I didn’t use the patchwork face of Frankenstein’s monster to illustrate [‘State Decay’] for reasons of aesthetic facetiousness alone. The monster is precisely an example of uprooted Unlife, absolute betweenness, artificial death thanatechnically instantiated that horrifies Frankenstein as the “father” of something made in his bastard image. Patchwork is the bastard image of the state which [it] is born of [whilst] also [threatening] its imperial authority. Horror is its natural aesthetic mode [as it is of modernity in general] but, again, as Fisher writes [in ‘The Weird and The Eerie‘]: “[Terrors] are not all there is to the Outside”.
The Modern Prometheus is often considered to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of experimental science but, as soon as it was first published, Shelley’s novel provided many commentators with a monstrous image for exploring the coupled excitement and danger of an experimental politics.
Shelley herself was deeply influenced by the writings of her mother, the pioneering proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Many early political readings of Frankenstein, in light of Shelley’s maternal heritage, were explicitly Marxist, framing Frankenstein’s monster as an image of a proletarian man to come, transformed by the horrors of industrialised labour into a patchwork Borg-like figure of man-machinery.
(Alternatively, rejecting the transhumanist horror of the Borg, I can’t help but think of Kraftwerk’s affirmation of the fraternal same, famously depicted on the cover of Die Mensch-Maschine).
However, it was the father of modern Conservatism, Edmund Burke, who appropriated the image of the monster most famously (and ironically).
Wollstonecraft herself had clashed with Burke, writing A Vindication of the Rights of Man in response to Burke’s mourning of the French monarchy following the revolution of the 1790s, fuelling the “pamphlet war” in Britain over the validity of our own monarchy. Burke nevertheless later bastardised Wollstonecraft’s daughter’s Gothic creation: “A State without a religion is like a human body without a soul, or rather like an unnatural body of the species of the Frankenstein monster, without a pure and vivifying purpose.” Here, the decomposition of the State without religion, nonetheless “alive”, is seen as abhorrent in the framework of Burke’s Conservatism.
It sounds quite appealing to me.
What must be noted about Frankenstein in particular, and likewise in Wuthering Heights, is that, like so many other Gothic novels, it has, at its heart, a chase; a twisted Gothic line of flight; a pursuit of thanatoidal desire. Frankenstein’s monster, fleeing the regret of his “father”, ends up at the North Pole, journeying to the limits of both the earth and of thought. The thing desired, in this way, is always an-other, pursued “abstractly” rather than directly, beyond life and death, possession and pleasure.
The lines that Frankenstein and his monster take, likewise Jonathan and Dracula in that other Gothic (Yorkshire-based) classic, carve up space negatively across the globe. Elsewhere, in Wuthering Heights, Catherine and Heathcliff carve up the uninhabitable locality in which they are nonetheless embedded: the Yorkshire moors. Existing at the edge of the boundaries of bio-socio-political life, trying to push through to another side, these bastard creations run amok.
(As an aside, Heathcliff is, of course, not Gothically “created” like Frankenstein or Dracula but he is nonetheless an orphan and a “gypsy” (a nomad), outside the State, brought into the Family to run amok within its confines.)
Each of these examples, putting positive and negative conceptions of territorial carving to one side, pursue lines of “streaming, spiralling, zigzagging, snaking, feverish… variation”.
Deleuze and Guattari write:
The organic body is prolonged by straight lines that attach it to what lies in the distance. Hence the primacy of human beings, or of the face: We are this form of expression itself, simultaneously the supreme organism and the relation of all organisms to metric space in general. The abstract, on the contrary, begins only with what Worringer presents as the “Gothic” avatar. It is this nomadic line that he says is mechanical, but in free action and swirling; it is inorganic, yet alive, and all the more alive for being inorganic. … Heads (even a human being’s when it is not a face) unravel and coil into ribbons in a continuous process; mouths curl in spirals. Hair, clothes… This streaming, spiralling, zigzagging, snaking, feverish line of variation liberates a power of life that human beings had rectified and organisms had confined, and which matter now expresses as the trait, flow, or impulse traversing it. If everything is alive, it is not because everything is organic or organized but, on the contrary, because the organism is a diversion of life. In short, the life in question is inorganic, germinal, and intensive, a powerful life without organs, a Body that is all the more alive for having no organs, everything that passes between organisms (“once the natural barriers of organic movement have been overthrown, there are no more limits”).
Entangling this with Burke’s logic, we can see the State, bound by degrees by religion and/or the monarchy, as a diversion of the life of politics. The borders of the State must be perforated, internally and externally, so that life might once again flourish in all its variances.