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The Sorrows of Young Wieboldt: A Gloss

The Last Formalist, or W. J. T. Mitchell
as Romantic Dinosaur

The Sorrows of Young Wieboldt: A Gloss

by Orrin N. C. Wang

Editors' Note: This essay and the text by W.J.T. Mitchell appear together with images, illustrations, and interview questions in the main page of this volume.

August 1997

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Frankenstein's Cinematic Dream

In this essay, Marc Redfield weaves together readings of Shelley's novel and of James Whale's 1931 film, arguing that in different ways both texts make legible a certain monstrousness of vision and figuration. The film renders the monster hypervisible as an image in, and of, the age of mechanical reproducibility, and as an uncanny icon of the "cinematic." Shelley's novel provides an implicit critique of the fantasy of seeing-itself-seeing that animates Whale's film by suggesting that the act of seeing cannot be isolated from the unreliable performativity of figurative language. The secret of life is a "sudden light" that breaks in on Victor, obliterating his own understanding of the cognitive processes that got him to the point of illumination. He cannot tell his secret to Walton because the secret posseses him; his understanding and his act never catch up with each other. The novel thus suggests that no aesthetic perception can catch up with or understand its own technical enactment and proliferation, while Whale's film in turn helps us recognize this monstrous predicament as one of technoshock.
July 2003

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Introduction

There are really two main "dreams" in Mary Shelley's original Frankenstein novel: Victor Frankenstein's daydream about the grand future effects of his creating artifical life and the nightmare into which he falls after he recoils from his finished creature in revulsion and exhaustion. This second dream, quite complex, has become the subject of many interpretations, particularly in the twentieth century. Even so, I raise a number of questions that these previous readings have not answered and show how the rest of the essays in this collection respond to those in new and striking ways. In recounting the most influential existing interpretions, I also show how many profound cultural and psychological issues are raised by both of Victor's dreams, especially his nightmare about embracing his dead mother. As a result, the newer interpretations offered here address some major unresolved quandaries in the history of Western culture. Mainly through the work of my fellow contributor's, then, we collectively offer new insights about long-standing issues in the West: the relationship between sentimentality and sadism, the role and nature of parody in human creativity, the need for several radical repressions for the enforcement of a patriarchal society, and the parallels between dream-language and the movement between images in modern motion pictures. Because of the questions raised by these readings, as well as in Frankenstein's dream, these essays claim, we are thrown back on and must therefore confront the most basic ways in which Western self-representation has occured over the last several centuries.
July 2003

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