No, Not That Kind of Filthy

This blog is for weekly thoughts on the course LIT 6934, Digital Humanities Approaches on Nineteenth Century Literature. We’ll be discussing Shelley, (Frankenstein), Brontë (Shirley), Byron, and other Romantic-era authors, some of them anonymous.

Of particular interest early on will ballads and songs by and about the original Luddites, workers pushed so far to the edge by government oppression that they took to destroying their very means of employment.

The seminar’s title, “Workshop of Filthy Creation,” comes from Frankenstein.  Without knowing the reference (meaning where it specifically comes from in the novel), I’d like to offer up some thoughts before doing any kind of research at all (that would seem cheaty).  Later in the semester, once we’ve read the work, I’ll return and discuss the term further.

For the nonce, it obviously implies Dr. Frankenstein’s imperfect laboratory that popular culture has come know–lightning bolts and Tesla coils, buzzing machinery, blowing steam, and a great deal of noise and haste.  Part of that imperfection is that in that pop culture frame of reference, there are plenty of anachronisms–devices that didn’t yet exist when Shelley wrote the work.

It seems to me that there is a separation between “filthy workshop” and “creation.”  The latter is high-minded, idealized, and to some extent, the provenance of the Divine.  Workshops–even the cleanest ones–are harsh and brutal places where practicality and production rule.  There is a physicality to a workshop as opposed to the spirituality of creation.  There is a scene in Kenneth Branagh’s excellent (although certainly not flawless) film adaptation that displays the dividing line between the two, a breaking point between Victor’s ideal of touching a divine domain and being exposed to the (literally) naked reality of his work.  As soon as Robert De Niro’s “Sharp-Featured Man,” as Branagh insisted he be called (banning the term “monster” from the set), opens his eyes, Victor is confronted with a “what have I done?” moment, seeing the rank and wrecked surroundings in which he has attempted to duplicate divinity.  More in this down the road.

For now, it is time to roll up the sleeves and dive into digital tools.  The learning curve of the literature in this course will not be steep, but the methods by which we will analyze it will be.


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