Saturday, July 24, 2010

B&B: Frankenstein, Faust, and the Tower of Babel

I watched / the greatest miracle
Take three quarters / of a year.
To bring forth life / in a tiny breath
For all the world to hear.

There is a motion here
There is a flow
There is a tension here
like a hard bent bow.
And suddenly, you realize
That this time... it's all right.

David Crosby, "Time is the Final Currency," from CPR

I don't really know how it feels to have brought a baby into this world. I probably never will, but I can imagine it. By having a child, a man and woman have become as much like God as is possible on this Earth. They have created a life form, created a soul, a person, and by that, they have imitated the creation of Adam by the clay by the river in Eden. God has meant us to create, just as he did in Eden so long ago. He gave us free will and reason, the ability to think for ourselves, even knowing that we would partake of the Tree of Knowledge and be thrust forth from Eden into the world, where Death and Satan are forever lurking. The Unmaker... the one standing opposite of the Creator's paradise, but within it as well, as a snake. But we are capable of handling such enemies, because we can create as well as destroy, as we can pass on the wisdom that the Tree of Knowledge held (both good and bad) to the generations following us, by creating life ourselves... our own children.

We don't just create children. As I've shown in previous blogs, we imitate God by creating other things as well, from the imaginary worlds of cyberspace and literary works, to the books themselves, to statues and monuments . We move as one force on sports teams, creating joy and excitement, works of art as balls go into nets and through hoops at precise arcs and speeds. And while the ultimate reason is to imitate God, to create a world in our own image, we do it for other reasons as well. We have an underlying fear of death, a resulting desire for immortality in whatever form we can create. This could mean having kids and passing down knowledge and memories, but it could just as well mean writing blogs, like I do, or making novels, or art, or monuments like the one in Dakar. We desire fame in the present to overcome the idea of death. For fame will make the memories of our lives more widespread, so that everyone will know who we were. Maybe that is why the obituaries I see in the papers sometimes are long, too long, filled with endless nothings about their lives and euphemisms that make it painful to read. As if an obit. details the thread of that persons life by how long it is. I would rather have mine short, and mean something, than pages long, but say nothing.

But what of Frankenstein? I considered the reason why we create things, and it brought up the work by Mary Shelly. Once again I am left with standing upon the clifftops as The Traveler on a Sea of Fog is in Caspar David Friedrich's painting. What if man is not trying to imitate God, but rather trying to become God? When Dr. Frankenstein created his "modern Prometheus," he did so to pursue the unlimited possibilities of science and knowledge available to mankind. He brings the abomination to life, only to realize that he had brought death upon his family and friends. In trying to reach the miraculous feats that he eventually attained, he found that, like the Tower of Babel, he would be severely punished.

By creating life as an end to achieve knowledge, or in other words, with life not being the end result, he achieved little but despair. There were a couple of lines in Lord Byron's "Manfred," in which a character says, "the Tree of Knowledge is not the Tree of Life." This takes the idea back to that of Eden, of the Tree that Adam and Eve partook of. "Manfred" is a play that mirrors the Faust story told by Goethe and others. Faust, of course, is a scientist and doctor who, having learned all he can from the schools and practices of his time, resorts to witchcraft, and, thus having summoned a demon (Mephistopheles), makes a deal, ultimate knowledge for his soul. In the end, he has used his maligned agreement not to further his education, not to further his knowledge of life and the great unknowns that mankind has yet to penetrate, but rather to play cheap practical jokes on the Pope. His wish to fly, for instance, is one that comes from man's emotional desires, not any scientific basis. He chooses instant gratification, fame, fortune, and the glitz of the day instead of using his knowledge to create something good for the world. The road to destruction is often the easiest path. It is the most fun, the most dramatic, but it often leaves little behind but misery. This is the Unmaker's intentions. If he can unmake the world, especially with the people who have the most potential to remake it into something glorious, he has achieved twice what a normal person can do. He has knocked the traveler high from his look at paradise, and cost the world the experience and knowledge of such a splendid mind.

So to modern day, in real life. Dr. Craig Venter has recently created a bacteria organism from a computerized generation of DNA strands. In other words, Venter created Artificial life. See an interview with the scientist here:

Does this mean that Dr. Venter is Frankenstein, or that his creation will spell doom for all mankind, as the media is so apt to suggest? No, of course not. But the idea is a valid one. It is easy to suggest that in time, scientists will create a DNA strand that might as well have green skin and bolts for ears. They will see just how bad bad can get. Then we'll see Stephen King's The Stand come to life. If you think about that novel, the antagonist is the Unmaker. He's the same one that exists in Eyes of the Dragon, and verbally talks about raising havoc in each world he comes to.

It can very well happen here. In fact, I would call it inevitable. Like Adam, we crave knowledge. We want to be as much like God as possible, and that drive makes us want to know more and more about the unknowns. We yearn to create life, to find the particles, quarks, photons, in the tiniest parts of this universe. And we gaze upward and outward, wanting someday to reach the farthest stars. And God gave us the free will and the self-determination to do so. He gave us the faculties to create the most wonderful, and most horrific, creations ever conceived, but most importantly, he gave us the mental capacity to determine the outcome of doing so. We must strive forth, ever towards the unknown, but with a mind to the consequences of reaching those far points. Unfortunately, mankind will reach those unknowns and someone, with the Unmaker's intentions in mind, will create something that is great, but terrible (as the Sorting Hat said.). It will be up to us all to fight the Unmaker and his creations.

So.... I guess that's it for this series. I have no knowledge about bio-genetics, nor have I the ability to make sculptures and paintings. But I can write. I can make poems and blogs. So I will leave these things here, as my own creation. It won't give me immortality, but, I think, when I'm gone, there will need not be a Speaker for me to tell of my life. It will be on these pages. And I can also make bread. Loafs of nourishment from flour, yeast, and water. How wonderful is that? It makes me feel like I've created something, as God did at his Picnic of the multitudes. If we cannot create the monuments of this world, let us create what we can, be it bread, or blogs, or boys and girls that we can pass on our knowledge and love.

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