Michael Bess (History, Vanderbilt)
"Viral Frankenstein: When millions of people can re-engineer their own biology"
One premise of Mary Shelley’s novel is that Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, an engineered human being, is a unique exemplar, a rare exception, an aberration. Indeed, one of the key attributes of the novel’s appeal lies in the pathos of his deep isolation from other creatures. A second premise is that Frankenstein’s creation had no say in his own design: He was entirely the product of another man’s engineering. My research on emergent bioenhancement technologies, however, suggests that we are entering a new historical epoch in which “Frankenstein powers” will become far more widespread. Through pharmaceuticals, bioelectronics, and genetic interventions, we humans are acquiring the ability to modify our bodies and minds in increasingly profound ways. What happens when millions of people in our society are partially engineered beings who have freely chosen to modify their own profile of traits and capabilities?
Lennard Davis (English, University of Illinois at Chicago)
What happens if we think of Frankenstein as a disabled subject? In so doing, we have to think about what makes Frankenstein hideous to the humans he meets and what makes him attractive as a novelistic subject. People react to him as “disabled-plus.” If he were simply disabled, people wouldn't flee from him. Something “plus” makes him more frightening. This “plus” has nothing to do with his appearance, which according to Shelley, is rather attractive and heroic. He is fashioned from the best and most muscular parts of the deceased people who make up his corpus. He is tall, strong and has long, luxuriant hair. The pallor of his skin and the sickly qualities of his eyes are his only physical defects (which is why the movie versions have to make him look stitched together or green with a square head and a bolt through the neck). This “plus” is tied to his composite nature, which has much to do with our ideas about disability.
Denise Gigante (English, Stanford)
"The Creature and the Ugly: An Ontological Predicament"
“I had selected his features as beautiful,” says Victor Frankenstein, of the creature he created with painstaking care. Yet, when that very creature comes to life — when the dull, yellow eye of the Creature opens — he strikes his maker as hideously ugly. Why? This paper considera Frankenstein’s Creature as the paradigmatic instance of ugliness in the modern age — that is, an age after God, or rather, an age when the artist herself (in the case of Frankenstein, himself) performs God’s role of creation. No longer explicable as a moral defect in a divinely ordained system, or as a category of aesthetics opposed to the beautiful (which it never, in fact was), the ugly asserts itself as an ontological, insistently material presence beyond representation.
Jane Gordon (Africana Studies, University of Connecticut)
"Of Woman Born: Mary's Monster"
Invoking the title of Adrienne Rich’s classic exploration of the experience and institution of motherhood, the central question of this essay is straightforward: What does it mean for the most significant monster of the modern world to have been birthed by a woman? I suggest that the gender of the writer who brought Frankenstein’s creature into being is neither accidental nor unimportant. Historically, whenever women have engaged in social and political reflection, the question and theme of monstrosity has arisen. I offer some reasons as to why, using Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to illuminate them.
Lewis Gordon (Philosophy, University of Connecticut)
"The Creature and the Black: Reading Frankenstein with Black Skin, White Masks"
In Of Divine Warning, Jane Anna Gordon and I argued that Frankenstein is also a proto-postcolonial text. I also argue here that it offers a critique also of the dangers of movements from modernism to postmodernism through first discussing the similarities of Shelly's Frankenstein and Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks, where the Creature is created by the Modern Prometheus and the black is created by Euromodernity, and then raise the differences through the problem of agency as the Creature reached for its humanity; whereas the “black,” onto whom monstrosity is imposed, reaches for re-humanization from disassembled parts into the “Black” in the form of Afro-modernity in the face of the collapse of the Modern Prometheus (Euromodernity) into a fascist postmodernity within the second decade of the 21st century. Reading these two works alongside each other brings the core question of human possibility to the fore.
Erika Milam (History of Science, Princeton)
"Frankenstein and the Scientific Self"
Frankenstein represents a moment in the evolving genre of scientific autobiography, often rendered as didactic tales of hubris and adventure. I start with Johannes Kepler’s dormant but harrowing journey to the moon in Somnium (1608), continue with Victor Frankenstein and Robert Walton’s explorations in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein —where Frankenstein’s prolonged laboratory experiments form a useful contrast with Walton’s intrepid journey to the Arctic — and end with James Watson’s gossipy and self-deprecating The Double-Helix (1968).
Patricia Olynyk (Art, Sam Fox School, Washington University in St. Louis)
Title and abstract to come.
Henry Schvey (Performing Arts, Washington University in St. Louis)
"'Puttin' On the Ritz': Frankenstein and Popular Culture"
This talk examines the metamorphosis of the image of the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in popular culture. How — and why — did the monster's persona morph from the figure portrayed by Boris Karloff in James Whale's 1931 film to the tap-dancing, top-hatted Peter Boyle in Mel Brooks' 1974 film, Young Frankenstein?
Elizabeth Young (American Studies, Mount Holyoke College)
"Black Frankenstein at the Bicentennial"
This talk explores a lineage of black Frankenstein monsters in U.S. culture, with a focus on very recent transformations of this lineage. The figure of a black Frankenstein monster appears frequently throughout American culture from the 19th century onward, in fiction, essays, oratory, film, painting and other media, and in works by both whites and African Americans. While this figure has sometimes been invoked by political conservatives, the black Frankenstein monster has tended to serve more effectively in radical political ways, because it offers as a radical condemnation of those in power for making monsters and a defense of so-called monsters themselves. In recent years, the discourse of police violence against African-American men has evoked the most demonizing and racist vocabulary of black monstrosity. At the same time, a very different, more emancipatory set of connections between blackness and monstrosity has emerged in such recent African-American work as Kerry James Marshall's paintings Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein (2009) and in writings of Afrofuturism. With its racialized monster and anti-racist narratives, Shelley’s Frankenstein continues to provide an important lens through which to understand both today's violent racial discourse and contemporary African-American cultural practice.