Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. (1818). Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. New York: Simon & Brown.
- iPad/iPhone – Kindle + Other Formats – Read Online Now
- One interesting way to interact with this text is through Frankenbook, an annotated interactive online version that provides lots of extra information and allows for online discussion. (This is not mandatory reading)
Geek of the Week
- Kate Danessa
- Automated Valor by August Cole
- AV is a short story about the future of AI, robotics, and cybernetics in warfare. It centralizes a few distinct POVs, notably the AI commander Churchill, whose artificial but genuine existence challenges what it means to be ‘human’ in the future. The story also raises interesting questions about the changing nature of conflict, human connectivity, and human augmentation, while weaving in socio-economic elements of citizenship.
- Triadic Ballet by Oskar Schlemmer (video, images, and related text below)
- Gabrielle Brandstetter. “Kinetic Explorations. Oskar Schlemmer- Gerhard Bohner- Dieter Baumann,” in human- space- machine. Stage Experiments at the Bauhaus.
- This piece is all about the physical elements of humanity. How does a body and its movements take up space? The triadic Ballet represents humans as fragmented, and by their ‘kinetic breakdown’. The performance and concepts are, of course, rooted in Bauhaus design principles and aesthetics, which we could weave into the conversation . . It’s also just fun to watch and is an interesting abstraction of human!
- Automated Valor by August Cole
Theory and Commentary
Hayles, Katherine. 1999. Chapter 10 (247-82) in How We Became Posthuman. Chicago, Ill. : University of Chicago Press.
Significantly, all of these texts are obsessed in various ways, with the dynamics of evolution and devolution. Underlying their obsessions is a momentous question: when human meets the posthuman, will the encounter be for better of for worse? Will the posthuman preserve what we continue to value in the liberal subject? Will free will and individual agency still be possible in a posthuman future? Will we be able to recognize ourselves after the change? Will there still be a self to recognize and be recognized? (Hayles, 281)
Gormel, Elana. 2011. Science (Fiction) and Posthuman Ethics: Redefining the Human. The European Legacy 16(3): 339-54.
Want to explore the genre of Romance literature more broadly? Romantic Circles is an online scholarly community that focuses on discussions about Gothic novels, early works of horror, and proto-science fiction, among other treasures.
The Fear Now podcast by XE Thesis Award Winner Ben Montoya
Here is a post from the awesome blog Open Culture about Reading Frankenstein on its 200th Anniversary.
Below is Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein from 1910
1. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is referenced several times in the text of Frankenstein. Could this work be classified as an early example of magical realism? What differentiates magical realism from science fiction, especially at this early stage of sci-fi’s development?
2. Is there a “villain” in Frankenstein? If so, is it the monster or his creator? Do you believe the text suggests that one of them is the villain; if so, do you agree with that assessment?
3. As we live in an increasingly digital age, what does posthuman mean when divorced entirely from a biological reality?
1. If you ever encountered Frankenstein’s monster (or a similar creature) in real life and real time, how would you react, and what would be your course of action?
2. Who was Frankenstein’s monster? Was he the culmination of all the body parts that Frankenstein snatched? Was he the brain that Victor chose for him, or the eyes, nose, mouth? Was he his own person, unrelated to his body parts? Was he Victor’s inner demon, or was he the reflection of the world around him?
3. Does it all come down to appearance?
1. Will future wars be completely human-less?
2. Who should be the one in charge of pushing the button in the wars? An AI or a human?
3. After deconstructing a human body into segments, how should we treat the one reconstructed from these segments? Life or an object?
1. I thought the whole underlying theme of companionship, and love, and the need for connection was intriguing. Dr. Frankenstein is without a friend and needs one. His creature demands a mate, and when Dr. Frankenstein doesn’t not provide one – the creature becomes murderous. The pangs of lonlieness – of loss of connection – and need to be connected to feel human is powerful.
2. The monster as the embodiment of industrialization also couldn’t be missed. Are creations (machines) going to replace humans, and what damage will they cause?
3. The treatment of the poor, the working class – do they get (deserve) respect? Are they simply sub human, to be treated as such – again industrialization looms large here.
1- Is it necessary to posit human against nonhuman; what is to be said about the transcendence of humans to ‘other’ is this a form of enlightenment?
2- How do we reconcile the idea of the metaverse with the idea of nonhuman space? (for example in isomnimania”
3- What does illness in Frankenstein say about the human state? How much is Frankenstein a story of morality and a cautionary tale of responsibility with regards to scientific and technological advancement?
1) Besides having Science and a “Creature” what makes Shelley’s “Frankenstein” Sci-Fi? Especially because this story was the creation of one of Mary Shelly’s dreams?
2) This is my second time reading “Frankenstein,” and I had forgotten just how human Frankenstein the monster is, and how he desires to learn, communicate, and live the way others around him do. Do you think if Victor Frankenstein was less scared of his own creation, and viewed Frankenstein more as an intelligible being that they could have had a different relationship?
3) What is it about one making a “creation” whether it be Frankenstein, AI and possibly the dancing figures of the “Triadic Ballet,” that the creator feels inspired to make them, but then maybe feels fear or regret once they witness their capabilities?
1. Is there a chance that Victor is, himself, the monster?
2. In what ways, in your opinion, has our vision of posthumanism been influenced by some of the avant-garde art that existed in earlier decades (such as that of Triadisches Ballett)?
