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Frankenstein's PhD

It may be because I spent far too much of this year thinking about 'Frankenstein' for a conference paper and journal article that never seemed to end, but I'm beginning to see my PhD as an echo of Mary Shelley's creation. The trouble is that I'm not sure if I'm Victor Frankenstein or his Creature.

Actually this came out of a conversation with a friend who has finished her PhD who told me she thought of the PhD as 'an ugly baby' and while it was ugly it was her baby so she was going to defend it always. I liked that, and I like my analogy of Frankenstein's creation.

Firstly because my PhD is very much a mish-mash of styles and approaches. It's not pure English or Drama it's not pure History or Sociology. And while few PhDs are 'pure' anything (except perhaps the purer sciences) mine feels more of a strange creation than many. What a PhD also needs is that drive, that obsession and determination to give life to what may considered lifeless material and it will no matter what you do, however careful you are, have great cost.

The thing is I really like that. Perhaps because I don't think Victor Frankenstein was the 'mad scientist' popular culture has made him out to be and that I also refuse to think of his creation as 'monster' rather 'Creature' much like a child, but deliberately engineered. Perhaps because I like the thought that what I've done is cobble together these dead bits of literature and history and given them a new form, a new being through analysis. Isn't that what all archive driven work does? pull together the pieces left for dead in storage and make something new out of them? or attempt to restore them to what they once were?

The more you think about it too, the more the Frankenstein analogy becomes apt. You spend all your time, energy on creating this thing. Like Victor Frankenstein driven by obsession you spend all your time locked away from family and friends just pouring your life into this creation to give it life. And eventually if you're doing it right it starts to answer back in a way, it has life of its own and becomes an independent thing.

But the thing is that you're always haunted by your creation. Like Victor chasing his Creature across the arctic wastes? both locked in a battle to the death, neither living while the other does but only able to destroy one another. That sounds like a really negative approach but it really isn't meant to be. In my reading of Shelley (and analysis you may soon read in an academic journal *cough cough* ) they are a symbiotic unit, each needing the other to survive, and each giving the other a reason to live. Now I'm not suggesting my PhD gives me reason to live, but it does give me purpose and drive.

But like Victor Frankenstein will I be haunted by my creation forever after? Short answer probably.

Our PhD's are our gateways, our opening gambit, however you want to put it. They are what marks us. Like an actors whose breakthrough role is iconic the PhD will forever be associated with us. Following us, taunting us in what we could have done better, not letting us move on with our careers if we let it.

Or, in this have we also become the Creature? shaped by our 'masters' or haunted ourselves by what we think we should or might be but never quite sure?

But in that actually answers the question. Frankenstein and his Creature are essentially one being, one does not exist without the other. So we become our PhD's as they are part of us. And it's not very healthy, it is all about obsession and relentless drive beyond the point of sanity and at great cost.

But in all this, even when he chases his Creature across the arctic wastes, doomed as that which he created, Victor Frankenstein achieved something fantastic.

It should be a depressing analogy, and perhaps it is. But I have great respect for both Frankenstein and his Creature.


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