“In Hoffman’s novella, Olimpia is an object both created and destroyed by the world of men. The main part of the story tells of Coppelius—part alchemist, part magician, part mad-scientist—who, with the assistance of Professor Spalanzani, creates a life-like automaton that they pass off as the latter’s daughter. The scheme is designed to beguile and entrap the innocent and the one such is the young artist Nathanael. In a critique of the Romantic artistic temperament itself, Nathanael leaves his fiancé Clara as she no longer acts as a mirror to his passions, ironically, calling her a ‘damned lifeless automaton!” before running to his new love Olimpia…She is an inherently Gothic figure as she is not only an uncanny double to a real human—she replaces Clara—but she is also a mirror image of the artist himself. This sees her as not just ‘manmade’ but, in her role of Doppelgänger, as being literally made of Man…Olimpia is a manifestation of this degeneracy while acting as a conduit or mirror to pass it on or reflect it onto other men.
It is hardly surprising then that, as the story reaches its climax, she is literally torn apart by these forces trying to control her or remake her in their own image…
The construction of Olimpia’s femininity is worth examining further as it informs much of the uncanny status of her recurring afterlives. Her womanliness is purely a product of male, patriarchal domination seeing her appearance being created by men for the consumption of other men… Jeffrey A. Brown observes that women and robots can be seen to occupy a very similar status within patriarchal society as a ‘standardized, consumable and indeed replaceable form.’ …
Elissa Marder takes this idea even further and back to the foundations of western civilization in Greek mythology, specifically to the story of Pandora. In Marder’s reading Pandora, the ‘first woman,’ was fabricated by Hephaestus and so was ‘a manufactured product…an android, a robot, or a replicant.’ Further, she speculates that Pandora’s ‘maternal’ jar could be understood as a ‘mechanical reproduction’ of the womb rather than as its representation, which simultaneously posits that the manufactured female body is innately duplicitous in its emptiness, even more so when it looks like a living human, as when Olimpia takes the place of Nathanael’s biological fiancée and future bearer of his children. This mechanical doppelgänger symbolically castrates the young man casting such ‘women’ as inherently evil.
…Huyssen himself sees the urn—the vessel she appears from to perform her dance—as the found of Robot Maria’s second birth, but by introducing Pandora, this becomes a rebirth beyond male control. Although she draws the male-gaze, she uses it for her own ends, constructing her as an active agent in the disruption she causes and not just a puppet or mannequin of male desire.
..The T-X robot [of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines], as with Robot-Maria, should be genderless, a point accentuated by the fact it is able to change its shape at will, yet it is marked at all stages as feminine, even when only its ‘skeleton’ is left.
…Unlike T-X, Ava [of Ex Machina] is never mistaken for a human—everyone involved knows that she is a machine—but she is able to learn and manipulate human emotions….Ava’s femininity is interesting as, like all robots, she should be without gender, but her creator has given her a typically female build…Yet the narrative shows that Ava has modified her own looks and her ways of interacting with Caleb from monitoring the porn sites he surfs from his work computer—this last part is important as it suggests that Ava is able to ‘send’ her consciousness out into the internet. The film does not explore this aspect very much but it means that she is potentially hugely powerful and yet choose to remain in her ‘human’ body. This sees her having a form of individual agency that creates a very specific relationship between herself and the male gaze and male control.”
