In Mary Shelley’s story, Victor Frankenstein and the ‘Monster’ personify two opposite attitudes toward the natural world. Frankenstein intentionally cuts himself off from the natural order and rhythms of nature, eschewing the beauty of the changing seasons, refusing to be distracted from his work to reanimate dead matter. In his obsession, he adopts a purely utilitarian attitude toward the natural world.
In the myth, Prometheus, whose name means forethought or foresight, is the creator of humankind but dissatisfied with the lot imposed upon them by the gods, he steals fire from the gods and gives it to mortal beings. Angered by this action, the gods take their revenge through Epimetheus, whose name means afterthought or hindsight.
Without a mythic context as a backdrop for our lives, we are all too easily swept up in the current of the times. This dynamic applies not only to one’s personal life, but also to the collective lives of all of us. Myths are the larger stories that provide context and as such can often have therapeutic value in times of need.
The story begins with Arthur hunting deer, when he encounters a man (oddly named Sir Gromer Somer) who accuses him of stealing his land and giving it to Gawain. The man threatens to kill or decapitate Arthur if he can’t find out what women love best within a year’s time.
How are we framing this pandemic? Some compare it to a war, or more specifically to WWII. Some use as their measure the seasonal flu or the 1918 Spanish flu. Such comparisons, however, carry with them not only the belief this crisis will pass as did the others, but they also engender the idea that we will be able to carry on as usual once the crisis has passed.
Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein is a psychological primer on how we make monsters. The interaction between Victor Frankenstein and the creature he makes enact this drama. Like a mirror, the monster reflects Victor’s horror of his dream to be a new god who would erase death from life.
Today we are webbed together in virtual space and time as we sit at our computers. But are we alone together, apparently connected but haunted by a sense of isolation? Do we suffer from terminal identity, a felicitous phrase that not only describes our sense of identity in the digital world, but also suggests that there might be something more pernicious about this phrase, something terminal about our addiction to the terminal?
Victor Frankenstein, as a modern Prometheus, erases the boundary between the Gods and humanity. In this boundary violation, he is following the track of modern science, whose origins lie in the mid 15th century with the artistic development of linear perspective vision. In this regard, the fictional character of Victor Frankenstein does what the historical figure Galileo did when, looking through his telescope, he erased the boundary between the uncorrupted heavenly sphere and the corrupted sphere of the earth.
This magnificent poem is permeated with the imagery of the archetypal feminine, here incarnated by a woman simply called “Morgan the Goddess”. Morgan’s emissary is the Green Knight, a giant who bursts into Camelot, all clad in green, with an ax in one hand, and a holly bob in the other.
In this eighth decade of my life, I often turn to the world of imagination, the home of the soul. On my daily walk, in front of an ancient oak tree or at the lake watching the ripples, during my prayer time when I let go of my worries or sitting down at the breakfast table with my husband, grateful for our long love. I welcome whatever image appears.
From a physiological perspective, breathing is a matter of respiration, and shortness of breath can be a medical problem. This perspective is, of course, not only true, it is also necessary and valuable in its medical context. But that context has become the norm of what is real about the act of breathing.
In the 1960s, the dream of space flight became an exemplary expression of technological achievement. For the first time in human history, we could see from the moon the image of earth rising in the inky darkness of space. I remember being mesmerized by that image. I also remember being dismembered by how the paradoxical tension of that image turned upside down my taken for granted assumptions about who we are as a human species and what our place was in the cosmos.