Hosting a four day literary horror conference may seem a little out of place for The Australian National University (ANU), but Frankenstein 2018: Two Hundred Years of Monsters proved to be a worthwhile conference as a range of scholars from across the humanities, sciences, and social sciences spectrum came together to celebrate and discuss the impactful issues that came from Mary Shelley's masterpiece.
Mary Shelley anonymously published Frankenstein on 1 January 1818 and instantly became a cult classic in horror, science, and popular culture. The story follows a recklessly ambitious and naive scientist who creates an artifical human-like creature made from deceased remains. Disgusted with his creation, the creature escapes control and seeks revenge on his creator who seeks to destroy the "monster" in a similar manner. Since it's conception, Frankenstein has been adapted into plays, film, television, and other modern narratives, and even in 2018 has seen the release of the movie Mary Shelley - a love story of the creator rather than the story itself.
Now, two hundred years on, I was privilaged to attend the ANU's celebration of the impacts of Mary Shelley's novel in genres and studies including, but not limited to, literary studies (including Romanticism, Victorian and neo-Victorian literature), digital humanities and popular culture studies (including modern genres such as steampunk and speculative fiction etc), the history of medicine and the study of biology, eco-criticism and the Anthropocene, the history of emotion, the involvement in shaping race, colonialism and empire, artifical intelligence, syntheic biology, genetic engineering and artifical life.
Surprisingly, Frankenstein had a lot to do with more than just horror and literature.
This is what made attending the Frankenstein 2018: Two Hundred Years of Monsters conference fascinating. With sessions split up into themes I attended some interesting seminars, such as:
Adaption and Experimentation: Frankenstein in the Cinema and Beyond
"It's Alive!" Women's objectivication and subjectivity in the Frankenstein Muth
We have never been human: Frankenstein, the Uncanny, and the post/trans-human
"I have found a new voice. Now we use it." Westworld's multilingual transhumans
Understanding Frankenstein's emotions: Mary Shelley and Social Robotics
Raising the Dead: Victor Frankenstein as the classical Necromancer
Frankenstein: A modern Pygmalian? The Exploration of the Uncanny male womb
Over four days it became very obvious that Frankenstein might just be the father of the horror world - so much so that upon watching the first ever adaption of her novel into a play, Mary Shelley was quoted as saying "go forth and prosper" suggesting that the figure she created is now simply a serial figure for the world.
But it simply doesn't stop there. Engaging in discussions with other scholars it was fascinating to see the correlations between Frankenstein and the deemed "modern-day Frankenstein" Ex Machina, the 2014 film starring Alicia Vikander as a femme fatale style robot. It was interesting to see the results of sexism in modern artifical intelligence, as well as in the creation process, and the discussions regarding the anti-feminist occurances on Frankenstein's histroy, depsite it's female author. The modern day Prometheus figure of Dr Viktor Freankenstein and the correlations between creation of life in a male "womb" as well as the connection to the Bible's Gensis was a deeply moving look into the limits of rationality and science. And the connection into robotics and linguistics was a delightful way to include the excellent HBO 2016 series Westworld.
The conference was a four day archeological expedition into media and literature and how Mary Shelley's novel is the historical roots of modern pop culture. I was so lucky to be able to attend and make these fascinating connections beyond a monsterous man with bolts in the side of his neck. This conference, Frankenstein 2018: Two Hundred Years of Monsters has proved that even in this day and age Frankenstein truely is "ALIVE!"
For more information, check out the ANU website here.