-Simon Bacon “Remaking Olimpia: Agency and the Gothic Afterlives of ‘female’ Automata” in Gothic Afterlives: Reincarnations of Horror in Film and Popular Media edited by Lorna Piatti-Farnell
“Jack Pierce’s makeup design for the creature furthers the film’s criticism of technology by making him look like an automaton created by an industrialized society. Karloff’s flat head and neck bolts were a throwback to the original idea of the monster as half-man, half robot inspired by earlier films like Metropolis (1923) and Karloff carried this robotic impression through in his performance of the creature’s stiff-legged gait. The robotic quality of Karloff’s creature speaks to contemporary fear that society’s ‘devotion to science and industry, reason and rationality [was] rendering [people] less human.’ The robotic, fragmented look of Karloff’s creature represents a significant shift in how the monster was adapted. Instead of ‘Mary Shelley’s well-proportioned but scary creature, her new Adam, and instead of Presumption’s dark haired brute in a blue body=stocking, the monster became a more literal thing of scars and stitches and skewers.’ The evolution of the creature from a coherent whole to a thing stitched together form different parts is a powerful metaphor for how modern advancements in technology had fragmented the self. According to Szollosy these feelings of fragmentation were the result of people projecting their unconscious fears of becoming automatons onto the creature as ‘excessive splitting and projections can leave one feeling fragmented, in pieces.’” – Jeanette Laredo, “Unmade and Remade: Trauma and Modern Adaptations of Frankenstein” in Gothic Afterlives: Reincarnations of Horror in Film and Popular Media
“I shall have much to say about Hephaistos [Hephaestus]. Let is suffice for the moment to say that he was, according to most tales, a skilled and sturdy master metalworker, yet at the same time only a crippled craftsman dwarf. He created young virgins made of gold, who moved as fi they were alive, and thought and talked and worked. He fashioned the first woman, Pandora. She was not his wife, but the wife of beings closely resembling him. Hephaistos’s wife — according to Homer, in his Iliad, and according to Hesiod – was the youngest of the Graces, Aglaia, “the glorious”. Did more ancient tales (which these poets knew) mean that she, took was a living work of art? It may be so, for charis (“grace”) also means the delightfulness of art. Or was it their purpose to give the smith-god a lesser Aphrodite for wife, instead of the great one? In any case, in our tongue the love-goddess could also have been called Charis. In the Odyssey, the spouse of Hephaistos was Aphrodite, and Ares was her lover.”
[Content warning. Gods do terrible things sometimes. We discuss topics like sexual assault and violence in this series.]
GABBLER: Welcome to our first post for COGS RATE GODS, where we talk about, and then proceed to rate, a god.
BLA: And then get smited – smote? – for our hubris…
GABBLER: I mean, we’ve survived this long, we’ll be fine. Just look what you’ve said about Them in our books.
BLA: You call this fine? We’re literally blogging about gods for readership. Anyone who comes here is just gawking, wanting to see our fate.
GABBLER: Moving on! So, in these posts we’re going to highlight our favorite things about a god and maybe disagree with each other a bit and then come to some sort of average rating (that you yourself might disagree with! Let us know if we’re wrong in the comments – #engagement). For this kickoff edition of CRG, we’re starting with the elephant in the room. AKA Vulcan. AKA, Hephaestus. AKA, the reason BLA wrote The Automation and The Pre-programming in the first place. One of which is permafree for you to download if you look hard enough.
BLA: Shameless plug. But yeah, He’s a main player in those memoirs.
GABBLER: Fictions, ahem.
BLA: Whatever. Also, I wouldn’t compare V. to an elephant. He’s more of a Donkey. That’s His sacred animal.
GABBLER: That’s true. Doesn’t that come from the fact He rode on one as Dionysus brought Him back to Olympus drunk?
BLA: I think it’s because He’s an ass. Kind of a big one. As you’ll see in our books…
G: Who’s shameless now? lol He’s definitely played a big role in your life – our lives, now, I guess. But, you clearly have some…interesting interpretations of Him. What’s one thing you wish more people knew about Him?
BLA: Maybe that He’s the god of technology. Maybe if more people understood what automatons are and that He made some (not necessarily the ones that show up in our books), Gaiman wouldn’t have created Technical Boy in American Gods and the show wouldn’t have weirdly inserted them and their Vulcan character.
G: Oh, geez. Don’t get started on American Gods. We promised each other we’d try not to.
But we’re not here to talk about AG. What is it about Vulcan’s tech that is so fascinating for you? And why do you default to “Vulcan” over “Hephaestus” usually in your writing? I think we talk about it in our FAQ, but for those who are new here?
BLA: Well, the Vulcan thing is that it’s easier to type and remember how to spell more than Hephaestus all the time. Also probably easier to pronounce, if I were to speak. Which I don’t – long story. You can read all about said story in * my memoirs. *
G: * Fictions *
BLA: But yeah, His tech is one of the most overlooked things. That, or there’s only this shallow understanding. A lot of writers seem to focus on his disability and how He’s maybe not the most attractive god, yet He married Aphrodite. The fact She cheated on Him with Ares. People love a good scandal, and they feel bad for Him. But they shouldn’t. He’s doing just fine.
G: Yeah, that’s what gods do. They have a lot of fun and sometimes cause a lot of trouble. They aren’t saints. It’s kind of like following a reality TV show.
BLA: Like rooting for your favorite wrestler in WWE. Everyone has an opinion on what’s really going on and people choose sides and choose what to believe.
G: You kind of have to. But hopefully you choose based on behavior and some sort of reality, right?
BLA: Yes, focus on what He’s done for us. For humans. He’s a Promethean figure for me, honestly. I would argue He’s on our side. He doesn’t take shit from other gods and They’re constantly going to Him because They need Him and His skills.
