‘Living in a Material World’: Frankenstein and New Materialism

Article Summary by Jasmine Yong Hall

Frankenstein is generally taken as a cautionary tale of scientific arrogance. The moral is not to “play God” or to go beyond the boundaries of nature. However, what is being described is really a fear of unintended consequences which can be mitigated through better understanding and better control. Scientists actually want to play God more safely and successfully.

What I argue in this essay is that this scientific paradigm is based on dualism, with humans as the immaterial mind attempting to know and control nature. I show both Shelley’s critique of dualism, and the way in which the novel can be used to illustrate a new paradigm based on concepts from new materialism. Out of that paradigm a basis for ethics emerges that is not based on control or prohibition, but on an acknowledgement of our shared vulnerability with all material things. We must shift our way of thinking about humanity from the Cartesian “I think therefore I am,” where existence of the individual rests on separating ourselves from the matter of the world, to one that reflects “I am because we are,” where the “we” is not only other human beings but everything that exists.

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Read the full article on the Medical Humanities journal website.

Jasmine Yong Hall

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