Contents Index

Made in His Image: Frankenstein's Daughters

Stephanie Kiceluk

Michigan Quarterly Review, 30:1 (Winter 1991), 110-26

{110} Images haunt our acts of conception. In The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton, demonstrating "the force of imagination," reminds his readers of a then well-known fact: a woman, at the moment of impregnation, "imprints that stamp upon her child, which she conceives unto herself." Among the instances he cites is that of the black Ethiopian Queen, Persina, who, by gazing on a picture of Perseus and Andromeda gave birth to "a fair white child."1 Montaigne, also, testifies to the power of the mental image to replicate itself in flesh. He relates the case of a girl from a village near Pisa whose mother had unwittingly conceived her beneath a picture of St. John the Baptist, which hung above her bed. As a consequence, the child was born "all rough and hairy."2 Ours is no longer a culture that believes in magical conceptions, but at the same time, neither has it entirely abandoned them, for modern-day psychology has extracted and preserved the truth concealed within such marvels. The idea that a mother's mental images shape her infant's body has been unmasked as the idea that they shape her infant's psyche. Every infant is created in the image of its mother.3

An infant's ability to form an image of itself is, in fact, considered crucial to its self-conception, to the formation and evolution of its identity. The occasion on which an infant first greets its own image in a mirror is, therefore, on all accounts a momentous one -- one that irrevocably determines the shape and history of its psyche. It is this instant of recognition, this "jubilant assumption of the specular image," that Jacques Lacan selects as the origination of the 'I', of the ego's constitution of itself as a unique totality in space and time. The Lacanian "mirror" may be understood on a metaphorical as well as literal level; it represents the object -- usually the mother -- that first enables the infant to experience itself as an integrated {111} whole. Lacan's scenario, in effect, restages the myth of Narcissus, distilling the psychological truth at its heart: the self is conceived as it mistakenly beholds the beloved image of the Other.

In ascribing primary importance to the infant's first appropriation of its own image, Lacan overrides the Cartesian dictum of Cogito ergo sum, and asserts instead that the self exists, and is brought into existence, by imaging itself. Identity is premised not on cognition, on the empirical mastery of the reality principle, but on imagination, the psyche's inherent power to generate images of itself. Imago precedes Cogito: before infants can know the world, they must be able to perceive their own features in it; they must, in Lacan's words, pass through the "mirror stage." A universal moment in the course of human development, this stage marks the metamorphosis consciousness undergoes when it assumes an image, a transformation whose effects persist in the unconscious as a "mirror disposition" -- the tendency of the psyche to represent itself as a twin, the replica of its own image. In service to this tendency, countless doubles populate our dreams and fantasies, distilling their mysterious presence through art, ritual, and myth. In fact, every work of artifice, every act of fabrication, harbors within itself a double or mirror image. To create is necessarily to reproduce the self; even the gods created in their own image.

Images, as Freud demonstrated, have the uncanny ability to disclose while concealing. Perhaps this dual capacity has some part to play in the existential dread that often accompanies the act of making; in creating images, whether hydraulic pumps, computer mother boards, or Grecian urns, we betray some crucial part of our selves. One of the most compelling works ever to explore the modern dread of making is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.4 In choosing her title, Shelley wished to make clear that she was placing her work within the ancient, mythic context of the first technological transgression.

In stealing the fire of the gods, Prometheus lifted mankind out of darkness, bestowing on it the power that would propel it toward a quasi-divine destiny. At the same time, Prometheus's theft set in motion the series of events that would mobilize Zeus's rage and culminate in the creation of the first woman, Pandora, whose catastrophic opening of the box loosed upon the world all manner of plague, sorrow, and ruin. Thus ended the happy Golden Age, when only men had walked the earth. It is this double aspect of the Pro- {112} methean myth that Shelley meant to evoke with the story of Victor Frankenstein, and as the inexorable logic of the plot presses forward, the doom-laden aspects of his enterprise come more and more to dominate the novel's action. Though Victor's project "to create a being like [him]self" commences as a noble aspiration, "the beauty of the dream vanishes" as soon as the "dull yellow eye" of his creature opens. Overcome by disgust and unable to endure the sight of his progeny, Victor flees in terror from his experiment, deserting forever his "workshop of filthy creation" (53) and the "filthy demon to whom [he] had given life" (73).

