Creation Anxiety in the Early Twentieth Century

Matt Novak’s “A Robot Has Shot Its Master: the 1930s hysteria about machines taking jobs and killing people” is an engaging Slate article from 2011 that attempts to explain the fears of robots, robotics, and mechanization in depression-era Europe and the United States. It exactly covers the topic of my book, Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety (2010 hardcover, 2011 paperback), which asks the question, “Why do we fear what we create?” I locate the origin of this questioning in English literature in William Blake’s The [First] Book of Urizen (1795), an important predecessor to the godmother of all such literature, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818, 1831). What’s particularly interesting is that Novak’s article cites Frankenstein as a common reference point for the expression of these fears, though probably by way of James Whale’s 1931 film version of Frankenstein, which is probably a more immediate reference point for most people than Shelley’s novel. I’d especially like to encourage you to visit Novak’s article for the 1930s art and advertisements relating to fears of the robotic that are featured in a slideshow on that page. The featured image for this page is a sample of the slideshow, which could be an ad for a 1930s version of any one of the Terminator films. The work that needs to be done now is an exploration of the differences in eighteenth/nineteenth century creation anxiety and the creation anxiety of the early twentieth century, a difference I seek to explore and historicize in a future monograph.

Author: James Rovira

Dr. James Rovira is higher education professional with twenty years experience in the field in teaching, administration, and advising roles. He is also an interdisciplinary scholar and writer whose works include fiction, poetry, and scholarship exploring the intersections of literature and philosophy, literature and psychology, literary theory, and music and literature.. His books include Women in Rock/Women in Romanticism (in development), David Bowie and Romanticism (forthcoming 2022), Writing for College and Beyond (a first-year composition textbook (Lulu 2019)), Reading as Democracy in Crisis: Interpretation, Theory, History (Lexington Books 2019), Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington Books, 2018); Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); and Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2010). See his website at jamesrovira.com for details.

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