies; Herbert Marcuse defines it as working towards an end; an everyday person may think they were being productive if they stayed busy all day. As a student of Industrial Engineering and through the reading of Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, I have reached a certain understanding of what productivity means in multiple settings. This knowledge can be applied to other novels we read this semester, including Shelley’s Frankenstein, Gibson’s Neuromancer, and Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Were the characters in these books productively reaching their goal? And what does their productivity say about the novel itself?
Industrial engineers deal with efficiency and productivity in many different setting. Many applications of Industrial Engineering have to do with manufacturing and business, but the ideas can also be applied elsewhere. A good definition of IE productivity is as follows, “effectiveness with which the resource inputs (of personnel, material, machinery, information) in a plant are translated into customer satisfaction oriented production outputs” (Groover). More generally, productivity can be defined using this equation:
“Management results” and “input resources” can be defined in ways that do not relate directly to manufacturing and business. Resources can be any items, people, or time spent on a process or activity. Results can be anything that is desired, whether it be money or product or something unlike either of these. Any these combinations of “input resources” and “management results” can create different definitions of productivity.
Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man gives a somewhat different viewpoint on productivity. In the first chapter, he states, “’Progress’ is not a neutral term; it moves towards specific ends” (Marcuse 16). Therefore, progress has to have an end to really be progress. A few things are exceptions in that they are an end in themselves, like art: “The artist possesses the ideas which, as final causes, guide the construction of certain things – just as the engineer possesses the ideas which guide, as final causes, the construction of a machine” (Marcuse 238). The machine may be an end in the case of the engineer, but it usually is working towards another end of improving something, whether it is productivity or detail or anything else. But productivity, or progress, is not an end in itself. In order to be productive (or make progress), one has to be working towards an end.
Eliyahu Goldratt uses a combination of these definitions to describe productivity in his business novel, The Goal. Throughout the novel, the main character finds out what productivity means and how to actually improve it in his manufacturing plant. What spurs his realization is a question: What is the goal [of your company]? The book defines productivity as “the act of bringing a company closer to its goal” (Goldratt 32). The main character shapes his goal throughout the first half of the book, and then tries to productively reach it over the second half. He uses Industrial Engineering ideas to work productively towards an end. To analyze the novels we read in class, I will use this same understanding of productivity.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Victor Frankenstein
In the first part of Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein has a definite end in mind: creating a living being from nonliving parts. The product of the monster could be the simple end, but there is another. The magnitude, complexity, and possible fame this project held was what drove Frankenstein to attempt it (Shelley 48). From his motivations, it is evident that Frankenstein’s actual goal was taking science leaps and bounds further than it ever had before, and claiming the fame that came with it. Frankenstein’s goal was twofold, creating a being and finding fame in the exhibition of his creation.
The input resources he put toward his goal were plentiful. There was no non value-added time spent – every ounce of his energy was used towards creation, “the summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in one pursuit” (Shelley 50). Time totaling three seasons spent in toil toward his goal of the living being, three seasons of “resource input”. If one considers Victor Frankenstein’s goal simply creation, the “management output” would be exactly what was expected. It is in his failing to follow up with the monster that his productivity plummets, since he did not reach his goal of fame and doesn’t devote nearly any input resources to trying to attain this goal. On the contrary, after the monster is created, it horrifies Frankenstein and he wants nothing to do with it. He lets the creature run away, and hopes to never see it again, abandoning all hopes of gaining any recognition for his scientific discovery.
The second part of Frankenstein brings about another goal for Victor Frankenstein: putting a stop to the horrors the monster is capable of. There are a few different methods he tries to pursue, but all of them end with him giving up. The first method he chooses is to find the monster and kill it. He only puts some effort into this, while he spends the rest of his time debilitated by his guilt and sadness. His input is minimal at this time. Later, he confronts the monster (not by his own choice), and tries to make it a companion, which the monster says will put him at peace. For a few months Frankenstein puts all his effort into making the new creature, the same all-encompassing energy and time he used to create the first monster. When he is close to completion, he abandons his task, and makes the monster angry. This is extremely counterproductive towards his goal, since this only makes the monster more aggressive. After the creature does more destruction to Frankenstein’s life, he decides to chase it in attempt to kill it. Again, he puts all of his effort and resources into this task, but with no reward, his goal not met. He dies in his pursuit, and therefore never reaches his goals of fame or of stopping the destruction of his horrible creation. His emotions and guilt stop Frankenstein from being productive in the process of attaining his goals, and he therefore fails. Shelley describes Victor Frankenstein as so overridden by emotions directed at his creation that he can’t be successful in anything. This is to show the reader that creations, as well as science in general, don’t always turn out how the creator imagines them to be. Frankenstein’s monster instills fear in him, and this could very well happen to any inventor that tries to create something that is unknown. Shelley uses Frankenstein’s unproductivity to teach the readers a lesson about consequences.
