We are delighted to invite you to join us for another week of discussions, October 24-31. The novel we have selected for this year is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. We are partnering with the “Frankenreads” project this year to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the original publication of this ground-breaking text. Two hundred years on, it is still remarkable to contemplate this story written by a 19-year-old woman that opened up a new genre of writing, and an entire set of questions around the power of science and the possibilities of human creation, extending to the creation of life itself. We now find ourselves on the precipice of a revolution in artificial intelligence, moving into the realm of what some have called the “post-human” age. And yet, at the same time, we continue to wrestle with that most essential of questions; what does it mean to be human? What can Frankenstein help us understand, what questions can this text help us formulate, as we attempt to navigate these uncharted waters?
Just as with Orwell's 1984, our text for 2017, I have been struck by the ways that Frankenstein raises so many of the questions that are at the heart of the humanistic struggles of our own particular moment in history. It is deeply poignant, for example, to read the Creature's entreaties to Frankenstein to make him someone to love, who can love him in return. How much of our own struggle is embedded in that exchange! Why can't he exist without someone to share his life, to be his companion? And then, of course, there is the question of what Frankenstein owes to the Creature. But this question doesn't stop with Frankenstein. It raises questions for all parents, possibly even all adults. What do we owe our children? And who are our children? Are they just our biological children? Or are we responsible, as adults, for all children? As adults, have we not, in some measure, made the world they are born into, and therefore made their circumstances as well? Does that imply responsibility?
The Creature pleads, “I am malicious because I am miserable; am I not shunned and hated by all mankind?” We decry misery in the world, and we also decry violence. If we could remove misery, could we remove violence? And how would we do that? To what extent do each of us find ourselves shunning some in the world and thereby adding to their misery, and thus to violence?
None of these, of course, are merely abstract questions. We live in a time when refugees, children and adults, are being turned away from borders, and, in some cases, shunned. Children are protesting gun violence and the dangers posed by climate change. And we continue to argue over the power, and the limits, of science to modify our world, often from the genetic code up.
These and many, many other questions await us as we read and discuss Frankenstein. We hope you will join us – set up your own group, or join one in your area or online - and become a part of the larger human conversation around this book. Please follow us on social media, add your comments, share your thoughts, and help us all find a way to talk to one another about the pressing and profound questions that shape us, that help us grow, and that, finally, are at the core of what it means to live together in a community of human beings.
I hope we can all talk soon.
Joanna Bache Tobin, Ph.D.