The Body of Frankenstein's Monster: Essays in Myth and Medicine

The Body of Frankenstein's Monster: Essays in Myth and Medicine

by Cecil Helman, Helman
     
 
Frankenstein. Werewolves. Dracula. These images aren't just imaginary creatures -- they're also powerful symbols of the body. The body can be thought of as a machine made up of parts like Frankenstein's monster, or as a creature ruled by animalistic urges, or as an entity that's vulnerable to infection from a diseased fiend. In "The Body of Frankenstein's Monster,"

Overview

Frankenstein. Werewolves. Dracula. These images aren't just imaginary creatures -- they're also powerful symbols of the body. The body can be thought of as a machine made up of parts like Frankenstein's monster, or as a creature ruled by animalistic urges, or as an entity that's vulnerable to infection from a diseased fiend. In "The Body of Frankenstein's Monster," Cecil Helman, M.D., expands our view of our bodies by exploring its cultural and artistic representations.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
These inquisitive essays are a strong antidote to modern medicine's tendency to treat the body as a machine. A physician, anthropologist and folklorist based in London, Helman undertakes poetic, cross-disciplinary forays for high-tech medicine's connections to myth, magic and metaphor. He relates the placebo effect to mesmerism, interprets the Frankenstein story as a harbinger of transplant surgery and reads an X-ray image as a white-branched Tree of Life. From medical models of premenstrual tension in which women are slaves of a cyclical moon, he moves on to consider moonstruck werewolves, Sasquatch, Yeti and women's long, flowing hair as a symbol of animality. Germ imagery in daily language (``an epidemic of muggings'') leads him to unravel a ``germistic way of thinking,'' which blames our misfortunes on external forces. A medically informed social critic, Helman sees the watch and the clock as central icons of a civilization in which ambitious ``type A personalities'' are rewarded for their ruthless behavior. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Helman—professor of medicine (University College, London), family physician, and cultural historian—draws on his wide-ranging interests to offer a vivid, personable, and insightful exploration of physiology and fiction—of the interaction of the objective functioning of the human body and the subjective experience of it, as well as of the political analogues and social metaphors it inspires in both historic and contemporary terms. One version of the body, Frankenstein's monster, is, Helman says, an assemblage of otherwise alien parts existing in a balance of power, a "somatic democracy" disrupted occasionally by "aliens" such as transplants or "invaded" by germs (formerly demons), to which the poor, the weak, and the "morally inept" are particularly susceptible. This version of the body, the author explains, is more political than another version, "The Premenstrual Werewolf," which emphasizes the moral dimension of the body, destroyed by the release of repressed animal forces—contagious ones—expressed in a disease such as AIDS. At another extreme, in "The Medusa Machine," Helman depicts the body as a machine, an extension of TV and the computer, imperfectly projected in anthropomorphic robots. The last essay, "A Time of the Heart," traces the Type-A personality—aggressive, ambitious, impatient: the "Numerical Man" dominated by time, money, and statistics, acting out the values of the postindustrial society, a "moral marionette" whose success will cause his heart to fail. Helman's illustrations are especially apt and moving: an old man dies, the sitcom he was watching still reflected in his eyes, his dentures on the floor next to him, grinning backat the laughing figures. Or Helman reflects on the psychological damage to Isaac, the phobia he may have acquired against fathers, knives, rams, his post-traumatic syndrome. But the book is held together primarily by Helman's charm; it has the imperfect coherence of Frankenstein's monster, with which he is so fascinated. With its sweep, perception, originality, and felicitous use of language—an artistic and intellectual achievement.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393031041
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
03/01/1992
Edition description:
1st American ed
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
6.37(w) x 9.55(h) x 0.74(d)

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