meloni bologna

October 26th, 2010

Frankenstein’s Technology

Posted by meloni in Uncategorized

Victor Frankenstein is one of the most famous inventors in literary history, but why? Perhaps it is because he is the first creator to create actual life – not technologies to make life more convenient, or instruments to assist in daily tasks. In this capacity, I cannot help but equate Frankenstein with the image of God as the clockmaker. If, in some systems of belief, God is seen as the deity that created the universe, wound it up, and let it take its course, then Frankenstein can be equated as the creator of a different type of life – an individual, smaller life than that of an entire universe, but life nonetheless. Similarly, he creates and molds this life: as God would have created the elements of the universe and pieced them together to work in harmony, like a clock, Frankenstein painstakingly creates his monster – compilations of bones, joints, skin, and inner workings, and then, his monster is no longer in his control. Does Frankenstein differ in this Clockmaker equation? Absolutely. For one, he seeks to reign control over his monster, not willingly allowing the free will that God allowed own his universe. In fact, he spends his time seeking his monster, to prevent him from wreaking any havoc. Unlike God as Clockmaker, Frankenstein is unable to grant his creation independence from his will – he seems to claim control and ownership over his monster, unsure of his creation, unwilling to let the life he created take its natural course, whatever that may be.

Frankenstein is then a creator of life, not only of the technology that creates life. The question then becomes whether or not Frankenstein is solely a creator of technology or if life is to be defined as a technology. If that which humans produce can be deemed as technology, and technological advances, why can’t humans themselves be categorized as a form of technology? Genetic engineering – altering human life – is considered technology, so is it really fair to simply consider Frankenstein as a creator of life, and not simply a creator of one of the most complex and phenomenal technologies in existence? Do we disregard ourselves as products of technology – even if its God or evolutions technology – because we as human beings cannot be credited as the original inventors, even though we sustain its continued creation? In other words, is that which can be proven to have been produced solely by human beings the only things that can be considered technology?  Is created life itself to be considered technology also? Are we the byproduct of luck? A higher power’s plot, but never that of technology? In light of Mary Shelley’s novel, I feel that it can be interpreted that life is also a form of technology, and not simply the byproduct of technology.

October 18th, 2010

The Flow of Time

Posted by meloni in Uncategorized

"Exploding Clock" by Salvadore Dali

Salvadore Dali’s painting Exploding Clock is the most provocative image of the classic time keeping piece that comes to mind when contemplating clocks and their advocacy of a particular psyche and view of the world. Dali strikes at the heart of the matter – how can we really measure time? Civilization prides itself on recording schedules, time-lines, and history, recalling dates, facts, the time the first phone call was made, or when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Why is something as subjective as time a major component of society today and of societies of generations and civilizations past? Time, as purported by the classic clock, is measured in hours, minutes, and seconds. But what about months, years, light-years, solstices, the first fallen leaf of fall or the first breath of the first baby chick born in spring? What about the fact that time is never really concrete or dependable? Society does not confine itself to concrete measures of time, even in conversation – “Boy, time sure does fly”, “Where has the time gone?”, “The minutes are just crawling by”. Time is open to interpretation, subject to perceptions of reality. Artists consider the idea that time is relative to the reality of the time-keeper alleging ideas like, “Life on earth is like a heart-beat in heaven”. Perhaps it is Dali’s idea, when painting a clock that is melting and exploding, that time cannot be contained, cannot be compressed into a simple device. Time is infinite and all-encompassing. Time flows through all things, all people, and all life. With time moments pass, life changes, civilizations crumble, earth erodes, and souls die. Life is inconstant, but time evades all restraints, time is forever.