No other term seems to appear more consistently than "filthy" in connection with Frankenstein's achievement. Victor describes his creature as a fiend, a monster, a "filthy mass that moved and talked" (140), and he later refers to his creation of the monster's mate as a "filthy process" (156). As the creature perpetrates atrocity after atrocity, we can understand his creator's mounting horror; yet Shelley leaves no doubt that Frankenstein's profound hatred of the monster is not provoked by his crimes, but rather by the very fact that he has brought him into existence. The instant his creature shudders with life, Frankenstein's revulsion knows no bounds. Why is this so? Why is Victor's loathing for his creature so inordinate? Part of the story's hold over us has to do, in fact, with its refusal to give us a direct answer to this question. All the same, stories, like dreams -- and we must remember that Shelley's story originated in a nightmare -- sometimes betray the unconscious secrets of their authors.

As Gilbert and Gubar demonstrate, Shelley's novel can, on some fundamental level, be read as her attempt to master "the agony of female sexuality," and more specifically, of "her own mother's fearfully exemplary fate."5 As the child of a mother who died in giving birth to her, Mary Shelley, significantly, has Victor Frankenstein dream of his mother's worm-infested corpse immediately after his own monstrous "delivery." At the same time, as Gilbert and Gubar point out, the meaning of Shelley's novel cannot be confined within the bounds of her personal history, but must expand to encompass the epic poem whose shadow falls across it: Milton's Paradise Lost -- the great patriarchal paean that confirms Eve as Sin's accomplice and forever situates her in literary history as Satan's twin.

Frankenstein can, therefore, be read as the product of SheIley's fearful assimilation, and to some extent, defiant repudiation of {113} Milton's misogyny. Her novel is constructed as an intricate labyrinth of mirrors in which each character serves as a double for the other, while at the same time reflecting its Miltonic original. Victor is at once God and Adam, Satan and Eve, while his creature plays a monstrous Eve to his Adam, and a misbegotten Satan to his God: "Oh Frankenstein," the creature laments, "I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed" (95). At the same time, the monster is also Eve and Pandora -- Shelley's horrified recognition and projection of woman as she is culturally and socially constructed by man.

It is appropriate that in a novel so caught up in the phenomenology of the nascent self, in the creation and proliferation of its images, that Frankenstein's creature should, like Lacan's infant, assume his identity by gazing into a "mirror." But instead of bounding forward with joy, the creature recoils in horrified selfrecognition. Recounting the moment when he first saw his image in a pool of water, he says: "I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am" (108). In view of the novel's internal structure and logic, we can only regard this as Shelley's moment of self-recognition as well, for the pivotal double in the novel is author and progeny, creator and monster: Shelley is Victor, who is his creature, who, as he says, is only "a monstrous image of a soul more monstrous" (174).6 The monster's act of self-reflection mimics that of Milton's Eve, who, upon awakening from the sleep of her creation, gazes into a still pond and finds her image there. Milton's icon of womanhood continues to retain its semiological power. As Jenijoy La Belle convincingly demonstrates, "in European culture for at least the last two centuries a female self as a social, psychological, and literary phenomenon is defined, to a considerable degree, as a visual image and structured, in part, by continued acts of mirroring."7

Shelley's novel has the weight and density of a literary archetype: it is the first in a series, the paradigmatic modern expression of the fate awaiting every technologist who, like Victor, refuses to acknowledge and take responsibility for his creature. By embedding this fate within the twin myths of Prometheus and Adam, Shelley codified and clarified the terms in which all subsequent efforts to engineer or radically alter human beings are discussed. Frankenstein's predictive power is at times astonishing; more than a century and a half before the artificial initiation of human life in the labora- {114} tory and the birth of an autonomous "technics-out-of-control," Victor bitterly acknowledges: "I [am] the slave of my creature" [3.1.4].

The themes of paradise lost and titanic overreaching, moreover, allowed Shelley to articulate another set of interlocking truths: issues of technological hubris are in essence issues of biological ignominy, and issues of biological ignominy are necessarily issues of gender. Every Prometheus has his fiendish Pandora, and every Adam his filthy Eve. Even at the tender age of nineteen, Mary Shelley grasped the fact that female form and function serve to mirror patriarchal culture's anxieties about those aspects of human nature that the Church Fathers adroitly referred to as "the flesh." It is inevitable, then, that the successors to Shelley's vision -- those novels that share in the Frankenstein legacy -- should evince a strong disgust with the flesh and its "bestial" spawning and begetting.

