I was invited to give a short talk as part of the Frankentalk symposium in UCC on the 30th of October 2018. The topic is “How does Frankenstein speak today to your area of research?” Below are my slides and the text of my talk with some extra links to relevant resources.
When thinking about how the question of how Frankenstein connects with my research I turned to Stephen King for guidance. In Danse Macabre, King discusses Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in particular how film adaptations alter the original. He states that
Unlike the films based upon it [Frankenstein], there are few scenes of violence, and unlike the inarticulate monster of the Universal days Shelley’s creature speaks with the orotund, balanced phrases of a peer of the house of Lords. . . .he is a cerebral creature, the direct opposite of Karloff’s physically overbearing monster. (68)
So what does this have to do with Chicana feminist writings?
Much of my research focuses on feminist revisions of patriarchal master narratives Click here for my most recent publication on Gloria Anzaldúa’s poetry). For example, Gloria Anzaldúa focuses on the figure of Coyolxauhqui. The Aztec Goddess of the Moon or Milky Way, Coyolxauhqui was butchered and dismembered by her brother, Huitzilopochtli, the God of War and the Sun. He then tossed her body parts down the mountainside and lobbed her head into the sky where it became the moon. In traditional mythology, Coyolxauhqui is depicted as a traitor and a threat to male leadership. These traits then become synonymous with all Chicana women.
In Anzaldúa’s theory of the Coyolxauhqui Imperative she posits that the Goddess’s mutilation is symbolic of violence against and hatred of women that Anzaldúa sees as a byproduct of over 500 years of colonial history in the U.S. Anzaldúa argues that in order heal, she needs to metaphorically put Coyolxauhqui back together again. Her task is not to make a monster out of human parts, but to make a human out of a mythical monster.
As Anzaldúa states,
Coyolxauhqui personifies the wish to repair and heal, as well as rewrite the stories of loss and recovery, exile and homecoming, disinheritance and recuperation, stories that lead out of passivity and into agency, out of devalued into valued lives. (“Now” 563)
As both the surgeon and the patient in this feminist operation, Anzaldúa wields the scalpel or pen and is inscribed with the painful incisions and stitches that she makes. She imagines herself undergoing violent dismemberment, linking in her personal experiences of gender and race-based violence, colonialism, and traumatic medical procedures with the mythological fragmentation of Coyolxauhqui. She writes
How to turn away from the hellish journey that the disease [powerlessness] has put me through, the alchemical nights of the soul. Torn limb from limb, knifed, mugged, beaten, My tongue [Spanish] ripped from my mouth, left voiceless. My name stolen from me. My bowels fucked with a surgeon’s knife, uterus and ovaries pitched into the trash. Castrated. Set apart from my own kind, isolated. My life-blood sucked out of me by my role as woman and nurturer – the last form of cannibalism. (49)
In Shelley’s novel, when Victor Frankenstein realises what he has created he, in Stephen King’s words, “responds to this vision as any sane man would; he runs shrieking into the night” (Danse Macabre 69).
In Anzaldúa’s feminist revision, women do not have this luxury. Reopening the wounds of traumatic histories, myths and folktales that have been infected by the patriarchy is a necessary and violent procedure in order to rebuild Chicana identity. While Victor Frankenstein witnesses a nightmarish transformation “from the bloom of health” into “the hue of death”, Chicana women face the opposite transformation, from monstrous beings caged behind patriarchal ideals to fully realised, autonomous, human feminists.
The Coyolxauhqui Imperative became all the more urgent for Anzaldúa in the wake of 9/11.
She draws strength from her creative revision of Coyolxauhqui and states in an essay called “Let Us Be the Healing Wound”:
My job as an artist is to bear witness to what haunts us, to step back and see the pattern in these events [personal and societal], and how we can repair el daño [the damage] by using the imagination and its visions. I believe in the transformative power of medicine and art. As I see it this country’s real battle is with its shadow – its racism, propensity for violence, rapacity for consuming, neglect of its responsibility to global communities and the environment, and unjust treatment of dissenters and the disenfranchised, especially people of color. (304)
Anzaldúa wrote this in the months following 9/11 and it’s quite depressing to read these words today and realise how much they ring true to the current situation in the U.S. and indeed the world at large. I think we know who the real monsters are. It reminds me of another quotation by Stephen King, that “Monsters are real, ghosts are real too. They live inside of us, and sometimes they win.”
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. SF: Aunt Lute, 2007. Print.
—. “Let Us Be the Healing Wound: The Coyolxauhqui Imperative – la sombra y el sueno.” The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader. Ed. AnaLouise Keating. Durham: Duke UP, 2009. 303-318. Print.
—. “Now Let Us Shift . . . The Path of Conocimiento . . . Inner Work, Public Acts.” This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. Ed. Gloria E. Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating. NY: Routledge, 2002. 540-78. Print.
— “Putting Coyolxauhqui Together.” How We Work. Ed. Marla Morris et al. NY: Peter Lang, 1999. 241-61. Print.
King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. London: Hodder, 2012. Print.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin). Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Project Gutenberg, 2012. Web. Accessed 30 Oct 2018.