William Gibson’s Neuromancer: Wintermute
Wintermute, and AI from William Gibson’s Neuromancer, has a goal that becomes apparent later in the novel. Wintermute wants to unite with its counterpart AI, Neuromancer, and transcend the AI constraints, becoming the matrix itself. Wintermute uses many different methods to reach its goal, all including using people as tools. First and foremost, Wintermute uses Armitage (Corto). Wintermute uses Corto’s body to gather other people to play out the necessary steps needed to reach his goal. The use of Corto’s body is productive in that it does its purpose, and there are minimal resources put into controlling the body. Wintermute only uses the Armitage alias when it is needed, and puts only enough resources into the body to keep it minimally alive. Every input into Armitage creates an even greater output. The other characters in the novel that he tries to control require many more input resources, and therefore need to be evaluated differently.
The next person that Wintermute recruits is Molly. She has a mind of her own, but is very loyal to her employers. She was a great investment for Wintermute to make. Despite her difficulties, her output is exceptional. No matter what Armitage/ Wintermute tells her to do, she does it well and with no opposition. Even when she is badly hurt, she continues to help Wintermute work towards its goal. She does have a romantic relationship with Case (if you can call it that), but she does not let it interfere with her work. Molly is always working towards Wintermute’s goal of freeing itself in that she always is doing what she is told. She does not let her personal life take up any of her time. Wintermute exploited every minute of the time she devoted to it, and therefore used her extremely productively as a tool towards its success.
Wintermute also recruits Case to work for it. Although Case was a more questionable investment, he was productive in Wintermute’s process. Wintermute installed poison sacs into Case as motivation to complete his job, and had to convince him to take the job in the first place by rewiring him so that he could be the great console cowboy he once was. In addition, Case took a bit more convincing throughout the process that the goal was something he should be helping complete. This was a lot of input resources to put into only one part of his team, a large initial investment and continuous effort, but Case was worth it. Case was the most integral part of the team, having the ability to enter and control parts of the matrix, cracking ICE and other codes needed for Wintermute’s access to Neuromancer and their eminent merge. Case did not use all his time in a value-adding way, sometimes taking drugs or the time he spent living in Neuromancer’s dream world. The output he creates balance, if not outweigh, his wasted time and resource input. When Case’s time was devoted to Wintermute, it was almost always successful in advancement towards the goal. Case’s talents were exploited well for Wintermute’s purposes. For both these reasons, Case was a productive tool towards Wintermute’s success.
Wintermute used these people and others to work towards its goal, and they were all used as productively as human tools can be. Every action it took was a step closer to its goal. This includes finding team members, recruiting them, directing them, and forcing them to do things, as well as the actions it took itself. Nothing distracted Wintermute from its goal because it had no other needs, it was a machine. Wintermute also knew it was capable of and believed it was destined to fulfill this goal. Its perfect productivity teaches the readers what Artificial Intelligence is capable of. It also teaches us that machines can’t do everything themselves. Even though Wintermute became the most powerful being that it could be, it did so with human help. The skills that Corto, Molly, and Case had were something that machines are not capable of having: relateability, muscle, and brain power, respectively. Wintermute’s productivity demonstrates that Artificial Intelligence can’t be perfect, and needs human help to reach anything close to perfection.
Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves: Will Navidson
In Danielewski’s House of Leaves, it is much harder to find a goal for Will Navidson. Clues are given here and there and can be pieced together, but the most apparent statement relating to his goal is stated in his love letter to Karen. He writes the letter just before his last exploration into the house, and he ends with this: “… i miss delial i miss the man i thought i was before i met her the man who would have saved her who would have done something who would have been tom maybe hes the one im looking for or maybe im looking for all of them” (Danielewski 393). In Navidson’s explorations of the house, his goal is to find something he is missing. This goal can be split up into two parts: finding an end in the hallway and capturing the house through film. These are two very different goals, but if he meets both of them, Navidson will find his end.