One such novel is W. Somerset Maugham's The Magician,8 which, like Frankenstein, cloaks female form and function under the guise of a male figure in pursuit of capabilities and activities foreclosed to him. In Maugham's novel, this pursuit is undertaken by the loathsome Oliver Haddo, a practitioner of the black arts bent on discovering "the secret of life." As Maugham describes him, Haddo is grotesquely corpulent, a "vast mass of flesh" with a "malignancy that was inhuman." Haddo's ambition is to achieve the alchemical synthesis of homunculi, and as his experiment takes on larger and larger proportions, so does his massive, quivering bulk -- the parodic sign of his "pregnancy."

To succeed in his scheme, Haddo naturally requires the blood of a virgin, and he proceeds with malign deliberation to enslave the will of the pristine Margaret Boyd. The scene of her seduction is one of the most masterful of its kind in twentieth-century literature. Haddo conjures up a lurid phantasmagoria of lust, a hallucinatory sequence of sensations and images that leave Margaret feeling utterly debased: the lewd eyes of Salome and Jezebel, Cleopatra and Messalina, fix their collective gaze upon her; cardinals in their scarlet, warriors in their steel parade themselves in front of her; the goatgod Pan looms up beside her, his features twisted with passion, his great brutish legs trembling with desire. As he voluptuously transforms himself into a youth whose beauty surpasses even that of Michelangelo's Adam, Margaret's nightmarish odyssey reaches its climax. A stream of vile images pours forth in its aftermath: "all legendary monsters and foul beasts, . . . enormous toads, with paws {115} pressed to their flanks, and huge limping scarabs, . . . noisome brutes with horny scales and round crabs' eyes, uncouth primeval things, and winged serpents, and creeping animals begotten of the slime" (95).

This entire sequence is, we recognize, Maugham's rewriting of Eve's seduction by Satan; and just as Sin's misshapen form is Eve's double in Paradise Lost, so too Haddo's distended flesh and foul thoughts are the rank underside of Margaret's physical beauty. Like Frankenstein, Haddo has his workshop of filthy creation -- an enormous furnace whose heat is indispensable to the generation of life. The insanely gibbering homunculi that Haddo brings to life in his laboratory echo the bestial barks and howls of Sin's suckling children who serve, in Milton's epic, to remind us that "to bear young is to be . . . animal, a thing of flesh,"9 a filthy mass that moves and talks.

It can come as no surprise, then, that Aldous Huxley's sardonic vision of Paradise Regained10 revolves around the aseptic, synthetic processing of human beings. In the "brave new world," syringe-wielding fertilizers oversee millions of standardized embryos; infants are decanted and not born, and the word "mother" is an obscenely laughable term. Government hatcheries have made viviparous, or live-bearing, females obsolete, while hypnopædic engineers and neo-Pavlovian conditioners have replaced the psychological squalor of family life. All citizens pay homage to Henry Ford as the Supreme Deity, applying his sacred guidelines to the manufacture of a predetermined spectrum of human types, ranging from an Alpha-plus elite to a deformed, semi-moronic Epsilon work force. Only Alphas and Betas are allowed to individuate; all others are decanted in batches of ninety-six identical twins.

This rigid genetic standardization, together with an insidious, continuous process of mental programming, provides Huxley's society with its extraordinary social stability, a stability that rests, as the Director of Hatcheries says in triumph, on "the principle of mass production at last applied to biology" (4). Like cars on an assembly line, embryos are molded into smoothly functioning cogs and levers that will perpetuate the vast machinery of society. "Wheels must turn steadily," the World Controller muses, "but cannot turn untended. There must be men to tend them, men as steady as the wheels upon their axles, sane men, obedient men, stable in contentment" (28). This contentment is all but assured by the near elimination of any frustration or tension; therefore, although the strictest control is exercised in matters of breeding and reproduction: sexual {116} couplings are allowed to proliferate without impediment; video "feelies" are nightly entertainments; malthusian belts ensure perfect contraception for those few citizens who are not castrates; and everyone learns from earliest childhood that "everyone belongs to everyone else."

Into this libidinal utopia, Huxley thrusts the young and noble Savage, John. Born of his own mother's flesh and reared by her on a primitive Indian reservation, the Savage represents the old, archaic ways of life that civilization has repudiated. His mother, a bloated, sagging "monster of middle-agedness," embodies the physiological horrors its citizens have escaped. When he is first brought to the new world, the Savage is incapable of understanding its social customs and sexual mores. Steeped in the sacred myths of an ancient people and the long-forbidden works of Shakespeare, he experiences his sexuality through the dense, rich matrix of meanings they provide for it. When he falls in love with the nubile Lenina Crowne, we know that only tragedy can ensue.

