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.