Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: 'Frankenstein and Philosophy: The Shocking Truth'


Open Court Press’ “Pop Culture and Philosophy” series has been holding up various films, books, TV shows, and video games up to philosophical scrutiny since the publication of its inaugural volume on “Seinfeld” back in 2000. It’s surprising the series has taken so long to swing around to Frankenstein since Mary Shelley’s tale is so philosophically pointed. Or perhaps it has taken so long because Shelley makes her point so clearly that it doesn’t lend itself to multiple interpretations that well. We are reminded of this time and again Frankenstein and Philosophy: The Shocking Truth, because a lot of the book’s 27 essays hit the same conclusion: neither the Monster nor science is inherently evil; it is Doctor Frankenstein’s lack of love for his creation that drives the Monster to destroy, and therefore, science must always go hand-in-hand with love, care, and humanity. Although the writers behind these essays may frame them within themes of theology, eugenics, or Marxism, the fact that Shelley’s essential conclusion is so often repeated can make for repetitious reading. So I often appreciated the essays with which I don’t necessarily agree (such as Keith Hess’s examination of whether or not the Monster has a soul), were inconclusive (such as Jonathan Lopez’s attempt to figure out who a man is that has been created from multiple parts), or didn’t focus as keenly on the topic (such as Skyler King’s primer course on moral relativism vs. moral absolutism that merely uses the monster as illustration) simply because they mixed up the perspective.

Several of the more divergent essays stand up on their own merits completely. I liked Elena Caseta and Luca Tambolo’s rejection of the flippant and erroneous buzzword “Frankenfood” for its originality, its soundness, and my own pet peeve about flippant and erroneous buzzwords. I found Caroline Mossler’s piece on the Monster as a pioneering revolutionary against a human-centered society provocative and particularly relevant. John V. Karavitis daringly blasts past Shelley completely to examine the morality of biomedical enhancements under the microscope of Dean Koontz’s reinterpretation of the Frankenstein story.

Some writers managed to illuminate otherwise unobserved angles of Shelley’s central theme or find particularly clever ways of approaching it. Jesse Dern clarifies the theme by explaining how Frankenstein has superficially written off his creation as a monster from first glance. Mirko D. Garasic inverts the theme by using Frankenweenie as an example of how a creator’s love can redeem a monster. Nevertheless, we should not accuse the multiple philosophers behind Frankenstein and Philosophy of unoriginal thought but applaud Mary Shelley. How many 18-year olds can construct a philosophical fiction so lucidly that the philosophy remains both unmistakable and valid 200 years later?

Get Frankenstein and Philosophy: The Shocking Truth at Amazon.com here :


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