ENGH 451 (Science Fiction): Midterm Exam

Posted by on July 24, 2012 
Filed under Essays

Part I: Question 1

William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer is a work primarily focusing on the effects of the hybridization of advanced technologies with human beings, and the effects of these hybridizations on the human body and soul. These hybridizations come in mechanized forms that physically intertwine with the human body such as Molly’s decision to physically modify herself with superior digital eyes and reflexes, or Case’s physical interface with computer software to glide through “walls of emerald green, milky jade…in cyberspace” (Gibson 247).The hybridizations of technology with human beings also remain physically separate from the human body with the actual hybridization occurring in a more abstract manner. For instance, the characters considered AI (Wintermute, Neuromancer, and the amalgamation of Wintermute and Neuromancer) are never physically intertwined with Case’s body, but they do affect Case’s psyche on an emotional level.

The AIs’ influences on Case’s psyche are best seen on the emotional level when the AI Neuromancer creates the image of the deceased Linda on the isolated beach, in order to convince Case to remain inside his program, “Stay. If your woman is a ghost, she doesn’t know it. Neither will you” (235). Neuromancer is using Case’s guilt of “feeling nothing” (39) immediately after abruptly losing his former lover Linda in its attempt to influence Case to remain in its version of cyberspace. Neuromancer’s attempt at influencing Case hybridizes Case’s psyche with Neuromancer in that Case’s mind is so close to Neuromancer in cyberspace as to be skillfully read and subtly influenced by Neuromancer based on deep emotions embedded in Case’s mind over his loss of Linda, “She was the girl he remembered from their trip across the Bay, and that was cruel” (228). Neuromancer is “cruel” in that it stirs buried emotions of guilt in Case over his turning of “those perpetually startled eyes into wells of reflexive need” (8).

While the novel Neuromancer outwardly examines the ways in which humans have become physically and mentally intertwined with technology, its underlying purpose is to address humanity’s loss of its own identity through its quest to evolve at a pace divergent from nature’s natural pace. In other words, the more humanity advances itself toward its prototypical vision, the more it steps away from its very essence. For example, Molly’s replacement of her eyes with “surgically inset…mirrored glasses” (25) enhances the precision of her vision (55), making her physically superior to other humans. However, her choice to enhance her vision also strips away her ability to cry. Instead, Molly must spit to portray the act of crying because, as she says, “the ducts are routed to the back of my mouth” (177).

Molly’s loss of the ability to cry in the usual manner in which humans cry relates a fundamental loss of the expression of a basic human act used to portray a wide array of emotions such as: anger, sadness, happiness, and nervousness. Molly’s act of spitting instead of crying can be seen as an action that only allows her to be perceived in a negative light because those viewing someone spit, especially a woman, tend to perceive said person as unrefined. Therefore Molly, in her quest to become superior to others, has became emotionally inferior to those she has physically surpassed because no one is able to view her genuine responses to her emotional reactions. If the eyes are truly considered to be the preferred points of reference in recognizing another’s true essence, then Molly has lost a critical element used by other humans to gauge her emotional state. In her attempt to become physiologically superior, she has hindered her ability to control how others perceive her. She has diminished her relationship with humanity by limiting her available choices to express outward emotions.

Like Molly, Case has also lost his human identity through his persistent urge to escape earthly human reality for “an almost permanent adrenaline high…jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix” (5). Case has forsaken a meaningful connection with humanity for a virtual world full of “rich fields of data” (5). He has endeavored to transcend the normal human experience of “a tangible wave” (9) of emotions for “the bodiless exultation of cyberspace” (6). Case’s inability to identify with humanity is fully realized when it is stated that “The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh” (6) after Case loses his ability to jack into the matrix (5). Case has become so out of touch with his physical body that he now views his body as “meat” (6). His flesh, once used for the sole purpose of sustaining the mind in the matrix has become a material that now vehemently denies his access to the matrix because of the “Russian mycotoxin” that has “damaged his nervous system” (6). In effect, Cases’s poisoned body has trapped his mind in a perpetual cycle of longing to again feel a oneness with the matrix, “he still dreamed of cyberspace, hopes fading nightly…and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void” (4-5). Case’s choice to perpetually submerge himself in the matrix causes him to lose so much of a connection to his body that, when he is deprived the matrix, he becomes a zombie whose desire does not exceed “trying to reach the console that wasn’t there” (5).