3. At what point is the original creator responsible for the negative aspects of their creation?
1) In the Triadic ballet, the performers seem to all be following very strict patterns of movement (visually marked or not) and the scenography makes use of filmic perspective (and depth of field) to frame and imprison the figures.
Is this to be understood as a critism of modernity as a straightjacket or as an attempt to underlign the mechanical rigor at the root of every dance and physical performance?
It’s only when the dancer’s movements become mechanically perfect that it starts feeling natural.
2) Could we describe the scene in War of the Worlds where the main character secretly observes the Martians and the very similar scene in Frankenstein where the creature watches the cottagers as an embodiment of cognition and estrangement? The scenes are both about seing without being seen, grasping the unknown through pure observation and non-participation, which is exactly the foundation and the fantasy (word used purposely to address both the “sexual perversity” it evokes and the impossibility of its realization) of the positivists’ scientific method (although in all fairness, the scientist must provoke experiences, they never engage themselves as persons in the process).
3) Despite the characters’ many attempts to frame events and other characters in moral terms, can Frankenstein be understood as an a-moral novel, where the only thing actually at stake is a power dynamic between the creature and the creator? The Good won’t prevail and Evil shan’t be vanquished. As one critic said, the world isn’t oriented in favor of the Good Hero, but I feel like this applies not only to SF but also to fantastic (Todorov’s sense) works, where evil often prevails.
Where is the boundary between being created and the free will of creation itself?
How’s the meaning of being given a name? How will the tradition of giving descendants names be changed in the era of posthuman?
1. In the conversation between Frankenstein and the monster, I can feel as if the monster has more humanity, so what exactly is “human” ? Having the appearance of a human being, or having humanity?
2. Frankenstein has been reproduced more than 40 times over the past 200 years. Frankenstein has become an alien, a woman, a superhero who saves humanity, an infatuated lover, but no matter how much it has changed, it has not avoided becoming a synonym for technological fear, and “Franken-” has even become a root word, placed as a fixed prefix before any man-made creature to express people’s fear of violating the laws of nature. The misuse of Frankenstein has gone beyond modest reflection and has given rise to an anti-technological frenzy in popular culture. Do we have to interpret this book in that way?
3. What counts as a human?
1. Bauman states, “You walk on ice and try to move in a masterful way. And then you slip after all, and this slipping movement, this floundering, is where Man reveals himself. The protective shield is gone and you can no longer maintain your distance.” This suggests the inevitability that, no matter our intention, we may miss the mark. In comparison to machine- What does our ability to adapt and revise, as well as misunderstand and fail, say about humanity? What is THE defining quality of human?
2. When the materiality/ physicality of human is in question: What other ways of communicating emerge?
3. In Frankenstein, how does irony drive the plot?
1) Elana Gormel argues for a reconceptualization of human rights in a post-human fictional future, considering a move away from “homo-centric” ethics systems. How can we see the cultural relativism of human rights through Eastern and Western Sci-Fi? How does the negotiation between individualism and collectivism reveal itself within modern texts? Does this provide a feedback loop that further entrenches readers within their respective belief systems or does it argue for the adoption or the possibility of a future universalism?
2) Shelly spends a great deal of time highlighting the texts of Victor Frankenstein, specifically his draw to chimerical texts as opposed to “practical” ones. Is this to reveal Frankenstein’s arrogant assumption of a god-like status over his creation? Or a critique of modern scientists and their ignorance of the natural world? Or, a third option, is this a chance for Shelly to emphasize the natural world either due to the literary trend of romanticism, a nod towards more “feminine” themes expected of women authors of the time, or a use of text-specific symbolism related to the use of water, ice, and electricity throughout the novel?
3) The Triadic ballet brings to mind questions of anthropocentrism and how the arrogance of the human race is revealed in our own struggled to conceptualize our corporality. This week we also read about the limits of human capacity in military conflict, a theme which was also present in our War of the Worlds week, what we haven’t explored and could have been addressed this week is illness within Sci-fi (ie. “Small Medicine” by Genevieve Valentine, “San Junipero” from Black Mirror). How can sci-fi provide a unique space for exploring illness and the body’s betrayal of the ghost that resides within the shell?
1. I really like this film adaptation of Frankenstein, which is a retelling of the original novel, with a different direction and character design. It reflects the 1910s imagination of death, technology, rural and urban life, and the hysterical century-end spiritual orientation that was tormented by Freud. Particularly the mirroring paragraph at the end, who can say that it is not Frankenstein himself that disappears in the mirror, and it is the external monster that enters Frankenstein intact? I think this paragraph captures one of the most special, valuable and attractive points of Frankenstein, that is, in fact, it is the human being who creates the monster is the monster itself, it is a very primitive fear of the monsterization of the self, that the internal unknowable change is frightening. And is this also a post-human orientation?
2. How are “unorthodox” works like Frankenstein’s relegated to literary history? How do we narrate a kind of sci-fi literature history?
3. In Triadic Ballet explores how does a body and its movements take up space, and this reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which also involves a discussion of man, space, and machines, such as man’s vigilance against artificial intelligence, the unknowable breathing sound from the space, how does a human body use space in a spaceship (like all directions have gravity, so they can be rotated up and down to walk), etc. Especially at the end, when a giant baby fills the space, it seems to be a kind of question for post-humanity, asking what is ” human” and how to deal with the finiteness of life and the infinity of space and time?