Arctic infestation (On Frankenstein, secession, anti-social zones, and creeping life)

Forget nature, forget the sublime.  It has nothing to do with a Gothic-bent refraction of individual melancholy, ontological horror, anxiety about having to face up to the bare fact of sex come your wedding night.  As if the stain of the psyche means that every house is old, dark, and creepy, each mountain snow-clad and backlit.  All sentences laborious and baroque.

Frankenstein is the choice of auto-exile, secession.  For the world doesn't darkly warp to match its marked subject.  Not claustrophobically bound to it, escapeless and swerveless, all under the shadow of two beings: the unholy affront to the natural order and the one who disowns it as such.  And yet the world isn't malignant as a whole nor even with nasty pockets and ruptures of the brutal where it doesn't belong.  No.  The normal, the sunny, the populated, the generative, the familial, the social: it's all still there, and it marks a wide band in which all things fall (even to the point that your wretched Luciferian creature will wage his war on you there, on the terrain of the family, and, above all, on your wedding night when you're supposed to finally stop fucking around with dead bodies and start fucking around with a live one).  And it can only be left behind actively.  You don't stray down the wrong hallway, open a door, and suddenly, there's unholy terror lurking all along, infecting the day.  Rather, Victor and creature alike search ceaselessly for literally anti-social sites, totally inhuman zones, to create a correspondence between subject and terrain that isn't there to start.  In exile I belong.

They're frantic for the empty and dull, to exit the "neighborhood of man," and the task of making of another - a perfect wretch - from the scraps of this leaden social world is caught in such an exile's failure, a initial version to pull away from family and friends while doing "research."  The full bloom of misanthropy that emerges in the war against humanity, to "glut the maw of death," the anti-social, takes first form in, and ultimately regresses back to, this more basic notion of the misanthrope as the loner, the asocial.  So too geographically, as the dead birth of the creature occurs midway between the desert (where the creature and his potential mate will go to breed) and the arctic (where Victor and the creature will go to die).

The desert where nothing grows, the arctic where decay slows to a crawl.

Why, then, does Victor destroy the wretch's potential mate, after having already made/corpse-montaged her in full?  Victor explains:

Even if they were to leave Europe, and inhabit the deserts of the new world, yet one of the first results of those sympathies for which the dæmon thirsted would be children, and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth, who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror. Had I right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations?

Two things.  First, Victor has been pretty hellbent on inflicting curses, given his utter unwillingness to accept not just his complicity (oh no, I played God, albeit in good faith, and now I can't stop this thing I made) but active driving of the situation into its catastrophic pitch (I will treat you so inhumanly that the only response possible is to fully become the monster I've demanded you be).  Perhaps he has no right, but that doesn't stop him from inflicting, and cultivating masterfully, a curse that until now has remained unwilling to lash out beyond the minor, closely-inscribed circle of Victor's social world (even as such a world has been, for Victor, crushingly burdened with the thickness of the bourgeois social world per se, in which every personal decision functions against the backdrop of all norms, in which maybe not really wanting to raise a family with your cousin becomes a perverse affront to the very category of family).

Second, the slippage between the existence of the species and the existence of discrete instances of that species, between "the human race" and "some humans."  What's elided in his comment, in the escape toward the species as a whole, is the fact that the very condition of existence is, for the vast majority of the world,  precarious and full of terror. (A condition that describes nothing so well as that of the creature itself.)  Should the general grounding condition of human existence come to be precarious and terrifying, via its opposition to a hostile counter-species, it would only mean that the definition now closely matches the reality of its instances.  That the conditions of the human are no longer predicated upon the conditions of existence for a minority, whose minoritarian and elite status requires a mode of existence for the wretched rest that will necessarily mark them as beyond the pale, lagging behind, degenerated, or surplus of the worst kind.  Victor, one of the few "humans" (i.e. not precarious and terrified), has to make a choice to make it the case: he willfully produces an existence, through the construction of one existent thing, that will extend a rippling, staining, corrupting precarity through the hard work of declaring something to belong to nothing and nowhere.

To belong anywhere other than the no man's land, that is.