The passage, “…the console that wasn’t there” (5) although ambiguous by itself, can be allegorized into summing up the fall of humanity’s identity through its persistent escape into technological advancement. “…the console that wasn’t there” (5) is Molly’s loss of emotive capability through her bodily enhancement. “…the console that wasn’t there” (5) is Case’s loss of his soulful essence for “…the consensual hallucination that was the matrix” (5), as it is also his loss of use for his body outside of being a tool enabling physical access to the matrix. “…the console that wasn’t there” (5) is the loss of substance inherent in humanity’s interactions in Gibson’s eerily recognizable world of “affordable beauty” (3).

Part I: Question 3

Frankenstein’s dream, immediately after his creation of the monster, is paradoxical in the way the reader can interpret it. In one way, the dream directly foreshadows events yet to happen in the narrative such as the death of Elizabeth, and Frankenstein’s demise being in the Arctic. However, Frankenstein’s dream can also be interpreted as a compact meta-narrative mirroring Frankenstein’s gradual psychological decline following his creation of the monster. Still further examination of Frankenstein’s dream reveals it to question the validity of Frankenstein’s scientific pursuits over establishing a bond with humanity.

Frankenstein’s dream is relevant to the novel as a whole in that it directly prophesizes the decline and death of Elizabeth while also indirectly revealing some of the circumstances surrounding it. For instance, the dream’s details state that after Frankenstein kisses Elizabeth “her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms” (Shelley 85). This passage alludes to Elizabeth’s death in that Frankenstein describes her features as resembling a corpse by saying “her lips, they became livid with the hue of death…” (85). A further detail alluding to Elizabeth’s death in this passage is Frankenstein’s comparison of Elizabeth’s features to those of his “dead mother” (85) which foreshadows, along with Elizabeth’s “hue of death” (85), Elizabeth becoming “lifeless and inanimate” (218) with “pale and distorted features” (218).

While Frankenstein’s dream directly alludes to Elizabeth’s eventual death, Frankenstein’s bodily reaction brought on by the dream directly alludes to his death being in the Arctic. Frankenstein imparts, after awakening from the “wildest dreams” (85), that “a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed…” (85). Frankenstein’s physical condition after awakening from his dream alludes to his death in the Arctic in that he indirectly describes his physical state as being uncommonly cold by way of the “cold dew” (85) on his face, his teeth having “chattered” (85), and his limbs being “convulsed” (85). These symptoms are all bodily reactions to being in an extremely cold environment. The body’s intent, in producing these reactions, is to warm itself through movement (chattering teeth, convulsing limbs). The “cold dew” (85) attests to Frankenstein’s dilapidated condition in that it can be perceived to be a cold sweat brought on by fever, but the dew’s feature most implying Frankenstein’s death as occurring in the Arctic is the fact that the dew is “cold,” (85) like the Arctic itself. These physical characteristics of Frankenstein’s body, after awakening from his dream of Elizabeth’s death, all point to his death being in the Arctic because his physical features are direct results of being in a cold environment. These features are also directly linked to the act of dying in that Frankenstein dies as the result of prolonged exposure to the extremely cold environment of the Arctic. Frankenstein attests to a cold environment being quite capable of killing him when he predicts his demise in the Arctic by stating, “I must commence a destructive and almost endless journey across the mountainous ices of the ocean,— amidst cold that few of the inhabitants could long endure, and which I, the native of a genial and sunny climate, could not hope to survive” (228). Elizabeth’s death in Frankenstein’s dream foreshadows Frankenstein’s death in that Frankenstein awakens from the dream in a cold state, as if he were in the Arctic, and it is Elizabeth’s actual death at the hands of the monster that is the impetus for Frankenstein to hunt the monster, a decision which directly leads to Frankenstein’s death.