G: So you think people should focus on His inventions?
BLA: Yes and no. I just think they’re a more interesting aspect about Him. Sure, His trap/snare gets brought up in the Aphrodite/Ares affair but He also traps his mother Hera in a similar fashion. Those aren’t super techy things, though they do show his cleverness. I wish more people knew about His robots – His automata. His tech. Artificial intelligences. He crosses boundaries of what is “real” and what is “life.” For good or bad. The conversation about robots is not new. It’s ancient. Like you’ve even pointed out in past essays.
G: But what do you mean “He’s on our side?” He’s not always had the best track record of being a moral icon. I think it’s like you said – that we more so feel sorry for Him and what He’s gone through. Being rejected by His mother Hera and tossed out of Olympus, having a disability, being cheated on by His wife…
BLA: Yeah, he gets a pass a lot of times, I feel, because of this.
G: I guess what I’m trying to get at is that He’s not really, say, more ethical than Athena, though, right? He did try to, um, rape Her that one time.
BLA: I might argue that He is though.
G: No way! You’re taking His side on something?! Mind = blown.
BLA: Let me explain. Athena has Her own baggage like with the whole Medusa thing – what she did to her and even Arachne. Those are the big two WTFs for me. So, I’m much less afraid of V. But at the same time you can’t talk about Hephaestus without Athena. No matter what or how you interpret what He did to Athena, something happened – and, sure, I have my own interpretations – but now He’s forever associated with Her as this almost complimentary aspect. They may not be together, but They are grouped together.
G: Yeah, and She ended up helping raise the child Erichthonius born of that interaction, a child that wasn’t even Hers, which is weird. You and I have grappled with that as well as a million other historians and writers.
BLA: We all know the gods do some very weird and even bad things and humans are left to make sense of it. But let’s not forget that a lot of what we hear about the gods is coming from third parties as well who put their own spins on things. Even the Muses who inspire the records are a third party and have Their biases, I’m sure.
G: * looks at fourth wall * Sure, honey… Maybe now you should ask me what I think is the most overlooked aspect of Vulcan? Be polite.
BLA: Fine. What is it?
G: Maybe the fact that no matter where the Venus/Vulcan relationship (what I also like to call the “Hephrodite” ship) stands (if you think they stayed “together-together” or not), they’re bound in a marriage of dualities. Even She and Ares are a joining of two opposites, you might say. With Athena and Hephaestus, you have this symbolic binary too – both are gods of crafts but Athena is the female born of man and Hephaestus is the male born of woman. I find Hephaestus’s role in these explorations of gender fascinating.
BLA: Don’t forget where Dionysus fits into that Athena-Hephaestus spectrum.
G: Yeah, Dionysus will have to get His own edition in CRG, but He’s certainly the most non-binary point on this triangle, full of dualities and contradictions Himself.
BLA: That and He’s bffs with Hephaestus. Enough to be the one They send to convince Hephaestus to release Hera from the trap He set.
G: Yeah, I feel like there’s more going on there than just BFFs but I’ll not add my interpretation onto this. I mean, Hephaestus isn’t the only one to ride a donkey, right? Anyways. Next, I want to get your opinion on this quote. Hesiod calls Hephaestus the “renowned Ambidexter” in the Theogony. What does that mean to you?
BLA: It’s fitting to call Him that, because ambidexterity is associated with hands. He works with His hands, not his legs or feet. He’s known as the “crippled god” — to use ableist language here, apologies. But that is also what He calls Himself in Homer: ‘I am a cripple from my birth.’ He’s reclaiming his disability and, I think, using it as a symbol and distinguishing attribute. His followers do it as well. Can flaws really be flaws if they’re divine? If the divine have them too?
G: So it makes Him relatable?
BLA: Yes, even more so than Athena, who seems to have these high standards and needs to be perfect in every way.
G: You really have it out for Athena, dude. She’s kind of the most petty of Them All. You should maybe watch that.
BLA: Oh, so now you’re scared of rating gods?
G: Let’s get to it, all I’m saying. Out of 5 stars what do you rate Vulcan?
BLA: No stars for screwing up my life!
G: But did He? According to you He’s the reason we’re together.
BLA: True… 5 begrudging stars, then.
G: 5 stars from me too. That averages out to 5/5. Congrats, V. So far, you’re in the lead. The lead of whatever this is.
BLA: Maybe every year we should do a fantasy league contest where readers vote off the ones we score the highest.
G: That means we better start rating more gods! Until next time, mortals.