Slaves in the United States were viewed as less than human, and therefore their birth dates were rarely recorded by their masters. Their own time-line was deemed insignificant and meaningless. Indeed, one of Robinson Crusoe’s major priorities when shipwrecked on a deserted island was to figure out a way to keep track of time, ticking off his days in isolation on a piece of wood. Edmund Dantes, the protagonist in Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, counted the days he spent imprisoned by carving them into his cell wall as evidence that even if no one else knew he was living, if no one else could witness the time he spent living and breathing, he could recognize and testify to each new day. Does our time on earth lend to our identity as human beings? Is the clock the image of seeking to conquer time, to preserve the evidence of our longevity as a civilization, country, government, individual, partner, mother, son, husband or sister? Does Dali’s image of the melting and exploding clock indicate that in the race against time between human birth and death, human-beings cannot possibly stop the hands of time from ruling their lives and bodies? Perhaps in acknowledging humanity’s desire to record the length of its impact, Dali’s Exploding Clock, its shattered face and deformed structure, shows that time is actually meaningless – that it is not the minutes, days or hours of life that are important, but the quality of life, no matter the length. Why relish eternity if it is spent in vain? Perhaps this image serves as a reminder that time, if not used wisely, is actually useless.

October 13th, 2010

Crusoe Does It All on His Own…Again

Posted by meloni in Uncategorized

Daniel Defoe’s timeless text Robinson Crusoe exemplifies many of the Enlightenment ideals of the 18th century. Crusoe, the protagonist, is shipwrecked on an island and it is there that he must confront the ideals of civilization, or rather pre-civilization in a classic conflict of man versus nature. Moreover, it is an interesting point to note that it is in Crusoe’s solitary life on the island that he begins to challenge the social constraints of the time and to embrace the precepts of the Enlightenment. Elizabeth Eisenstein said:

One might compare the effects of listening to a Gospel passage read from the pulpit with reading the same passage at home for oneself.  In the first instance, the Word comes from a priest who is at a distance and on high; in the second it seems to come from a silent voice that is within . . . . I think that the ‘deep penetration of new controls’ to all departments of life becomes more explicable when we note that printed books are more portable than pulpits, more numerous than priests, and the messages they contain are more easily internalized.  . . . In so far as they were internalized by silent and solitary readers, the voice of individual conscience was strengthened.

When Eisenstein’s insights are applied to Defoe’s work the reader is easily able to recognize Crusoe’s own development of his individual conscience, as well as his undertaking of interpreting the Gospel passages for himself. In his isolation from the rest of the world Crusoe still undertakes the progressive approach of the modern world, perhaps a tool used to indicate that forward thinking is in actuality a return to what is considered correct and true. In examining Crusoe’s individual study of the Bible and Gospel passages, as opposed to the communal and priest-directed activity it was before, Robinson Crusoe can be examined from an atomizing individualism critique.

Crusoe’s individual experience with religion begins while he is extremely sick on the island and he utters his first serious prayer to God for deliverance, stating, “Lord be my Help, for I am in great Distress” (67). It is at this point that Crusoe has sought to develop an individual relationship with his Savior, God the Almighty. Crusoe begins to actively participate in his newfound relationship with God, and his individual conscience is overtly strengthened, as is exemplified in the following exchange within Crusoe’s mind between himself and his conscience:

Why has God done this to me? What have I done to be thus us’d?

My Conscience presently check’d me in that Enquiry, as if I had blasphem’d, and methought it spoke to me like a Voice; W R E T C H ! dost thou ask what thou has done! Look back upon a dreadful mis-spent Life, and ask they self what thou has not don’t? Ask, Why is it that thou wert not long ago destroy’d? Why wert thou not drown’d in Yarmouth Roads? Kill’d in the Fight when the Ship was taken by the Sallee man of War? Devour’d by the wild Beasts on the Coast of Africa? Or, Drown’d H E R E, when all the Crew perish’d but thu self? Dost thou ask, What have I done? I was stuck dumb with these Reflections, as one astonish’d, and had not a Word to say, no not to answer to my self, but rose up pensive and sad… (68).

Crusoe is clearly partaking in his own examination of conscience in the above passage, which purposefully reflects Enlightenment ideals. Though Crusoe is forced to this action through his unavoidable isolation, he is nonetheless focusing on his individual relationship with God as opposed to ties with the Church and community.

