An dining hall containing no more or less than the necessities for a comfortable dinner, materializes seemingly out of nothing. Enter Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 18th century counter-enlightenment luminary; Charles Darwin, 19th century naturalist; Karl Marx, 19th century political philosopher; and Sigmund Freud, 20th century neurologist and founder of psychoanalytic theory. No one is alarmed that four influential thinkers whose lifetimes span over two centuries are meeting for an inexplicable dinner as they were in their intellectual prime.
The wall lights autonomously dim as the fire roars despite itself, as the scene exits the whirling depth of the insubstantial and enters the tactile, at least for the authors… ROUSSEAU: I must say this is an awfully exciting development to be the company of you prestigious gentlemen, although I profess my ignorance on the reason for this meeting. MARX: Is it not obvious? Observe the clash of genres: time travel, high society dinner party, critical analysis to come… This is obviously a post-modern inspired short story that delights in a mismatch of themes. DARWIN: Analysis you say?
Why, Marx, that’s just the pastime we should commit ourselves to as we enjoy a wholesome meal. FREUD: Indeed, Darwin—in fact, I’ve just finished a fascinating gothic romance by the title of Frankenstein. Who would like to hear my thoughts on it, specifically the Monster’s psyche? All: Yes, of course. FREUD: I want to remind you three of my ideas of Eros and the death instinct. These two factions of our mind are constantly at ‘war’ with one another as Eros manifests as the need for another, for love, for community while the death instinct is most succinctly our evils, our selfish control desires, and our sometimes wanton need to destroy.
I find Shelly’s monster a most delightful character as he, if I may think the monster human, displays with in striking fashion the evolution of this mental conflict from his tender predispositions towards this strange world of ours that soon transitions, by the inability of others to love him, into monstrous hatred for all humankind. This conflict he endures is so complete, as his familial instincts are shattered by the death of his creator at his hands, that his only recourse is to cast himself upon the pyre. DARWIN: Now, Freud, I’d caution moving so far into the theoretical–allow me to provide some oundation.
Consider the monster from an evolutionary perspective, one grounded in my many careful observations of the fauna of various locals. If we think of man as the culmination of eons of careful selection and pruning to be best fit for the environment in which he lives, we indelibly end at the conclusion that the monster is predisposed to encounter conflict, perhaps so severe he has no recourse but suicide, because his faculties were not carefully designed by nature’s fate, but by the machinations of a single man’s idea of the natural world.
Then your mental conflict becomes rooted in the… biological asymmetry the monster faces. FREUD: Biological asymmetry? Come now, Darwin, I will refrain from getting too whimsical in trying to describe the intricacy of the human mind if you refrain from resorting to opaque terms in your technical explanations. I do enjoy placing my conflict within the structure of your natural selection because it allows people to allocate our aggression with the animal’s natural ferocity rather than try and explain why the perfect Creator instilled ‘evil’ within us.
Perhaps calling it simply a ‘fish out of water’ situation gets to the heart of it. Our minds are well designed, but his was not. DARWIN: Indeed, indeed—I was simply describing succinctly that the monster is singular in the fact that every organism alive today is at the end of an evolutionary chain not the beginning— ROUSSEAU: Gentlemen, this is a rousing discussion full of scientific ideas on the creature’s fate, but I must intercede on behalf of the view that the creature is a man, for he is made of man and acts it too, and that science is altogether to blunt an instrument to probe the mind.
Consider his fate instead in societal terms. Here we have a true original, one completely naked—unclothed by society’s stifling garments. Here we have a vigorous man, at home in nature itself, displaying integrity as when saving the girl from the stream. It is only the interactions with those who react with disgust, necessitated by the roles of one of proper society, that poisons this new man’s ideas into thinking he is nothing more than a brute; and so alienated, he then ends his life. MARX: Rousseau, I take issue with this idyllic idea of primordial man you put forth.
Man was never so free. His occupation was always to sustain himself and a family—to survive and provide the next generation of man, as Darwin has stated. As his intelligence increased, the complexity of interaction with others and society as a whole increase. This progressed until separation of classes was first discernable, and this progression continues, will continue, until we make the decision to dissolve all classes. Thus this monster of Shelly’s struggles because he has no true identity because his role is not defined in the society, in the world as a whole, he finds himself.
ROUSSEAU: Ah! I do have to cede that the monster certainly does not inherit all the original motivations found in us all; he has the faculties, both mental and physical, and tries to learn them but we cannot help but be careful calling him human. My arguments on the fate of man within society then seeks solid ground to anchor it. I propose then, if no one protests, that we turn to discussing that strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde where the characters are all too human. All: No, not at all—continue. ROUSSEAU: Consider, gentlemen, the character of Hyde.
Consider the agitation he evokes in the even-minded residents of the London neighborhood. Consider the, literally, unspeakable vices he embarks on once free from the vestige of Henry Jekyll. Consider finally the magnitude of his ferocity that bursts forth upon the pate of poor Carew and ask yourselFreud: why is such extreme… evil present in Jekyll’s transform? I propose two interpretations. The first is this modern society of London creates a motivation to hide certain moral failings—Jekyll’s urges—of ourselves from public judgement rather than air them and perhaps come to terms with them through communal understanding.
So Jekyll’s urges are stopped up, until released through Hyde in spectacular fashion. The second is that all our blundering with instruments and draughts—Jekyll creating his potion—is going against the natural order of things and uncovering monstrous things we were not meant to grapple with, ever. DARWIN: Your points do contain some weight, Rousseau, but I believe you are still blind to certain truths. I consider Hyde a reanimation of the savage past we had to evolve through on our way to our present, much more cognitive position.
Because it is Jekyll’s noble scientific foray that releases the beast, the tale becomes a reminder that we can return to the savage at any time, for he is within us, and we must therefore work to stay the course towards higher forms of man. Thus, I agree we must be careful our societies do not encourage beastly behavior either by indirect means or direct means, like breeding amongst those so inclined, but your insinuation that the march of scientific progress is backwards, is completely against the forward march of our evolution as a species. It is an outdated notion from an outdated man of the 18th century!