Finding an end to the hallway is a goal that can never be reached, although both Navidson and the readers do not know this at the beginning. Nevertheless, the process to get to this unattainable goal can be looked at in a productivity sense. After his discovery of the vastness and complexity of the hallway in Exploration #1, Navidson feels that he needs to get some experts to help him reach his goal. This is smart, since experts are usually faster at a task than novices. His input resources are then Holloway, Wax, and Jed. Navidson gives them equipment that he thinks will be helpful in their exploration, using the knowledge of the hallway that he obtained from his exploration. These items are additional input resources. Lastly, Navidson gives them a camera, an important piece that will be discussed later. Once Holloway, Wax, and Jed enter the hallway for Exploration #2, Navidson devotes all of his time to tracking them and awaiting their return. If his goal is finding the end of the hallway, this is the best use of his time towards it. If they had found an end in this exploration, his goal would have been reached and he would have had it on camera to see for himself. If they did not, through tracking them and watching the film they took, he can better understand the hallway and become closer to finding an end. The material, human, and time input resources would be worth the output, if there was output to be found. Much later, after Exploration #4, when it is quite clear that this goal is unattainable, Navidson still pursues the end of the hallway. He spends all of his time analyzing the tapes that the team brought back and trying to understand the house through science, again with the help of an expert. These are very productive ways of trying to attain his goal. With all the knowledge he has gained over the course of the explorations and his studies, he enters the house one last time, in an attempt to reach his goal and find his end.
Any time anyone enters the hallway, they are armed with a camera. Navidson understands everything through the lens of his camera. Therefore, to understand the house, he has to capture it on film. This is his second goal: to create a film about the house. The input resource he puts into attaining this goal is tons of film equipment, and at one point his own safety. During “The Escape”, Navidson enters the house multiple times to try to retrieve his tapes, even though he knows the house is extremely dangerous at the time (Danielewski 344). At the time, Navidson is putting the value of attaining this goal over the value of his life. Following this experience, Navidson puts his family life behind him and devotes all of his time to studying the house, putting the actual filming aside for a time. He has enough footage to create a movie after all of this, but reenters the house with a camera in order to finish the film like he imagines it ending: with a literal end to the hallway. “We musn’t forget the most obvious reason Navidson went back into the house: he wanted a better picture” (Danielweski 418).
If capturing the house through film was Navidson’s only goal, then he would have not gone back to Ash Tree Lane for the last time. His second goal, of finding an end to the hallway, must have been his motivation to return. Finding the literal end and capturing it with his camera would bring him peace and understanding of something in himself, maybe of “ends” in general. It would give him understanding, both through his own experience and capturing it on camera, about what finding the end means. In his perfect ending, Navidson would reach both of his goals. For his last exploration, he is trying to be productive in his ultimate goal, but fails to reach the first one of finding a literal end. “The Navidson Record” technically gets finished, and he does succeed in capturing the house through many different explorations and points of view, but it does not have the ending he wants and is not helpful in reaching his goal of understanding, of coming to his emotional end, since the literal end was not reached. By completing only half of his goal, Navidson attains nothing.
Though Navidson goes through a productive process of attempting to reach his goal, he never actually succeeds. He is productive in reaching an unattainable goal. Navidson was able to be productive because his goal was a peace that he wanted to find, something extremely important to him. His life would not be complete without the fulfillment of this goal, so he devotes his entire being to it. Navidson’s productivity yet obvious failure shows the reader that no matter how devoted, invested, and efficient you are with something, there is no guarantee that you will find your end.
Through the analysis of the productivity of these three characters in their respective novels, we can come to a better understanding of the characters and the novels themselves. Bigger meanings become apparent when the reasons for productivity or unproductivity are discussed.
Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.
Gibson, Willam. Neuromancer. New York: Berkely Group, 1984. Print.
Goldratt, Eliyahu M., and Jeff Cox. The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. Great Barrington, MA: North River, 1992. Print.
Groover, Mikell P. Work Systems and the Methods, Measurement, and Management of Work. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.
Sakamoto, Shigeyasu. "4. Definition of Productivity/ Requirements for Improving It." Springer Link. Springer-Verlag London Limited 2010, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Lynd Ward. Frankenstein: The Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.