I have been thinking aout the fun of using Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in designing a pedagogy for critical thinking about the study of literature in my Intro to English Studies class this spring. In his article “What is a Monster?” Peter Brooks answers his own question: ”the monster is that which calls into question all our cultural codes including language itself...” As Brooks writes, within the logic of the Lacanian symbolic order Frankenstein’s framed narratives and the dilemma of the Monster’s specular entrapment as a “filthy mass,” and his consequent inability to transcend the visual order through eloquent rhetoric, offer the opportunity for thinking about the complexities of the English major’s main subject of study: language. If the reader of Frankenstein is left “tainted by monsterism” and with the “residue of the desire for meaning,” as Brooks says, I ask: how do thoughtful students respond to the rather gothic condition the intersubjectivity of reading engenders in us? Frankenstein’s Monster unleashes a trail of violence in response to the revelation that his own use of language cannot “compensate for a deficient nature.” How do we, as students of literature, respond to this dialogue between nature and art? What do we think about Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s definition of the unsettling nature of a monster, that his very existence is a “refusal to participate in the classificatory order of things”? (Cohen 6.) I will address questions of Romantic individualism vs. community ethics, and Brooks’ use of the term “epistemophilia” as challenging ideas to consider in our university setting, especially in the digital age. How do we use history and culture, along with language and text to determine Shelley’s rhetorical use of the monster? Where are the monsters today? I see the monster grinning out from digital space in much the same way that Frankenstein's creature peers at his creator: the sutured, hybrid, true border dweller who forms one half of a fraught dialogue with that which challenges traditional notions of systematized knowledge. What are our responsibilities as epistemophiliacs to the knowledge we pursue and the creations that result from it? How do we make humanities in a digital age a responsible party in the dialogue, eyes open to the monsterous and all that questions a commercial seamless order? Where is the gothic in the digital? Hmm?
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, "Monster Culture (Seven Theses,) Monster Theory: Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, University of Minnesota: Minneapolis, 1996.