Biopolitical Frankensteins : bodies of law, life and monstrosity

Worgan, Sarah (2022) Biopolitical Frankensteins : bodies of law, life and monstrosity. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis draws on Michel Foucault’s work on biopower to open up questions of life in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Shelley’s novel is a project of modernity that has been extensively analysed by critics and reviewers, but relatively little work links it to biopower. A text that so famously deals with life should be read with a biopolitical approach as it is essential to the modernity of Frankenstein. Life is conceptualised in different ways in the novel, reflecting the varied mechanisms through which biopower regulates bodies of individuals and the population. But not all life in Frankenstein is regulated. Monstrous life in the novel problematises modern conceptions and constructions of “life” and the “human.” Frankenstein’s monstrosity opens up avenues of excess that resist and escape specific attempts to capture and control life. Foucault informs the methodology of the thesis as I use a historically intra-active reading of Frankenstein to consider questions of life in contemporary adaptations of the novel. Shelley’s story continues to be used as resistance. Returns to Frankenstein pose new questions of life that are raised in conjunction in this thesis with trans politics, Empire and necropolitics. The thesis navigates contemporary questions of life through bioart, Oryx and Crake (2003), Frankissstein (2019) and Frankenstein in Baghdad (2013). Through these Frankensteins, forms of life emerge that take monstrous excess in new, and sometimes disturbing, directions. This study looks at life, death and art in new ways to add a more rigorous scrutiny of the politics of bios to the scholarship of Frankenstein and to rethink how the categorising of life as “human” can have a profound impact on lives all over the world.

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