Similarly, Crusoe goes on to read and interpret the Bible on his own as well, when he states:

…only having opened the Book casually, the first Words that occurr’d to me were these, Call on me in the Day of Trouble, and I will deliver, and thou shalt glorify me. The Words were very apt to my Case, and made some Impression upon my Thoughts at the Time of reading them, tho’ not so much as they did afterwards…So I began to say, Can God himself deliver me from this Place?…But however, the Words made a great Impression upon me, and I mused upon them very often…I did what I never done in all my Life, I kneel’d down and pray’d to God to fulfil the Promise to me, that if I call’d upon him in the Day of Trouble, he would deliver me…(69)

Crusoe’s interpretation of the Bible and direct communication between himself and his God refers back directly to Elizabeth Eisenstein’s ideas about the strengthening of the voice of individual conscience within the faithful who take it upon themselves to read the Bible and pray to God at home, fore-going the mediator in the form of a priest. Crusoe, in the above passage, awakens himself to a covenant between himself and his God, and prays directly to God about his revelation.

Though Crusoe’s isolation cannot be helped in the circumstances of the novel, his actions undoubtedly reflect an overt emphasis on the “…focus on individuals and rights rather than communal ties and duties” (Rasmussen, 18). Crusoe, void of any community at all during this point in the novel, embraces the solitary connection he can create with God, ultimately stressing his need for an individual connection and faith with his Maker. Likewise, in this vein of thinking the text is asserting and confirming Eisenstein’s idea about the usefulness of books and their portable nature, thereby making the content of the Bible easily accessible outside of Church to those who can read. In this way Crusoe becomes a prime example of the hallmarks of the Enlightenment being put into practice. The emphasis that Defoe places on Crusoe’s individual endeavors opens up his novel to the atomizing individualism critique that Rasmussen describes, and further, casts Defoe as a proponent of Enlightenment politics.

Works Cited

Defoe, Daniel, and Michael Shinagel. Robinson Crusoe: an Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. New York: Norton, 1994. Print.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 428-9.

Rasmussen, Dennis. “Contemporary Political Theory as an Anti-Enlightenment Project” (available at  www.brown.edu/Research/ppw/files/Rasmussen_PPW.pdf )

October 5th, 2010

Inventing Your Way Back to the Top: An Analysis of the Technological Aspects of The Tempest in Relation to Prospero’s Endeavors to Redeem His Throne

Posted by meloni in Uncategorized

William Shakespeare’s last play The Tempest has all of the hallmarks of his best works – love, wit, romance, deception, treachery, and technology. Where, the reader may wonder, does this last characteristic come into play? In considering David F. Noble’s book, The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention, in relation to The Tempest it becomes clear that Prospero’s fall from power from his throne in Italy, and his journey throughout, mirrors the fall of Adam and Eve from paradise. Likewise, Noble’s assertion that technological innovations and “useful arts” (15) are merely steps on mankind’s way to his rediscovery of the perfect self that existed in paradise correlates to Prospero’s use and study of his own arts – namely the knowledge he gains from his books and his magic – to once more attain his former state of peace and power, the ownership of his own paradise, his kingdom in Italy. In this vein of thinking, technology plays the crucial role of providing new knowledge, but even more critically, allows a rediscovery and restoration of Prospero’s perfect past.

Prospero laments the loss of his kingdom at the beginning of the play, citing his own preoccupation with knowledge – a necessary component of technology – as one of the chief reasons that his power was ultimately able to be usurped:

Through all the signories it was the first

And Prospero the prime duke, being so reputed

In dignity, and for the liberal arts

Without a parallel; those being all my study,

The government I cast upon my brother

And to my state grew stranger, being transported

And rapt in secret studies. (Act I, Scene II, 71-7)

Prospero admits that he favored his thirst for knowledge more than serving his kingdom – a direct parallel to Adam and Eve’s desire to taste of the Tree of Knowledge before serving and obeying their God. Prospero goes so far as to admit that, “I loved my books…/ From mine own library with volumes that / I prize above my dukedom” (Act I, Scene II, 166-8). Prospero succumbs to his great fall from power, banished to an unknown island with his daughter and his books and meager supplies, and from this point must build towards restoring himself to the great precipice from which he plunged.