Whereas Frankenstein’s dream directly foreshadows later events in the narrative, the elements of his dream can also be understood to be a meta-narrative reflecting his psychological degeneration as the result of his creation of the monster. To understand this embedded drama within the dream, one must cease to view the dream’s Elizabeth as Elizabeth and instead view her as being Frankenstein’s subconscious manifestation of himself. To accept Frankenstein as having subconsciously manifested Elizabeth to be himself is to accept Frankenstein and Elizabeth as having a powerful, inseparable emotional bond, which accounts for her taking his place in the dream. Frankenstein admits this powerful bond between he and Elizabeth, as well as theirs being a bond making it difficult to tell where one’s personality begins and the other’s ends when he states, “We were strangers to any species of disunion and dispute; for although there was a great dissimilitude in our characters, there was an harmony in that very dissimilitude” (66). With this passage, Frankenstein is admitting Elizabeth to be the other half of his self by saying they “were strangers to any species of disunion and dispute…” (66) because they were in “harmony” (66) with one another. Their “harmony” (66) with one another is the feature of their relationship which allows for acceptance of the dream’s Elizabeth as really being Frankenstein’s manifestation of himself. They have achieved a “harmony” wherein one cannot be balanced, or exist without the other. The necessity of this balance is made clear when, after the monster kills Elizabeth, Frankenstein spirals toward his own death by chasing the monster “for many months” (225) in order to avenge the part of him he “had lost” (219).

Once the sharing of self between Elizabeth and Frankenstein is established, one can begin to realize the topology of Frankenstein’s demise embedded within his dream of Elizabeth’s death. If Frankenstein cannot tell where he begins and Elizabeth ends, then it is rational to assume that, in Frankenstein’s dream, Frankenstein is Elizabeth’s character as well as his own, and Elizabeth is his character as well as her own. So, various characteristics of Frankenstein’s dream can be understood to be actually reflecting the course of Frankenstein’s life by accepting this universality of character between Elizabeth and Frankenstein. By this logic, when Frankenstein recounts that he “saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt” (85), it is actually Frankenstein walking in Ingolstadt during his formative years as a student when his “ardour was indeed the astonishment of the students; and…proficiency, that of the masters” (78). In reality, Frankenstein is physically separated from Elizabeth and his mind is sustained by his preoccupation with the question of “Whence…did the principle of life proceed?” (79). Recognizing his mind’s preoccupation allows the next detail of the dream of Frankenstein being “delighted and surprised” (85) at seeing his self to be interpreted as Frankenstein’s delight while he “pursued nature to her hiding places” (82). In essence, he has discovered an unknown part his self through his pursuit of artificially creating life. His pursuit begins to define him and he directly relates this by stating, “I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation except for this one pursuit” (82). His preoccupation and “eagerness” (82) while “pursuing nature to her hiding places” (82) is the reason he is “delighted and surprised” (85) in the dream. Likewise, “…the first kiss…” (85) of the dream represents Frankenstein’s achievement of artificially creating life. Frankenstein has finally achieved his goal after “such infinite pains and care” (85) and the dream’s kiss represents the conclusion of him working “hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body” (85). If the dream’s kiss represents the fruition of Frankenstein’s task, then the death of Elizabeth in the dream following the kiss represents Frankenstein’s immediate psychological degeneration after the monster awakens. Frankenstein is watching his once-passionate task become “the bitterness of disappointment” (86) that directly leads to his death. The immediate degeneration and death of Elizabeth is actually the death of the value of his scientific pursuit. The death of the dream’s version of the pursuit is Frankenstein’s manifestation of a “rapid,” negative “change,” in which “the overthrow was so complete” (86). Frankenstein is watching his inner-self collapse into “the grave worms” (85) inhabiting the cemeteries he pillaged.

