Frankenstein’s Creature, the Tin Woodman, and Me — Almost exactly a year ago, a surgeon implanted a biventricular pacemaker in my chest. In the process, he not only saved my life, but he also turned me into a cyborg, which is defined as “a person whose physiological functioning is aided or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.” Ever since then, I have become much more attuned to the recent discussions about the concept of post-humanism. Although this concept is still in its formative stages, most of the commentary and debates about post-humanism deal with the impact of technology on the evolution of humans. Scholars interested in this topic are asking provocative questions, such as: Is medical technology changing what it means to be human? Is technology accelerating the evolution of humans? Are cyborgs fully human? The debates over these and similar questions are certainly germane to our current intellectual climate, but it seems to me that such questions are not all that new. Mary Shelley addressed similar questions 200 years ago in her classic novel, Frankenstein, and L. Frank Baum touched on these questions in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which came out in 1900.
In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein uses science and technology to bring to life a humanoid “creature.” Victor does not call his creation a human, but Shelley suggests that this creature, despite his hideous appearance, is at his core a human. The creature is much larger and stronger than normal humans, but he has human emotions. The creature identifies with humans and longs for human companionship. Shelley implies that the creature essentially becomes a human through his associations and interactions with humans.
In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum introduces a character called the Tin Woodman who is a “man made entirely of tin.” We learn that he was not always made of tin. He was once a flesh-and-blood woodman, but he fell under a witch’s curse that took control over his axe. As a result of this curse, the axe repeatedly chopped off parts of his body, which the local tinsmith replaced with tin parts. Eventually, his entire body was replaced with a tin version. The Tin Woodman is especially concerned about the loss of his heart. He fears that “no one can love who has not a heart.” As the story progresses, however, we learn that the Tin Woodman is the most compassionate and humane of all the central characters in the book. Even though his body is entirely artificial, he maintains his core humanity by caring for others.
As I ponder the questions related to post-humanism, I am inclined to turn to Shelley and Baum for my answers. Frankenstein’s creature and the Tin Woodman are both post-human in terms of their physical bodies, but both have deep desires to connect in meaningful ways with others. Their sense of humanity is defined, not by their physical selves, but rather by their social associations–so too with me. As I mark the end of my first year as a cyborg, I know that the device in my chest is not the only reason my story has not come to an end. My sense of self and my strong will to live are influenced by the people in my life, including my dear colleagues in the English Department. The device in my chest keeps my heart pumping, but it is the people in my life who have sustained me through this difficult year. My thanks go to all of you.
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of the English Department. Here is the latest news:
Three of our M.A. students presented papers at the Association of English Graduate Students conference at North Carolina State University: Amy Arnott (“Education, Capital, and Punishment in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss“), Melissa LaFrate (“’I Can Make You a Man’: Masculinity and Identity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein“), and Katherine Tallent (“‘The beauty of his voice wove a magic spell…’: The Magic of Education in Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond“).
Consuelo Salas recently presented a paper titled “Consumption of Cultural Identity: Buying and Selling Mexican Foodstuffs” at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Kansas City, Missouri in a session titled “Languaging Foodways: Community Approaches to Land, Food, and Literacy”
Heather Vorhies recently presented a paper titled “An Un-Curious Partnership: Religion and Medicine in the New Nation” as part of a panel on Religion and Technical Communication for the Conference on College Composition and Communication.
At this year’s Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), our colleagues in the University Writing Program received the CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence Award. According to the CCCC website, the award recognizes up to 20 programs per year for their contributions to the field. For more information about this award, please click on the following link: http://cccc.ncte.org/cccc/awards/writingprogramcert
Upcoming Events and Deadlines — Here is information about an upcoming event:
March 24 — The English Department and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library are co-sponsoring a screening of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Francis Auditorium in the Main Library (310 N. Tryon Street) on Saturday, March 24, at 2:00 p.m. This event is supported by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council.
April 10 — The English Department will be hosting Leslie Howsam, one of the most renowned historians of the book in North America, to give an open talk titled: “Book History: a Niche for Nerds, or Essential Knowledge?” on April 10th at 4:00 pm in the Atkins Library (Halton Room).
Quirky Quiz Question — Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has a subtitle that is tied to Greek mythology. What is this subtitle?