Frankenstein, Culture, and Technology

Estefanía Tocado

Regis Debray affirms that mediology would like to bring to light the function of medium in all of its forms, over a long time span (since the birth of writing), and without becoming obsessed by today´s media (1).  He also asserts that cultures are constituted by synchronic communication through the transmission of history in an interrelated web of cultural, political, and economic factors making the medium an embedded part of our social value system (Irvine 23).  Interestingly enough Bruno Latour refutes Heidegger’s idea that:  “Technology is entirely unique, insuperable, omnipresent, superior, a monster born in our midst” (30).  Heidegger´s idea, strongly influenced by the romantic period, regards technology as a product of a deviant, that is to say a product of something outside culture.  If we look at Mary Shelley´s novel Frankenstein and its later filmic adaptations, we encounter the first cyborg, half human and half technological.  His appearance incarnated the intromission of electric power into a constructed human being composed of pieces of other dead human bodies.  Rapidly, Frankenstein was regarded as a monster. For English Victorian society monstrosity was often related to vampires and evil creatures that would endanger a human being´s integrity, especially that of women, as seen in many gothic novels of the time (a clear sign of the sexual repression exercised especially on women).  At the same time the construction of a parallel discourse of otherness would promote the deviation of certain cultural and social anxieties towards this threatening element reinforcing the established cultural and social norms.  Monstrosity as well as technologies are the agents that dismantle a set of cultural and social values acquired by society as reliable and dependable.

Latour affirms the first meaning of mediation is translation, understood as a means of displacement, drift, invention, and the creation of a link that did not exist before and, to same degree, modifies two elements or agents (32).  Using the example provided before, Frankenstein incarnated this displacement between what is human and what is technological thus modifying both.  In the effort of challenging the binaries built around input and output, society in opposition to technology, the action of examining both as interdependent to a larger network of distributed agency and meaning would challenge this dichotomy (Irvine 5).  By focusing on the relations and how these are implemented and distributed, the value deposited on a number of cultural, social, political, and religious constructions and discourses are challenged and put into question.  In order to continue to do so it is important to bring to light misattributed agency and causality for technology in order to disarticulate ideological discourses built around technology effects (Irvine 13).  The fear of technological effects and an interdisciplinary approach to humanism and science, between culture and technology, is based on external factors that promote a hierarchy and a monopoly in the act of mediation.  By exposing the multiple levels of distributed agency, meaning, and implementation, certain established discourses and institutions are called into question and forced to justify its positioning.

Works Cited

Debray, Régis. “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique (1999): 32. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Irvine, Martin. “Intro to Mediology and Actor Network Theory: How to Hack Black Boxes.” Media Theory Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Feb. 2014. Web. 25 February 2014.

Latour, Bruno. “On Technical Mediation-Philosophy, Sociology, Genealogy.” Common Knowledge 3. 2 (1994): 29-64.