For the actual terror at stake, the conditional terror, and the destructive urge to dismantle the recently assembled bride, are necessarily tied to the first horror of the creature's coming alive.  Given all the messy, gory work that's gone into it and a real familiarity with the face and body of it (you built it, for fuck's sake), we just don't buy the shock at having made something unholy, that the trespasses against the chain of being are visible in the scabrous, cracking smile.  No.  It is vacancy under attack and the the threat of social, domestic, mediated experience filling that necrological blank slate.  The entreating glance up at Daddy, then coming to hang out, a lumbering mass of non-knowledge, and you suddenly realize that all your blasphemy, all your labor of escaping the realm of productive labor, of generation itself, insisting not on development from scratch but montage from scrap: it's all going to be the same old thing, again, the same cycles of prohibition and shame, disappointment and playing nice.  The ultimate flight from the realm of the social, the oikos and polis alike, into a vicious, spiteful, remarkable form of waste management won't be enough.  The inhuman thing must be worked on to become what it should be.  And that working on means leaving alone, on blocking it from the creep of the social.

And so too the zones, the desert, the arctic, the deserted and frozen.  The threat isn't the human itself, that the new species-being will be that of always under attack from a race built from your leftovers, but the inhuman.  Those few and far between remaining zones left untouched, the poles of not-us, not-here on which the normal social order depends and to which Victor is drawn incessantly as flight out of the everyday.  Not that they might not leave Europe (that teeming, mediocre hinterland), but that they will leave Europe, they'll go to the desert and fill it up.  And after that first copulation, the first generation born will themselves be more of the same.  Sure, Mom and Dad look a bit funny, the stitch-marks remain, but after that, the desert's full up with Europe-ness, with its enemies who couldn't look elsewhere other than to the constructive source who disowned them.

We're voracious for the empty because the horizontal creep of the bourgeois social world is even more so, devouring in negative, a consumption that eats only lack and absence, filling, thickening all.  It infects, into these humanless wounds.  Not the body politic, but a rot setting in without primary matter to work upon.

In short: the horror is the shrinking capacity to leave behind, that even the desert will be just another brood and breed.  The propagation of the race will flower desert without images (eine wüste Gegend), now full and teeming, more brood and breed, lost to the mindless furthering of growth.  A resert desertification, and the race of devils soon wants in on the game, starts selling its labor cheap, polishes itself up nicely for EU membership and foreign investment, dragging in and desalinating the ocean, and the golf courses alone, in their startled green, retain a glimpse of that unnaturalness with which the whole thing started.  

And the arctic?  It's doomed to warmth.  And it's the final act of secession that will make it such, the auto-immolatory funeral pyre of the creature in the lifeless north.  As the fire built on the ice consumes him, the ice starts to moisten and melt.  A circle of brief, flitting, licking warmth.  His unrotting body (decay frozen not by temperature but by life itself, by the fact of his animation) now makes an aura, shadow, outline in the ice, and the bacteria will work, and more heat, melting more, rotting faster, slicker, uncovering other bits of lost matter gripped in the ice, now subject to putrefaction, and it spreads, the massive torrid heat of decomposition melting it all.  First flies, then flowers, then birth.  The ice blooms.  And the fingers of the social sneak in to this enemy terrain, its shocktroops of intimacy and family, notching footholds for the lurching, drooling hulk of capitalist life itself.

There, flourishing once more, belittling their children for not wanting to propagate, stuffing full with new flesh the anti-social zone, the species proves itself once more unable to think its own extinction.  Which is to say, unable to think at all.

1 comment:

echeneida said...

I'm pretty shocked that I missed the nightmare of colonization in the monster's fantasy about "the deserts of the New World" -- kind of unforgivable seeing how, like everything in the book, this is very helpfully explicit. I really like your elaboration on this, one nitpick though:

The desert where nothing grows, the arctic where decay slows to a crawl.

I actually think it's kind of important that the "deserts of South America" in the book are not another "barren" landscape -- the monster's Robinsonade fantasy about sleeping on a bed of leaves, living on berries, this is clearly the jungle, "desert" in the sense of not having humans -- none that count -- the venerable European opposition of "human" to irrational, excessive growth etc.