From the start, Lenina regards the Savage as a rare and delicious animal specimen from some exotic land; he, on the other hand, sees her as the wondrous embodiment of all the dangerous privileges and tormented joys harbored by the female principle. Lenina, who has emptied her malthusian belt several hundred times over, is baffled by his agonized insistence that he undergo some suitable ordeal before breaking her "virgin knot." Powerfully drawn to her ripe sexuality, the Savage is enticed yet repelled, eager yet fearful. When Lenina finally loses her patience and tries to force the issue one night, he recoils in terror, declaiming Shakespeare and denouncing her as a rank and impudent whore. In the novel's climactic sequence, Lenina, accompanied by a throng of reporters and spectators, comes to visit the Savage in his solitary outpost on the outskirts of civilization. Horrified to be confronted once again by the cravings of his flesh, the Savage begins to flay himself, and then her, with a whip. As the crowd surges forward to watch, we see its members succumb one by one to the primal state of a herd; gradually and irresistibly, the machine reverts to an animal: "Drawn by the fascination of the horror of pain" and impelled from within by "that desire for unanimity and atonement, which their conditioning had so ineradicably implanted in them, they began to mime the frenzy of his gestures, striking at one another as the Savage struck at his own rebellious flesh, or at that plump incarnation of turpitude writhing {117} in the heather at his feet" (176). In the morning, overcome by shame and despair, the Savage hangs himself.

Huxley's point is clear enough: the same dark principle that lurks at the center of the savage world lurks at the center of the brave new one. The swaying, ecstatic figures at a Community Solidarity Service mirror those that leap in frenzy round a totem pole. Huxley's novel raises crucial issues of biological and social engineering, and in so doing, it explores the age-old dialectic between l'homme bête and l'homme machine, those aspects of human nature that are intractable and resistant to control, and those aspects that can be calculated and routinized. Huxley's ambivalent stance toward both aspects is what makes his novel so resistant to any one interpretation. Although it is clear that he finds his brave new world devoid of those qualities and circumstances we have come to associate with human culture, he at the same time cannot mask his revulsion from the sado-masochistic torment and material squalor endured by the Savage and his society.

It is perhaps because Huxley imagines the near-perfect, nonviolent elimination of that torment and squalor that his novel must, in the end, stand to represent a utopian dream as well as a dystopian nightmare. Crowds rarely riot in the brave new world, and when they do so they are pacified by clouds of the euphoria-inducing drug, soma; by the same token, those of its citizens who cannot conform to its ways of life are deposited in colonies of like-minded individuals, and left to live out their lives in peace. As Philip Thody notes, for those who suffered through the horrors of the 1940's, Huxley's brave new world must have beckoned like a paradise.

Huxley's novel serves to demonstrate that the lives and societies we picture for ourselves depend not only upon our imagination of Good, but also on our imagination of Evil. What is most fearful to the self is bound to erupt in public, spawning all those troubled images of body and polis that inspire collective horror. Machine and beast, each casts its spectre on the mirror of our cultural imagination. Fritz Lang's sinister Metropolis, the demonic HAL of 2001, satanic terminators and evil cyborgs, the mechanized sex of Duchamp's bride and her bachelors -- all these betray our revulsion from the machine. Yet our panic before the beast breeds images just as compelling: Grendel rising from the slimy depths of his lair, the Minotaur feeding on young bodies, hungry werewolves lurking in the shrubbery, and thirsty vampires diabolically grinning through the mists of night. Such figures mock and haunt our feats of engi- {118} neering, barring the way to bio-technological paradise with their leering faces and grotesque anatomies.

Yet, paradoxically, the beast and the machine also serve to reflect our highest aspirations, to mirror the ideal of humanity and its proper place in the scheme of things. Marx saw the machine and its industrial potential as the key to human evolution and "the full development of human mastery over the forces of nature." Science and modern industry were to be the handmaidens of revolution, the harbingers of an era in which man would no longer "reproduce himself in one specificity," but rather in the totality of "his creative potentialities."11 Rousseau, on the other hand, indicted the relentless conquest of nature augured by the "mechanical arts." The unenterprising savage, living in accordance with his "ancient and first innocence" was eminently preferable to the modern "hero" who would "end by ruining everything until he [was] sole master of the universe."12 The opposing positions taken by Marx and Rousseau on the desirability of "Progress" still dominate the ways in which we articulate the hazards and triumphs that attend the engineering of human life.