Although, Frankenstein’s dream can be re-interpreted to reflect his psychological degeneration following his creation of the monster, it can also be interpreted to be questioning the value of his scientific pursuits over the need to establish bonds with humanity. The dream literally portrays someone very close to Frankenstein dying. The inference of the dream is that said person has died because of his having “pursued nature to her hiding places” (82). So, what does this say about the importance of science over that of actual human interaction? Frankenstein’s life was negatively and drastically altered as a result of his creating the monster. This fact, coupled with the fact that so many of people close to Frankenstein (Elizabeth, Justine, William, Henry Clerval, Alphonse Frankenstein) died either directly or indirectly at the hands of the monster, renders it logical to assume that Frankenstein’s pursuit of artificially creating life was not nearly as valuable as the lives lost at the hands of his artificial achievement because his creation of artificial life destroyed the lives of those he intimately valued. Frankenstein’s decision to “execute this dear revenge” (224) on the monster for killing those closest to him confirms the validity of humanity over scientific pursuits because Frankenstein utilizes the same strong resolve he had for creating artificial life in his new pursuit of exacting revenge upon his creation for killing those closest to him. Frankenstein expresses this oneness of resolve when he states, “ ‘I swear to pursue the daemon, who caused this misery, until he or I shall perish in mortal conflict. For this purpose I will preserve my life: to execute this dear revenge…’ ” (224). Frankenstein, with this statement, is realizing his error in pursuing science so strongly. He is willing to risk his life to kill the monster to avenge the human deaths caused by his creation, as well as to atone for his abandonment of human interaction for scientific interaction.

Frankenstein finalizes his re-assertion of humanity’s value over that of science when he chooses to keep his method of producing artificial life a secret from Walton in order to keep Walton safe from “destruction and infallible misery” (81). Frankenstein’s consideration and compassion in his decision implies he has learned from his mistake in assuming science could replace the validity of human contact. He is willing to take the essence of his scientific triumph to the grave in order for humanity to remain intact. Frankenstein’s decision to keep his secret of creating artificial life to his self is made because he considers the human race as better off without his discovery. His decision also attests to Frankenstein not wanting Walton to be left with the internal void caused by ignoring the philosophy of “how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (81).

Part II: Blog Audit

After reading and examining my blog posts at http://mchrist9.onmason.com/, I have determined all four of my posts to share the common theme of seeking to link the world as we know it to the fantastic worlds created by Mary Shelley, W.E.B Du Bois, and William Gibson. My blog posts differed in that two posts were based solely on nature’s role in defining the underlying intent of Shelley’s Frankenstein and DuBois’ “The Comet,” while the other two posts were abstractly based on questioning whether an authorial intent existed that posed ethical considerations through the use of structure and characterization in Gibson’s Neuromancer and Shelley’s Frankenstein. I believe my purpose in fashioning my posts in this manner was to flush out my personal connections to each of these works. For example, Du Bois’ “The Comet” is a work of which I felt a strong, but mysterious connection. So, through the course of creating my blog post, it became necessary for me to recognize the aspect of “The Comet” that instigated my identification with the text. After careful consideration of the text, I came to the conclusion that it was the eerie descriptions of the water paralleling Jim’s demeanor that had caught my attention. This led me to craft the thesis of my blog post concerning “The Comet” in a way as to attempt to adumbrate “the author’s employment of water as the element by which I could gauge emotion/tone at critical points in the narrative” (Christovich http://mchrist9.onmason.com/). I felt this thesis would address concerns surrounding the state of humanness in a world supposedly almost void of humanity by identifying a natural element (water) in the story directly linked with one of the humans left alive and this element’s connection with the elements of racism also inherent in “The Comet.”

I felt analysis of water’s role in “The Comet” was essential to understanding “Jim’s alienation from society” (Christovich http://mchrist9.onmason.com/). This feeling about the water in “The Comet” was only brought on because of the freedom allotted concerning the subject matter with which we were permitted to formulate/base our posts. I do not believe I would have necessarily recognized water’s vital role in “The Comet” had I not had the freedom to discover and interpret the story’s meaning in my own way. The same can be said for my first post of the semester concerning nature’s role in Victor’s pursuit of creating artificial life. The freedom of being able to prompt my own analysis led me to consider that I had feelings of anger towards Victor after reading Volume I of Frankenstein. Once I recognized my anger at Victor, I began to critically question the origin of the anger. This self-interrogation led me to realize that it was the ignorance and arrogance inherent in Victor’s vision that led me to write, “I found Victor’s readiness to correlate his emotions with images and actions of nature to be deceiving as they come from a man determined to undermine the importance of natural selection in the wild” (Christovich http://mchrist9.onmason.com/). Victor had lost touch with the human trait of rationality by creating a monster capable of wreaking havoc on his psyche, person, family, and friends. He did not look past his own ambition to the greater concerns of natural selection when pursuing his creation of the monster. A truly rational man of science would have realized these dangers and possibly abandoned his pursuits, but Victor had, as he says, “feelings which made me neglect the scenes around me caused me also to forget those friends who were so many miles absent, and whom I had not seen for so long a time” (Shelley 83). By explaining them in this way, Victor’s feelings come across as out of his control and therefore, irrational. His loss of rationality had directly led to his demise, as well as those of which he was closest. I felt Victor’s loss of rational reasoning was essential to understanding him as a man that had lost his humanity in trying to recreate humanity.

