• October 20, 2014

Frankenstein's FTE Memo

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Brian Taylor

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Brian Taylor

Frankenstein's FTE Memo

TO: Walton

FROM: Victor Frankenstein, associate dean

RE: FTE

DATE: January 16, 1819

It is difficult to be Victor Frankenstein. My attempt to create life ended in ignominy and spilt blood. I regret that the account of it is so widely known through the novel Frankenstein; Mrs. Shelley related the story but neglected the epilogue.

After my first creature was proved such a failure, I did what many discouraged natural scientists do when fieldwork ends in disaster: I returned to my academic institution, chastened. When I arrived back at the University of Ingolstadt—my hopes blasted, my research a complete loss—I committed the one trespass for which there can be no forgiveness. I became an administrator.

I know what you are thinking, Walton. You recall me as a passionate discoverer of knowledge, an audacious Modern Prometheus. How could Victor Frankenstein give up the search for knowledge for the amoral drudgework of officialdom?

My life of the mind was finished, my one great idea a ruin, and my funds at their bitter end. When the lofty title of "associate dean" was dangled before me, I could not resist. Let the next young natural philosopher bloody his hands among the corpses of Bavaria.

I had learned with my first creature—monster, if you will—that the bright secret of creation was not to be found in mere natural science, but in the lesser-known corners of human knowledge. I began experimenting with the dark arts of bureaucracy, seeking novel ways to assemble a new, better, more tractable organism.

As a scientist I had attempted to create a being out of flesh. I had been convinced in the method, that the assemblage of parts might create a greater whole. So my first creature, that great and murderous failure, had been built with the arms of one, the legs of another, the hands of a third. But I had failed in the application. The gross flesh was not to be knitted into harmony.

But my theory was sound! I came upon a managerial solution. I began to manipulate the ineffable, the datum, the essence. It was through administration that I would reclaim my blasted ambitions.

With the fresh and invigorating perspective of a desk job, I conceived of a "paper" creation, drawn from the resources I had at hand, extant in my mind and in the pulsing knowledge of the institution. I had failed to name my first creature, so the world had dubbed him "Frankenstein's Monster." Not wishing to leave nomenclature to fate again, I called my second creature "Frankenstein's Toiling Ersatz"—FTE for short.

I attempted to bring FTE to life late one evening in my office, on a chart rather than a slab. A maelstrom raged outside, as if Nature herself knew the import of my deeds.

One fifth of my new creature consisted of a venerable physicist. This physicist was too advanced in years to work every day, but twice a week came to Ingolstadt to impart the laws of motion to the duller sons of Swiss nobility. Out of deep respect for Newton, I fashioned the physicist into my new creature's head.

The second fifth of FTE—the torso, which hides the heart—was formed from an innocent maiden with a poetry degree. Fresh from her own university, naïve as a shepherdess, she was sunk in the kind of penury that led her to read, barely compensated, the scribblings of youth rather than the lyrics of eternity. She was a mere adjunct to the university faculty, but I added her part to the whole.

One leg, and thus one fifth, was formed from a burly former athlete now employed on occasion to toss a ball to the undergraduates for their recreation. I supposed his strength would compensate for the pale delicacy of the poetess and the diminutive stature of the physicist.

The other leg was supplied by a local attorney who came to the lecture hall on occasion to talk of the law. I confess that the phrase "no leg to stand on" flashed through my mind as I attached him to the growing form before me.

For the generative parts I was troubled. I needed just a fifth of a being to complete the FTE, and I cast about among my pile of extra parts. A part-time historian? A semi-retired chemist? What field of academic inquiry could supply me with the necessary effluvia?

Far down on my list I found the name of my dean, a man who taught rarely but made public protestation of his commitment to the classroom. I knew that his colleagues referred to him with a crude euphemism. His distracted and partial activity among the students would supply the last portion of my new creature.

With a final stroke of my pen my FTE staggered to life! The vaulted ceiling of my office rang with my cries of triumph. I believed that by inventing the FTE, I would change the very nature of knowledge.

Alas. My creation was ugly: a homunculus, an unnatural thing.

I became heartsick, and my feelings were those of horror and hate. When a man creates life, is he compelled to love that which he creates? I had built my creature only to abhor it.

I had a troubling vision of the future for my FTE: I would kill it, bring it back to life, dismember it, and all the while hold it in deepest contempt and fear. I dast not give it consciousness, so it stood swaying, dumb as a golem, disposable and convenient.

And in my vision I saw others continuing my work for centuries after my passing. Administrators after me would create great cataracts of FTEs—some with heads of literary theorists and bodies of anthropologists, others with the fists of accountants and the shanks of theologians. Academe would be ringed by a motley and innumerable army of paper humanity.

Thus it was, Walton—I had created in my FTE not just a single being, but an entire race. Yet my creature inspired in me the self-loathing that only a true administrator can feel. It was a race that would propagate but not prosper.

I pondered a return to the laboratory. In my ambitious hands the power of administration—always inclined to mischief—had done evil. Have you heard of any grant recipient looking for a co-investigator? I can do miracles with paperwork.

Daniel J. Ennis is a professor of English and dean of humanities and fine arts at Coastal Carolina University, in Conway, S. C.

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