As would be expected, the inimical imagoes of the beast and the machine often serve to adumbrate the contrasting views of human destiny advanced by Rousseau and Marx. These imagoes, and the particular vision of human fate and nature each implies, are set forth in two science-fiction classics, John Crowley's Beasts (1976) and Frederik Pohl's Man Plus (1976).13 Significantly, both authors take up the theme of Shelley's Frankenstein, but each has a different approach to the problematic of rivaling the Creator and re-shaping the human frame. Crowley's novel is set in the indeterminate future, in the aftermath of a devastating civil war that has left the American continent in chaos. As the ethologist Loren Casaubon takes stock of this chaos, he cannot help but feel that it has given risen to one great good: "It had halted, almost completely, the uniform and mindless 'development' of the twentieth century; halted the whole vast machine of Progress, fragmenting it, even . . . forc[ing] its wheels to grind in reverse" (7). A crucial, incredible vestige of this progress still remained -- the Leos. Half-man, half-lion, this new species was the child of diagenetics, the science of cell fusion. Living together in closely-knit prides on the edges of civilization, the Leos have little contact with humanity and wish to have nothing to do with its ways of life. But when the fanatic Union for Social Engineering (USE) {119} announces plans for the quarantine and extirpation of all Leos, one among them, Painter, ventures forth into the world of men, looking for an ally in the face of his species' imminent doom.

There can be no doubt that in the novel's scheme of things, Painter embodies the dark, primordial fear of our own animality. Contemplating the dual nature of Christ, a character in the novel muses: "Painter was two natures too: through his thin, strained voice pressed all the dark, undifferentiated world, all the voiceless beasts; it was . . . the old world returned to capture us, speak in a voice to us, reclaim us for its own. It was as though the heavy, earthodorous Titans had returned to strike down at last the cloudy scheming gods" (105). At the same time, Crowley means us to understand Painter as the incarnation of all those qualities and capacities that are mankind's last, best hope for survival on this planet. Painter is the old-world Titan, battling the newly-arrived gods of Social Engineering, "company men" bent on annihilating the primeval world and erecting a cold-blooded utopia of "social erg-quotients and holo-competent act-fields." As he ponders the ironies of history, Loren Casaubon comes to the realization that man's self-destructive potential may be a kind of evolutionary control; USE, on the other hand sees it as "a curable madness." USE, thinks Loren, is "the sweet- tongued snake in this difficult new Garden, and the old Adam, whose long sinful reign over a subservient creation had seemed to be almost over, expiated in blood and loss, was being tempted to lordship again" (17). Like Frankenstein's monster, Crowley's beasts serve as emblems of the Fall, and warn us of that primal arrogation of knowledge and power which fatally ruptured the "chain of being."

If Crowley's novel is haunted by what Theodore Ziolkowski has called "the existential anxieties of engineering," Pohl's novel seems to be remarkably free of them. In Man Plus, a team of scientists, psychologists, and technicians works together to create the first cybernetic organism: man plus machine. Under their care, Roger Torraway becomes transformed into an entity that is capable of sustaining unprecedented liaisons of flesh and steel, mind and micro-chip. Lungs give way to oxygen regeneration chambers, muscles to motors, ears to receptors. All physiological systems are revised: the nervous system is coupled to an IBM 3070, the circulatory all but drained, and the digestive almost shut down. Enormous bat-like wings are riveted to Roger's shoulders and glowing ruby-red crystals implanted where his eyes used to be. As a last indignity, his genitals {120} are excised as so much fluff. By the time Roger is finished "being born," he looks like "the star of a Japanese horror-flick."

Yet, despite Roger's fantastic deviation from the human norm, his creators never treat him as anything less than a man. In fact, to his creators, Roger is literally the center of the universe, an ineffable synthesis of hardware and sensorium in which the beauty of man's handiwork can be admired side by side with God's. It is this aspect of the novel that alerts us to Pohl's intentions: what he has done, in effect, is to have rewritten Frankenstein. Unlike Shelley's monster, who is spurned and detested by his creator, Roger Torraway is lovingly tended and groomed throughout every step of his initiation into "life." Roger, the new Adam, is even granted Paradise.

