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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.65, No.1, 185 ~ 202, 2019
Our Nonhuman Story: The Posthuman Reality Imagined in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818)
Inhye Ha
The fast-shifting material condition we are living in―one that is increasingly technologically mediated―demands a new way of reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). In conversation with posthumanist thinkers and with a handful of ‘big’ thinkers of our time, this essay proposes two things. Primarily, I seek to reread Shelley’s speculative fiction in light of the current theoretical debates on posthumanism. But it is not my intention to forgo the historical specificity of Frankenstein. Rather, this essay stands on the meaningful intersections of Romantic life science, eighteenth-century aesthetic discourses, and posthumanist concerns. I argue that Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein draws the narrative arc of posthumanist fiction, for the novel attests to the possibility of distinctly nonhuman cognitive developments while reckoning with its agential power. To that end, this essay examines the Creature’s language acquisition, his discernment of beauty, sympathy, and benevolence, and eventually his request for a female companion. These facets are the key tenors that altogether illustrate cognitive power of the tentatively nonhuman. More importantly, perhaps nothing can better illustrate a nexus of fraught emotions that attend to the making of and cohabiting with the nonhuman―repulse, anxiety, and fear―than the interactions between Frankenstein and the Creature. The pseudo father-and-son relationship nicely anticipates our very twenty-first-century unease toward the kind of nonhuman characterized by augmented physicality and enhanced cognitive capabilities that might match or surpass humans.
Key Words
cognitive capabilities, Frankenstein, nonhuman intelligence, vitality, Mary Shelley
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