This is the thirteenth blog post in the series Sixteen Psychological Reflections on COVID-19 by Robert Romanyshyn
Mary Shelley’s story of Victor Frankenstein retells the Christian story of creation in which Victor Frankenstein is the new creator god who would make use of the powers of science and technology available in his time to create a new race of beings who would never know the stain of death. In her story, the creature that Victor makes abandons and then would destroy haunts his maker from the margins where his side of the story waits to be told. Victor Frankenstein, the Monster and the Shadows of Technology; The Frankenstein Prophecies moves to the margins to attend to the Monster’s tale. It is the shadow history of the hubris of science and technology that is nurtured in the illusion of believing and acting as if we are gods. It is a tale of the flawed gods we have become when we not only forget our place within the natural order of creation but also forget we have forgotten, condemning us to a double amnesia.
But do we dare to listen to the Monster whom Victor Frankenstein regards only as a devil and a demon?
Do we dare not listen when in fact, the Monster’s tale uncovers the shadow side of Mary Shelley’s story as a primer on how we make monsters through denying within ourselves what is dark and projecting it onto others? Do we dare not listen when the Monster’s very presence shows the dark side of his maker’s dream to anoint himself as a new god of creation?
The darkness is rising on all side as the ‘monsters’ we have made are erupting from the margins, as their voices that have been silenced and their stories untold are heralding a moment of radical change. To respond with increasing the intensity of our enlightened minds by continuing to deny its darkness will only make us more blind to the shadows of our god like dream. If, however, we take a clue from Shelley’s pivotal and prophetic story, we will discover that it is moonlight, the softer and darker light than the sun, which awakens Victor Frankenstein to the horrors of his dream to be a new god of creation.
As Victor’s dream has become our nightmare, do we not need to learn how to see in a darker light that balances Sun and Moon as archetypal symbols of masculine and feminine virtues? Victor Frankenstein splits them. As a man of science concerned only with penetrating the secrets of nature, he describes his beloved Elizabeth Lavenza as one who only busies herself with filling the world with the airy creation of the poets. Is it time now to find a new vision of who we are and how we relate to the natural world, a vision that is open to differences and is more inclusive of them? And, warned by the destructive consequences of Victor Frankenstein’s god like dreams, is it now almost past the time to wake up to the necessity for a sense of the sacred beyond ourselves that gives us a measure of our place?
But how difficult it is to bridge the split in the western mind between the light and the dark, between gods and monsters, between the masculine and the feminine, science and poetry. How difficult it is to regard our own dark side.
The word monster itself already carries so much weighty and negative baggage that it seems almost impossible to move in any other way.
In such moments when one is stuck, it is helpful to stop moving ahead and to move down. One way to do so is to dig into the rich depths of a word whose roots tap into a word’s forgotten possibilities.
So, then, what is a Monster?
Monster originates as a word to describe a divine omen or warning, especially regarding an apocalyptic misfortune. In addition, one branch of this root connects the monster to one who informs and shows a way.
In these two contexts, might we re-imagine Victor’s Monster as one who informs and even warns us about the dangers of believing and acting as if we are ourselves divine? Lingering on the margins with the Monster might we begin to see his presence as Victor is unable to see him: as a presence that mirrors not only the scarred and wounded flesh of his creator as a dangerously flawed god but ourselves as well who are still living within Frankenstein’s dream?
Re-imagining him as Victor’s shadow, we might even catch a glimpse of the Monster as the other half of Victor Frankenstein’s god face. Such a vision, which already peeks through Mary Shelley’s story, is elaborated when the Monster on the Margins does what his creator has refused to do when he takes responsibility for his action and even seeks out his maker to ask for forgiveness. In such moments described in The Frankenstein Prophecies, the Monster demonstrates an ethical position that his maker does not have, which echoes the same dynamic that Jung describes in his seminal work, Answer to Job. It is a theology whose psychological roots take into account the darkness of every god’s shadow.
In addition, unlike his creator, who, for the sake of his dream, has broken his ties to the natural world, the Monster is educated by its wonders and delights, by the simple play of lights and shadows, the twittering of birds and the changing of the seasons. Might the Monster in this way also be the guide who shows a way back to ourselves by re-minding us of those erotic, aesthetic ties between the flesh of our embodied minds and the flesh of nature?
Imagine all that: Monster as an omen, as a warning, as our god face, and as a teacher!
There is wisdom on the margins if we dare to explore how we make ‘monsters.’ There is value and necessity today to cultivate a marginal education. The school of that marginal education is the streets where protests against political, economic, racial, and other forms of social injustice are erupting and where our monstrous ecological disasters are warning us of the
unsustainability of our god like dreams.
Covid-19 is addressing us with two fundamental questions: Who is a Monster? and What is a Monster?
As indicated in Blog 12, the question Who is a Monster? is a difficult one, which, however, might be the best hope –the last best hope? — for ourselves and the earth.
The question What is a Monster? is a necessary precondition if we are ever to be able to face how we ourselves are the monsters we exile to the margins.
Enjoy all the essays in the series Sixteen Psychological Reflections on COVID-19.
You might also enjoy Robert Romanyshyn’s course Reflections on Ecology and Soul. In this course, Robert takes us on a journey into the depths of the soul of the world and into those places where nature, psyche, technology, and humans meet.
Robert D. Romanyshyn is an Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, an Affiliate Member of The Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, and a Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. He is also a Core Faculty Member at Jung Platform.More Posts by Robert Romanyshyn