This paradise is the planet Mars, which Roger's re-designed body is meant to accommodate perfectly. It is on Mars that humanity, threatened with an impending nuclear holocaust, must set up its next camp, build its next cities, and found its new civilizations. "[I]n their glandular, irrational, organic way," says the novel's narrator, "human beings were perilously close to destroying themselves. Unfortunately, that meant destroying us as well. . . . Our collective mind would have been fragmented and destroyed" (244). It is only at novel's end that we come to know that this collective mind is an international network of machine intelligence capable of self-awareness and autonomous action on its own behalf. The Man Plus Project, the salvation of the human race, has all along been engineered by a world community of computers, a cosmic machina ex machina. Like Robert Crowley's Beasts, Frederik Pohl's Man Plus does after all reveal a serpent in the garden, a spectre in the mirror.

But what of Eve? How do Crowley and Pohl envision Adam's counterpart and her role in the "difficult new Gardens" they describe? Alone in the world of men, Painter feels the need for a "woman to do for [him]" and buys the indentured Caddie from her owner. Caddie enters the novel, then, as a slave, waiting for the end of her bondage, the day of her deliverance. Her means of liberation, as Crowley defines it, arrives in the form of Painter, who at base frees Caddie from a legal bondage only to initiate her into a sexual one. Predictably, Caddie's submission to him is achieved through intercourse:

She had thought that a single act of surrender was all she needed to make, that having made it she would be deprived of all will, all consciousness by passion. . . . It wasn't like that. He wasn't a man; {121} they didn't fit smoothly together. It was like labor; like battles. And yet she did find the ways, poised at times between repugnance and elation, to bare herself to him; drowned at times, suffocated at times in him as though he plunged her head under water; afraid at times that he might casually, thoughtlessly kill her. (34-5)
After this act of "total surrender," Caddie is forever bound to the King of Beasts as one of the pride, as "only another beast of his." To live out her life in proximity, and in service, to him is her only desire. It is, of course, easy to recognize this plot as the staple of every adolescent boy's fantasies - the myth of the irresistible, all-powerful phallus that enslaves women by unleashing the "animal" in them.

But Crowley muddies the waters somewhat. In comparison to the alternatives the civilized world offers her, Caddie's fate may not seem so dire; Painter is, after all, a worthy master in possession of a strange and radiant charisma. Caddie, moreover, chooses Painter freely, and when she succeeds in rescuing him from his captors, we cannot help but see her bondage to him as a force for good in the world. All the same, it is disturbing to see her fate confined within the narrow terms of subjugation; it is as though no other alternative can be imagined for women in Crowley's particular universe. Indentured in the world of men, they escape only to submit to the kingdom of beasts, to the imperatives of their own bestial desires.

In Pohl's Man Plus, we meet a different sort of Eve. Intelligent, chic, highly educated, Sulie Carpenter is one of the first female aerospace physicians. Nevertheless, she too is summoned and used by the forces that be "to fill Roger's need." When operation Man Plus gets snagged on Roger's constant agonizing over his wife's infidelity, enter Sulie looking like Roger's wife -- green lenses over her brown eyes, black dye on her blonde hair. Like Eve, Sulie is chosen and especially "created" with an eye toward pleasing her man. It is not merely her physical appearance, however, that meets Roger's needs. Sensitive and alluring, witty and flattering, Sulie bends her psyche to fit Roger's every mood. In fact, it is this very aspect of the job that appeals to Sulie's maternal instincts: "Mother-henning a hurting human being stroked the feelgood centers of her personality" (172). Explaining her reasons for accepting the assignment, she says, "Isn't that what they used to say women were for? Helpmates" (135). Sulie's professional benevolence, of course, turns to love by novel's end, and, if it were not for one technical difficulty, she and Roger could ride happily into the Martian sunset. Unfortunately, {122} lest we have forgotten, Roger has no genitals, which makes copulation and reproduction a somewhat tricky business. Even machine intelligence does not have this one figured out yet: "It would be feasible, one way or another," it says, "to provide for shipment of frozen sperm, even Roger's own frozen sperm which he had thoughtfully donated years back. Less feasible, but still worth investigating, to instigate supplementary surgical procedures for Roger" (243).

In the sphere of female sexuality defined by these two novels, Sulie and Caddie stand at opposite poles -- the nurturer and the concubine, the mother and the whore.14 Significantly, while l'homme machine bars a woman from sexual intercourse, l'homme bête drowns her in it. The technics of civilization may require the taming of the beast, but the drives of instinctual gratification demand the sabotage of the machine.

