Frankenstein in Baghdad Q3: Whatsitsname

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"The young madman thinks I’m the model citizen that the Iraqi State has failed to produce, at least since the days of King Faisal I."

Although he's central to the novel, Whatsitsname seldom makes an appearance, but he does occasionally get his own voice. Who is Whatsitsname, and how does he change over time? Is he present 'enough' in the book?

Comments

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    I didn't feel that he got enough of a voice, or indeed enough individuality. I kept wondering if (and to what extent) the book was like the original Frankenstein, and concluded in the end that it really wasn't. Frankenstein was of course the creator, not the creature, but there was no sense here that the making of Whatsitsname was the culmination of a long and earnest quest. Nor (at least in my reading) was there much sense that Whatsitsname could feel the kind of remorse and sorrow that the original did.

    Of course there were elements that overlapped - both creatures were assembled from a disparate collection of parts, for example - but part of the pathos of the original is, surely, that the creature resembles far more closely than is comfortable the human creator. Part of their rivalry is sibling rivalry. I didn't feel that that dimension was in view here at all. So I was left wondering what analogy we were supposed to make here - I even wondered if the original Arabic title was different, but I can't find any evidence that that is the case.

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    Whatsitsname is, for me, the clearest symbol in the book. It's not a person, its the combination of many aspects of the city and its people. All the way through, people are projecting their desires onto Whatsitsname. Almost never does it have any agency or choose its own path.

    I don't think it shares much connection with Shelley's novel beyond the idea of being made from parts. Whatsitsname wasn't a new life being created; it was various parts of old lives assembled into something vaguely functional. In the novel, it acted as a vehicle for the various other themes of the book, like justice and moving on, that I think we'll get to in other topics.

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    I never thought this Frankenstein would connect much with the original. It's more the concept that applies. I also thought it didn't have enough of a a voice, but I was totally drawn in when it did. The "Whatsitsname" chapter is the one that really drew me into the story. Up until then I felt more like an observer than a reader. But that chapter - the one in which Whatsitsname tells its own story on the tape - was really powerful, I thought. I would have liked a bit more of that.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    The "Whatsitsname" chapter is the one that really drew me into the story. Up until then I felt more like an observer than a reader. But that chapter - the one in which Whatsitsname tells its own story on the tape - was really powerful, I thought. I would have liked a bit more of that.

    Interesting! I had the opposite reaction. I was drawn into the story before that (it took a few chapters for me as well), but I thought that chapter was too disconnected from the rest of the book.

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    Whatsitsname had no agenda of its own, because it was made up of the agendas of its constituent parts. As these agendas were achieved the part fell away and a news agenda found a voice. People could project their own agendas on Whatshisname because somewhere there was a part that echoed that agenda.

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    @clash_bowley said:
    Whatsitsname had no agenda of its own, because it was made up of the agendas of its constituent parts. As these agendas were achieved the part fell away and a news agenda found a voice. People could project their own agendas on Whatshisname because somewhere there was a part that echoed that agenda.

    That's a really interesting observation - so Whatitsname is a bit like a hive mind or collective rather than an individual, despite its outward superficial appearance of being a person.

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    edited June 7

    @RichardAbbott said:

    @clash_bowley said:
    Whatsitsname had no agenda of its own, because it was made up of the agendas of its constituent parts. As these agendas were achieved the part fell away and a news agenda found a voice. People could project their own agendas on Whatshisname because somewhere there was a part that echoed that agenda.

    That's a really interesting observation - so Whatitsname is a bit like a hive mind or collective rather than an individual, despite its outward superficial appearance of being a person.

    My take. This book is Frankenstien all the way down.

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    That’s a great way of looking at it. Even the structure of the book is assembled.
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    @Apocryphal said:
    That’s a great way of looking at it. Even the structure of the book is assembled.

    It takes a lot of effort to make a story as disjointed as this one.

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    @clash_bowley said:
    Whatsitsname had no agenda of its own, because it was made up of the agendas of its constituent parts. As these agendas were achieved the part fell away and a news agenda found a voice. People could project their own agendas on Whatshisname because somewhere there was a part that echoed that agenda.

    Couldn't you say the same about almost anyone? People rarely have just one goal, one agendum, one desire. People are multi-faceted, as was Whatsitsname. It's easy to project your own feelings and desires onto someone as an explanation of their actions, or to further your own goals.

    Saying that, I think it is interesting how Whatsitsname's goals changed through the book. They start simple, but grow more complex through the course of the book. Is this a signal that Whatsitsname is becoming more of a person than an assemblage?

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    Or a symbol that the medium is becoming more important than the message. A bit like a big charity. Originally, most of the funds a charity gets go to the cause. But eventually a charity gets bigger and more top heavy, and more and more of the funds you give go to the running of the charity. Eventually, it seems the charity is more about self preservation than helping the cause.
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    @Apocryphal said:
    Or a symbol that the medium is becoming more important than the message. A bit like a big charity. Originally, most of the funds a charity gets go to the cause. But eventually a charity gets bigger and more top heavy, and more and more of the funds you give go to the running of the charity. Eventually, it seems the charity is more about self preservation than helping the cause.

    This is my feeling.

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    Makes me think more of Hobbes's Leviathan, i.e. the state. From a discussion of the symbolism:

    On the surface, the main intention behind Hobbes’ decision of representing his ideal state of government with a leviathan is because he believed that when the commonwealth give up their rights to the ultimate sovereign ruler, the state can become as strong as the biblical leviathan (Hobbes 175). However, as one plunges further into the context behind the biblical leviathan, Hobbes’ negligence of religious incorporation into the ideal state of government brings a more profound meaning into the reasoning behind the leviathan metaphor. The overall message of the historical story of Job is to show that man must put his full faith in God during difficult situations. From Hobbes’ point of view, these difficult situations are a result of man’s state of nature; which is “the time men live without a common power…in the condition which is called war” (Hobbes 159). Hobbes believes that this state of nature can be more easily controlled if an ultimate sovereign is established as a common power amongst men. Therefore, by using the biblical leviathan to represent the sovereign’s role as the ultimate protector of men within the commonwealth, Hobbes is undermining the purpose of the book of Job; which is to solely make the almighty, powerful God the common power during faith-testing times. This omission of God can be viewed as an implicit argument for the separation between church and state.

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