Dismembering the Cautionary Cliché: Re-Reading the Techno-Science Ethics in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein


  • Andrew C Hageman




In a wide range of academic, public, and governmental policy discourses, Frankenstein continues to appear today with an uncanny persistence. Many of these appearances, however, have taken on identities not recognizably connected to Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel.  Instead, the word “Frankenstein” has been transformed into a cultural signifier of theological and/or technological cautionary tales about limits to and transgressions of human techno-scientific endeavors. This essay presents methodical close readings of the 1818 and 1831 prefaces to the novel as well as key passages within the novel to argue that Shelley's writing does not support the cautionary uses to which her novel is put today. The essay further argues that only by re-animating the horror present in the dun white sockets of this monumental novel that the cautionary cliché has obfuscated can we work through the trauma that drives us obsessively to repeat this story while consistently avoiding the anxieties and imaginations that constitute our techno-scientific trauma.