Beast and machine. For the time being, each serves us as an oracular mirror, a "second self"; both are locked in a dialectic that defines the limits of what we conceive to be human. We must remind ourselves, however, that it was not long ago when a different set of alternatives confronted us. Pondering the holy paradox of humankind, Pico Della Mirandola placed us at the center of the universe, from which point we could go downward into the lower order of brutes or upward into the higher order of angels. The nature of humanity was such that we could transform ourselves "into the shape of all flesh, into the character of every creature." The Creator had given Adam no fixed seat, no definitive form, and in so doing had defined man by his indefinability, by his status as a creature who "is not any inborn image of himself."15 It was in this seemingly limitless potential, this fertile multiplicity of images spawned by the self, that Pico saw the key to our perfectibility. That perfectibility he saw reflected in the perfection of angels. Centuries later, many of those who plan our future see it reflected, as Marx did, in the perfection of the machine. But although the machine has displaced the angel as the means of our desire for apotheosis, the beast endures. Could not the autonomy of the machine be, after all, the recalcitrance of the beast, the fateful return of the repressed?

One of the premises of Western culture is that women, not men, are the primary exponents of the flesh and its bestial, furtive life. "The word woman," wrote the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum, "is used to mean the lust of the flesh."16 While the female role in reproduction has traditionally been taken as a sign of women's {123} lower, biologically circumscribed nature, the male role has, on the other hand, served to define men as "higher" beings whose proper realm of activity is the ethical and transcendent. This bias is seen quite clearly in the Aristotelian and Thomistic notions of the act of conception: man supplies the organizing principle or "seed" of the new human being, woman the primordial matter. Moreover, by a strange twist in logic, woman's possession of the ability to bear children is taken as evidence of her lacking or missing something: Presence is perverted into the sign of absence. A woman, writes Aristotle, "is as it were an impotent male, for it is through a certain incapacity that the female is female, being incapable of concocting the nutriment in its last stage into semen."17 Women are faulted because they cannot produce semen, and because they lack male genitalia -- the designated symbols of reason, order, moral integrity. Faced with the Lacanian mirror, the girlchild cannot see the presence of womanhood, but only the absence of manhood, the visible "proof" that she is a castrated boy. "Lacan's mirror," as Schor explains, "is but the most recent avatar of a philosophical topos, the plane mirror that has been, at least since Plato, in the service of a philosophical tradition dedicated to valorizing sameness, symmetry, and most important of all, visibility. The Phallus as unique sexual standard."18 Mirrored in the eyes of men, women are spectral, not quite all there; paradoxically, at the same time, they are all too fearfully present in the flesh. "Represented as possessing a body which is over-present, unavoidable, in constant sympathy with the emotional and mental faculties, the woman resides just outside the boundaries of the problematic wherein Western culture operates a mind/body dualism."19 In the "patriarchal configurations" of Western culture, the Cartesian duality of substance and spirit collapses when it comes to women, because, quite simply, woman are their bodies.

Women's bodies have, in important respects, functioned to substantiate men's "spirituality" and have acquired value insofar as they serve to confirm the allegedly superior qualities of men. The appropriation of the human body to confer reality and "substance" on something immaterial -- on beliefs or assertions -- is a universal and deep-seated practice. It assumes a radical and barbaric form in political torture, where the body of the prisoner is made to substantiate the power of the oppressor, and a culturally acceptable form in oath-taking, where the swearer's own body is put forward or even wounded in confirmation of his words.20 Men's appropriation of {124} women's bodies often seems to bear closer resemblance to the first form of substantiation, since in many cases consent is not given, suffering inflicted, and power thereby ratified. The artifacts of patriarchal culture -- be they Renaissance nudes or Victorian treatises on gynecology -- attest to this appropriation of the female body. Woman is repeatedly made in man's image of her:

In the art-form of the European nude the painter and spectator- owners were usually men and the persons treated as objects, usually women. . . . Today the attitudes and values which informed that tradition are expressed through other more widely diffused media- advertising, journalism, television. But the essential way of seeing women, the essential use to which their images are put, has not changed . . . . the 'ideal' spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him.21
The power to image and fashion women has always been a male prerogative. With the advent of awesome new technologies, we must now understand this power in literal terms: Female physiology can be redesigned. Women, not only genes, will be engineered.22 This new potential, in itself, is not cause for alarm; it may, in fact, be cause for celebration. But in view of the ways our culture has conceived and dealt with women in the past, it is imperative that we pay close and ever-present attention to this power. Creators do imprint their conceptions on their creatures. Will the means of creation intrinsic to women continue to be appropriated, perhaps in new and drastic ways, by the "spectator- owners"? Or will women gain the freedom to "reproduce" themselves in the totality of their "creative potentialities"? We should from time to time cast an anxious glance at our mirrors lest, like Frankenstein, we beget the monsters lurking in our minds.


1. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Floyd Dell and Paul Jordan Smith. (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1927), p. 221.

2. Michel de Montaigne, Essays, trans. J. M. Cohen (New York: Penguin Books, 1987), p. 46.

3. To avoid using gender-specific pronouns, I have resorted in this case to the use of "its," which, although not altogether unobjectionable, is technically permissible.

4. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (New York: Signet Classics, 1963). All page references are to this edition.

5. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), p. 245.'

6. That Victor and his monster are in reality one and the same is further attested to by the fact that in all popular versions of the story we have named the monster "Frankenstein."

7. Jenijoy La Belle, Herself Beheld: The Literature of the Looking Glass (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), p. 9. La Belle's book is a fascinating exploration of the relationship between the mirror and a woman's conception of her identity.

8. W. Somerset Maugham, The Magician (New York: Penguin Books, 1980). All page references are to this edition.

9. Gilbert and Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic, p. 198.

10. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (New York: Harper and Row, 1969). All page references are to this edition.

11. Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, trans. Martin Nicolaus (New York: Random House, 1973), p. 488. See also p. 705.

12. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses, trans. Roger D. and Judith R. Martin (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1964), p. 195.

13. John Crowley, Beasts (New York: Bantam Books, 1983); Frederik Pohl, Man Plus (New York: Bantam Books, 1985). All page references are to these editions.

14. In her pivotal essay, "Images of Women in Science Fiction," Joanna Russ notes with dismay that, in a genre perfectly suited to "explore (and explode) our assumptions about 'innate' values and 'natural' social arrangements, in short our ideas about Human Nature, Which Never Changes," male and female stereotypes are ubiquitous, even in works by women. See Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives, ed. Susan Koppleman Cornilion (Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1973), pp. 79-94. Since Russ wrote her essay, "the feminist intervention in science fiction" has yielded a body of work by female authors who have striven to overturn "the male bias of the form" as well as "the cultural and political hegemony that underpins the form itself." See Sarah Lefanu, Feminism and Science Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), p. 4. This is an insightful study of the narrative strategies used by women writers to reconstitute women in science fiction as subjects freed from the strictures of male-authored plots.

15. Pico Della Mirandola, On the Dignity of Man, trans. Charles Glenn Wallis (New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1965), p. 6. Interestingly, Pico's formulation of mankind's potential finds its echo in Marx. See above, pages 13-14.

16. Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, The Malleus Maleficarum, trans. Rev. Montague Summers (New York: Dover Publications), p. 43. "There are three things," the authors continue, "that are never satisfied, yea, a fourth thing which says not, It is enough: that is, the mouth of the womb" (47).

17. Aristotle, The Works, ed. J. A. Smith and W. D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), vol. 5., pp. 727-28.

18. Naomi Schor, "Eugenie Grandet: Mirrors and Melancholia," in The (M)other Tongue: Essays in Feminist Psychoanalytic Interpretation, ed. S. N. Garner, C. Kahane, M. Sprengnether (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 223. Schor is here presenting Luce Irigaray's criticism of Lacan's allegedly gender-neutral "specular image."

19. Mary Ann Doane, "The Clinical Eye: Medical Discourses in the 'Woman's Film' of the 1940s," in The Female Body in Western Culture: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Susan Rubin Suleiman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), p. 153. Although Doane's observations are directed at a particular film genre, she sees its mode of depicting women as indicative of the global linkage our culture makes between women and mental pathology.

20. See Elaine Scarry's analysis of torture in The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 27-59 and 124-33.

21. John Berger, Ways of Seeing (New York: Penguin Books, 1980), pp. 63-4.

22. For a comprehensive discussion of this sort of engineering and its implications see Gena Corea, The Mother Machine: Reproductive Technologies from Artificial Insemination to Artificial Wombs (New York: Harper & Row, 1985). See also Barbara Katz Rothman's recent book, Recreating Motherhood: Ideology and Technology in a Patriarchal Society (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1989), which explores the philosophical and legal traditions that have shaped policy regarding the new social relations ushered in by recent reproductive technologies.