While the openness concerning the subject matter of the blog posts helped me to produce what I consider to be original and meaningful analyses of the works of Shelley and Du Bois, it was the blog post in which we were given a specific prompt which led me to question William Gibson’s intent in forming the complex structure in Neuromancer. Had I not been prompted to question the difficulty inherent in Neuromancer (Sample ENGH 451: Blogging Prompt), I would not have been able to infer Gibson’s reasoning for making Neuromancer so difficult was to “force the reader to read his text as close as possible at all times because he saw the future as being a world of instant gratification where the little things are overlooked in favor of continually speeding forward from one byte to the next” (Christovich http://mchrist9.onmason.com/). The blog prompt helped me to construct a post that was satisfying to write in that it made me focus on the intent hidden in Gibson’s construction of Neuromancer, an intent that I felt was crucial to recognize when perceiving the portrayals of humanity and technology within Neuromancer.

Recognizing the importance of both freedom of creation in our posts, and structured creation of our posts, is essential when looking towards how my blogging will evolve in the second half of the semester. I realize both the structured and unstructured methods of creating my posts offered advantages of insight. Therefore, I will continue to look at nature as subject matter in my blogs, as well as authorial intent, because both have been rewarding for me to examine. However, I believe I will try to compose at least one blog post the second half of this semester that focuses on the meaning of one word used repeatedly throughout a text because I quite enjoyed this type of analysis when we were asked to analyze Neuromancer in this manner.

I would also like to expand the audience of my blog to include persons who are not in our ENGH 451 class. I have begun this process by posting a link to my blog in my Twitter profile. However, I do not have any followers on Twitter, so I guess I should consider ways in which I can gain a nominal following so as to procure more interest in my blog. Regardless of its following, blogging is great creative fun, even without a wide audience, because openly posting a composition on the Internet requires a commitment to writing works of substance and quality. Even if I don’t have an audience outside of our class, my posts are still publicly available. Therefore, they should be carefully constructed so I do not look like a fool to the anonymous reader of my blog.

Works Cited

Christovich, Matthew. “Confronting the Confusion Embedded in Neuromancer.” Matt’s Science Fiction Blog (ENGH 451). onMason.com. Web. 15 October 2011. <http://mchrist9.onmason.com/>.

—. “Frankenstein– Volume I”. Matt’s Science Fiction Blog (ENGH 451). onMason.com. Web. 15 October 2011. <http://mchrist9.onmason.com/>.

—. “Wading Through the Tides of Tone in W. E. B. Du Bois’ ‘The Comet.’” Matt’s Science Fiction Blog (ENGH 451). onMason.com. Web. 15 October 2011. <http://mchrist9.onmason.com/>.

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Penguin, 2000. Print.

Sample, Mark. “ENGH 451: Blogging Prompt.” Message to Matthew Christovich. 25 September 2011. E-mail. <https://pod51000.outlook.com/owa/?ae=Item&a=Open&t=IPM.Note&id=RgAAAABM5sPt2h44RYpHev0OFt11BwCOxxn%2bD1yoR4Grk4d1KC6RAAAAAE9FAADsrRbURnkRQLmApBOiRpCGAAAGG2lZAAAA&pspid=_1318693907718_422402870 >.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ontario: Broadview, 1999. Print.


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