June 14, 2007

FRANKENSTEIN: RANDOM THOUGHTS, LIFE LESSONS AND AN UNANSWERED QUESTION (AND LOTS MORE)


Public domain image courtesy of moviewallpapers.net.

This is Frankenstein Week at Goat Rope. In addition to links to and comments about current events, each day has a post with a theme from Mary Shelley's classic weird novel. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

To recap, Monday's post introduced the topic and told how the book came to be written; Tuesday's had information about Mary Shelley, and Wednesday's summarized the book's plot. Today's is about thoughts, life lessons, and questions that occurred to El Cabrero after reflection on the book.

QUESTION: If you're trying to bring a dead body back to life, wouldn't it be a lot simpler to try it with one single intact body than try a patchwork quilt?

LIFE LESSONS FROM FRANKENSTEIN:

1. Making a monster is probably not a good idea even if you can.

2. Making a monster and then abandoning it is an even worse idea.

3. Promising to make a monster a mate and then backing down is likely to upset the monster.

4. If a monster threatens to screw up your wedding, he might not be just after you.

THOUGHTS ON THE EDUCATION OF A MONSTER. There are a couple of funny and odd digressions in the Frankenstein book. One of my favorites is about how the monster learned to talk and read by observing a family in a cottage. The other has to do with selecting a monster's reading list. In the book, after learning how to read, the monster's library consisted of John Milton's Paradise Lost, Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, and Plutarch's Lives.

That had to be part of the problem. Plutarch was a good choice, but after slogging through Paradise Lost I felt like going on a monstrous rampage and I'm usually pretty laid back.

And Werther--jeez!--for unknown reasons that story of a self absorbed twit who fell in love with a married woman and then took way to long to off himself was a huge hit in late 1700s and early 1800s. It was said to be Napoleon's favorite book. It made melancholy a fashion and even spawned a number of copycat suicides in its heyday.

FINAL QUESTION: What do you think should have been on an early 19th century monster's reading list? El Cabrero's picks: Plutarch can stay, but add Fielding's Tom Jones and Sterne's Tristram Shandy. A laughing monster is a less homicidal monster.

BIG BIRD. Scientists in China have found the remains of a 70 million year old birdlike dinosaur that stood 25 feet tall and weighed around 3,000 pounds. It wasn't fully grown yet either...

RUBY PAINS This week's NY Times Magazine has an article about Ruby Payne, who has made a virtual industry out of her Framework for Understanding Poverty. Payne has become something of an institution in the education and social services field for her workshops and publications on how to deal with people in poverty.

El Cabrero is trying to be nice here. Some of my best friends really like the training. And while I don't deny that many people have found it useful, I have some serious problems with her book. Some of those have to do with basic social science: give an intelligent high school student or college freshman a basic understanding of science methods and he or she could punch any number of holes in this approach.

I've talked to several people who have been through the training and the take-home message they have is "The poor are different." As in they belong to a different and possibly sub-human species. Having spent more years that I'd care to south of the poverty line without conforming to her stereotypes, I have a problem with that.

My main problem with her approach is with what isn't there (at least in the version of her book that I read): changes in U.S. politics, policies and the global economy that have eroded the middle class and shifted income and wealth upward. For Payne, it's all about culture rather than structural social changes.

I think a much better framework for (really) understanding poverty was articulated by Earl Shorris in his 1997 book New American Blues: A Journey through Poverty to Democracy. Shorris describes life in poverty as a "surround of force" which keeps people on the defensive. Too bad that approach didn't have a wider influence.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

6 comments:

thinkulous said...

As usual, I love your post. The Frankenstein reading list bit had me laughing out loud, and the Ruby Payne part was thought provoking. I skimmed that article, myself, and read how her critics think she's just abetting prejudice. Sounds likely, now I've read you on her.

Wish I lived a bit closer, it would be a blast to sit down over coffee with ya.

Brecht said...

That Final Question is a great way to encourage readers to comment.

Even Goethe agreed with you about Werther - later in life he said the Classical mind was fundamentally sound, and the Romantic unsound.

Tristram Shandy is one of my favorite books, but frustrates some readers. But I read Frankenstein years ago, and can't remember the monster's personality, so maybe he'd like it.

If I had a monster I'd give him Don Quixote, The Odyssey - no, maybe that has too many monsters in it (wouldn't want him identifying with the cyclops). But I'd especially give him Robinson Crusoe, and try to get him to be my man Friday.

El Cabrero said...

thinkulous
If you get a chance, check out her book. I'd be curious to see what you thought.

El Cabrero said...

brecht,
I think Goethe was probably right (although Faust was cool--even parts of Part II).

Tristram--I can't believe anyone had the #***$ to write something like that in the 1700s--much less today.

Don Quixote would be an excellent choice--and especially Robinson Crusoe, the book that so fascinated so many people in that time. The Odyssey may also make him want to go home, which is something he doesn't have...

But what about this--Frankie meets Jane Austen? I'm thinking P&P.

Brecht said...

Do you remember in Tristram Shandy the theme of what makes a boy great (what Mom thinks of at the moment of conception, a large, well-formed "nose", a name of power)? That last is why, as the runt of an eight kid litter, my dad named me Brecht.

I'd mentally discarded Austen as being too late, but you're right - P&P was 5 years before Frankenstein. Austen is both amusing and safe - a good choice.

I also find a lot of sense in Voltaire, and would suggest Candide.

Faust is fab. His reclaiming of land once under water is a great metaphor for psychoanalysis.

El Cabrero said...

Definitely Candide! Then he might have just cultivated his garden.

I seem to remember something from Faust Part II where, as a fiscal measure, the king pronounces all buried treasure as property of the crown. I'm surprised Bush hasn't tried that...