The Frankenstein Voice

“We will be monsters, alone in the world, but we will have each other”
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

At some point, it will seem incredible to us -as a premonition- to think that we started a program called Fictions of Dis-order shortly before the coronavirus pandemic… But it is so, and we are willing to continue stirring up the disorder we were appealing to. From our confinement, from this sort of realized fiction, we propose the reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We invite those interested to choose a paragraph from the book, read it aloud and record it in an audio file. Each of the recordings will be used to compose a collective Frankenstein voice that will include a multiplicity of timbres, tones, accents, noises and cadences. A voice beyond our bodies, as an “acoustic voice” (Michael Chion), whose origin will be difficult to locate and whose identity will be diluted in many. Here, humans and machines will form a single entity until they generate a multi-connected and living body, capable of producing a material voice that can be filed, filtered, synthesized, loopeated, sampled, distorted, mixed and self-organized ad infinitum. A Frankenstein voice that will incorporate many, transforming and nourishing itself from a multiplicity of human and non-human flows and assemblages. The creation of this Frankenstein voice is at the same time an invitation to enter into Mary Shelley’s story and the conflicts that modernity poses, and which this new crisis of the coronavirus has exposed.

There are many reasons that have led us to choose this text. Frankenstein tells us about the delusions of human domination of nature through science and technology, in what became an early questioning of the foundations of modernity and incipient capitalism. It was not by chance that Mary Shelley entitled the novel Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus. Numerous contemporary authors (such as Bruno Latour in Love your Monsters or Donna Haraway in Staying with the Trouble, to name but two) have referred to this novel to question the challenge of modernity, faith in technoscience and relations with otherness, to defend the need to embrace the monstrous, the strange and generate processes of “composition” (Isabelle Stengers) of a “we” that can only emerge from situated struggles, and which requires that we begin to think and act not as self-sufficient subjects but through asymmetrical links with an otherness that is not necessarily human.

Thus, we make Frankenstein appear in order to disarray some dichotomies and remind us, once again, of the consequences of our action. Because his story connects in a pressing way with the reality-fiction that we are living from our homes. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in a moment of confinement similar to the present one. In 1816, remembered as the year without summer due to the effects of the Tambora volcano eruption on the climate, the Shelleys were part of a small group of friends invited by Lord Byron. Confined to a villa on Lake Geneva because of the bad weather, Lord Byron suggested that each one should write their own story of terror. Frankenstein came of it, considered by many to be the first science fiction novel and which would give rise to the fantasy genre in literature. It was Ursula K. Le Guin who –on behalf of Shelley’s novel– recalled that the term fantasy comes from the Greek phantasia, which literally means “that which becomes visible”. As a result of metonymy, the word changed course until it came to mean imagination itself.

In these moments of confinement in which we depend on technologies to keep us socially connected, it is appropriate to ask ourselves about the role of these technologies. Now perhaps more than ever we see ourselves converted into organic-technological subjects, into isolated beings, into Frankensteins, transfigured into the monster and the doctor at the same time –in the novel, Frankenstein is the name of the scientist although in the collective imagination it has remained that of the monster. Frankenstein also operates as a metaphor for that otherness, that whole external to us that has been amplified by our isolation, and that in the face of the threat of the virus is removed and feared even more. In short, it seems unavoidable to revisit Frankenstein as a mirror of contemporary conflicts and the most immediate reality to reverberate a long list of parallels and resonances.

Paula Bruna, Carolina Jiménez and Agustín Ortiz Herrera, motor team from which Fictions of Dis-order program is thought –with others–.

 


How to participate?

1- Choose a text of maximum 10 lines from one of the Spanish and English versions of the novel that we provide (the Catalan version is not under free license). But you can read out the fragment in the language you prefer.

2- Record the audio and save the file as follows: [first three letters of the version used] + [three digits of the page where the chosen text appears]. For example: CAST234 (Spanish version, page 234), ENG005 (English version, page 5)

3- Upload the audio file here. Password: Mary Shelley

4- Send an email to carolina(at)hangar.org with the subject “The Voice of Frankenstein” to confirm that you have uploaded your file. To facilitate the collection of voices, please indicate the version used (CAST or ENG) and the page of the text read, following the same formula with which you liked the file: first three letters of the version used] + [three digits of the page where the chosen text appears]. For example: CAST234 (Spanish version, page 234), ENG005 (English version, page 5)

We will collect the audios received and organize them so that the Frankenstein voice is amplified and takes on different forms and formats. We will share the resulting Frankenstein voice or voices on this website, accrediting the participants in a random order, or following an order as random as alphabetical. If you would like to send your voice, but prefer not to add your name, please indicate this in the e-mail.

Deadline for the reception of files: Sunday, May 17th

Access to the novel:

 

Biographical note on the author:

Mary Shelley was born in London in the cultural context of Romanticism and the incipient Industrial Revolution. Her mother died when she was only eleven days old and was brought up by her father, the philosopher William Goldwin. Mary grew up loving books, especially those written by her mother, the feminist philosopher and writer Mary Wollstonecraft, who influenced her greatly. She met the poet Percy Shelley, with whom she fell in love and with whom she fled to Switzerland. Near Geneva, in 1816 the Shelleys spent a summer in a villa with Lord Byron, John William Polidori and Claire Clairmont. During that confinement Mary Shelley conceived Frankenstein and doctor Polidori, The Vampire, which would give rise to the archetype of the romantic vampire. Liberal and abolitionist, Mary Shelley could call for a boycott of the use of sugar because of its connection to the slave trade, while closely following the news of the Haitian revolution.

Bibliography and related filmography:

 

*Collage by Agustín Ortiz Herrera

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