Prosper endeavors to regain his power from before his great fall by perfecting his knowledge and arts. Prospero gains useful knowledge from his books, and his important use of technology is depicted through his magic in the novel. Even when instructing others on how to get the best of Prospero, the wretched Caliban notes: “…Remember / First to possess his books; for without them / He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not / One spirit to command…” (87-90). It is Prospero’s full attainment of, and proficiency in, his knowledge that allows him to gain mastery over the island, its forces and inhabitants, using magic, which ultimately result in Prospero’s redemption. Noble affirms, “…As one scholar summarized Erigena’s thought, ‘In pursuing the study of the arts…one progresses in perfection since the arts are innate in man. Knowledge of them has been clouded by the Fall. Their recovery by study helps to restore man to his pristine state.’” (16-7). Prospero possesses an innate urge to learn and shares a bond with his books and studies that borders on obsession; as Caliban so rightly pointed out in this case, the books make the man. It is through Prospero’s advances in his learning, through the technology of mind and magic that he acquires, that he is able to plot his plan for redemption.

Prospero’s plot for redemption is ultimately enacted through his use of magic, his own “useful art”. Prospero’s useful art, however, is ardently displayed through a specific kind of magic that is evident through the play: the art of the theater. Throughout the play Prospero is responsible for producing the magic which yields different settings, circumstances, special effects, and crises. Without this magic Prospero would have been unable to even begin to take the necessary steps toward his redemption. It is through his mastery of circumstance that he is able to bring his foes to the island safely through a storm, as he relays to Miranda in the following lines:

I have with such provision in mine art

So safely ordered that there is no soul-

No, not so much perdition as an hair

Betid to any creature I the vessel (Act 1, Scene 2, 28-31)

Similarly, through his ability to manipulate special effects and summon Ariel that he is able to control what those he brings to the island experience, such as in his plot to have Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love, which he confirms when he says to his instrument of magic, Ariel, “It goes on, I see, / As my soul prompts it. Spirit, fine spirit, I’ll free thee / Within two days for this” (Act 1, Scene 2, 417-19). Likewise, his ability to create and divert crises using his powers to set in motion, and subsequently vanquish, conflict, serve to allow him to have complete control of the happenings on the island. This is demonstrated when Prospero sends Ariel to do his bidding yet again, to foil an unanticipated evil plot that has arisen on the island. Ariel whispers to Gonzalo, “My master through his art foresees the danger / That you, his friend, are in, and sends me forth / (For else his project dies) to keep them living” (Act 2, Scene 1, 293-5). It is his skillful directing that produces his desired plot; thereby without these arts in The Tempest Prospero would have been unable to re-attain his former state of power and perfection. Literally, through the play, it is Prospero’s study, perfection, and use of his magical powers that enable him to take the necessary steps toward redemption.

Prospero’s quest for, and perfection, of his arts and knowledge culminates in his ultimate attempt to regain power and ascend back to his throne. Noble cites an idea that “’linked the mechanical as well as the liberal arts directly to salvation and the restoration of fallen man.’…that the useful arts constituted a means of recovering mankind’s original perfection, his original divine image” (19). In Prospero’s own saga it is only his acquisition of his useful arts, his practiced and significant magical technology, that allow him to uncover the steps which will yield his return to power in Italy, his “paradise” as comparable to that of heaven for Adam and Eve and the children of God. Additionally, Noble asserts that technology is simply the means by which mankind is to rediscover his own divinity, the crucial tool that will allow man to return to his perfect state, but once attained, technology is  no longer needed. Prospero, at the end of the play, holds true to this sentiment as well. Having achieved all he sought out to accomplish through his useful arts, he renounces use of them at the end, stating, “Now my charms are all o’erthrown, / And what strength I have’s mine own, / Which is most faint” (Epilogue, 1-3).

Prospero’s journey in The Tempest, is perfectly synchronized with David Nobles’ depiction of Adam and Eve’s great fall from paradise. Prospero’s preoccupation with the technology of knowledge in the form of books causes his downfall, but it is this same technology which allows him to gain mastery and control of his surroundings. This use of technology is the guiding force of the progress Prospero makes while on the island, and is the ultimate vehicle to his redemption. Prospero’s entire story mirrors Noble’s idea that technological advances allowed mankind to slowly restore themselves to their pristine condition, and likewise, would no longer be needed once that state of paradise was reclaimed. Through this technocritical approach Prospero’s journey is easily correlated to Adam and Eve’s fall and humankind’s endeavor to re-attain paradise, and likewise the technological advances made by Prospero serve to render this feat possible.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William, Peter Hulme, and William H. Sherman. The Tempest. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.

David F. Noble, The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

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