Frankenstein

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Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. London, UK: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones. 1818.

Especially in the film versions (classically in James Whale's 1931 movie with Boris Karloff),[1][2] the scene of the creation of the Creature involves memorable interfacing of the technological and the organic (if dead). Still, Jessica Riskin argues cogently for Frankenstein as a key Romantic (and Gothic) work in the controversy over mechanistic analyses of (biological) life, in a milieu where matter was discussed as "'divided into two great classes, living and dead.' Rather than contrasting life with nonlife — the inanimate — the Romantics set life up against death. What was not alive was dead." Therefore the Creature (more often, if unfairly, called the Monster) "represented the central dilemma of contemporary science to which all living beings were constituted by an inherent agency and yet made out of dead matter" (ch. 5, here p. 207). This is a significant for the background debate on mechanism vs. vitalism, and in the novel Brian Aldiss has identified as the first true work of science fiction (Billion/Trillion Year Spree 1973/1986).


In "Ontology of the Hologram: Gothic Tropes and the Ontological Transgressions of Technoscience" in SFRA Review 50.4 (Fall 2020), [3][4] Anastasia Klimchynskaya brings in Veronica Hollinger and others to argue for Frankenstein's Creature as a variety of cyborg.

[...] the original cyborg is a Gothic monster, and with this lineage in mind, we might read cyberpunk as a high-tech Gothic – as a kind of translation into a different mode of a gaze already turned onto the scientific investigation of questions of life and death. In fact, Veronica Hollinger* has argued that Frankenstein “has been transformed into a precursor text of cyberculture” (192); it “draws attention to how the infinite possibilities of technoscientific creation tend to destabilize human individuality and our sense of self, origin, and purpose” (270). Cyberpunk, with its visions of uploaded, downloaded, and duplicated consciousnesses, artificial intelligences, fragmented identities, holograms, and interchangeable bodies, deals with the transgression of normative categories and ontological boundaries that the Gothic has long investigated with its ghosts, its hauntings, its resurrected corpses and reanimated beings. To upload a consciousness is another form of animation, in the literal sense of the word: to breathe life into a being, to ensoul it, and just as Frankenstein became “capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter,” (77) the question of whether an artificial, uploaded, digitized, or copied consciousness possesses a “soul,” or something of the essence of the original, is a metaphysical question cyberpunk frequently wrestles with.

  • Hollinger, Veronica. “Retrofitting Frankenstein.” Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives.[5]


RDE, finishing, 18May21, 2Nov21