• Promethean Desires: The Technician-Hero and Myths of Masculinity in Nineteenth-Century Literature

    James Maertens (see profile)
    Nineteenth century, British literature, European literature, Psychology
    Item Type:
    University of Minnesota
    gender, masculinity, Jules Verne, Engineers, Captain Nemo, 19th century, Gender studies
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    Figures of scientists and engineers emerge during the nineteenth century as icons of masculinity distinct from either the figure of the magician or the figure of the military hero. I analyze these figures in three major works that trace an arc from myth to realism across the first half of the century. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s lyric drama Prometheus Unbound, Mary Godwin Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea are the principal case studies. Additionally, I examine several other Verne novels and such texts as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man and The Island of Dr. Moreau, and the works of Samuel Smiles, including Self-Help, Character, and The Lives of the Engineers. In these works, images of Prometheus, elemental fire and water, and the Phallus, as symbol of masculinity and male social power, express a struggle between the ideal of disembodied reason and the expression of embodied love for others. The technician-hero, whether he takes the form of a medical doctor or an engineer, such as Verne’s Captain Nemo, is chained in his body as he struggles to assume the archetypal father’s Law and control over Nature. The Promethean Complex is an extension of the Oedipal rivalry of father and son and the desire inscribed in sons to possess their father’s knowledge-power. As nineteenth-century bourgeois culture privileged a masculinity based on Logos and disciplined control over bodies and Nature, the mentality of the technician emerges as a distinct configuration. Constructed in opposition to Eros, the body, the feminine, and the unconscious, the technician ego-ideal generates a psychotic and paranoid subject, radically fragmented and unable to deal with its ultimate inability to achieve omnipotence.
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    6 years ago
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