Thursday, August 28, 2008

Frankenstein and bioethics is on campus at WSU

The traveling exhibit ["Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature"] since 2002 is still making the library circuits and will be at WSU's [Washington State University] Owen Science and Engineering Library starting September 1st. For nearly 200 years this fascinating tale through numerous modifications has explored the relationship between mankind and bioethics as well as human needs and desires. The traveling exhibit is sponsored by National Library of Medicine .

Joshua Clark of The Daily Evergreen [Washington State University] wrote:

Break out the pitchforks and gather an unruly mob: Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is coming to Pullman in all of its reanimated glory. The Owen Science and Engineering Library may already have a lumbering giant in stuffed bear Sundance, but it’s about to get another on Sept. 1 when traveling exhibit "Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature" officially opens to the public.

For many, popular culture has skewed the image of the Frankenstein monster from Shelley's original vision. There are a number of characteristics attributed to the creature: green, stitched skin, a flat head, screw bolts jutting awkwardly from the neck, a lumbering gait with outstretched hands and a mind of subhuman intelligence. All of these images, though supposedly inherent to the history of the monster himself, are derived not from the original novel but from James Whale's 1931 film.

Shelley's version of the creature is quite a departure from the more infamous Hollywood version in the early 20th century. Her novel, published in 1818, depicted the monster as both sensitive and intelligent, with yellow skin and long, lustrous black hair. Notably, the monster was literate enough to have read "Paradise Lost," making him more well-read than most students on campus. The monster didn't even have a name in Shelley's novel, meant to emphasize his innate lack of even the most rudimentary sense of self and identity.

Frankenstein's image has changed with time. The story's thematic concerns, however, have remained largely intact. Shelley's Frankenstein, as well as Whale's and countless others', questions the ethics of scientific progress, consequences of man playing god and the innate human need of companionship.

The exhibit touches upon all these issues. Using Shelley’s novel as a launching pad, as well as various interpretations of the story that have gained notoriety, the exhibit seeks to frame modern issues in scientific ethics within the context of the Frankenstein lore.

"Mary Shelley's novel is exceedingly rich and complex. The exhibition alludes to some of these thematic threads while making a case that the continued examination of these issues is imperative for a vital society," said Patricia Tuohy, head of exhibition programs for the National Library of Medicine.

Owen Science Librarian Karenann Jurecki, the faculty member responsible for bringing the exhibit to WSU, had her own thoughts on the issues the exhibit explores.

"Thematically, I think this is a fairly open-ended exhibit," she said. "I hope it encourages visitors to look at Frankenstein on a metaphoric level as the ultimate other. (The idea is) that not only does one have an impact on a community, but a responsibility to it."

Like the evolution of the Frankenstein monster, the history of the Frankenstein exhibit is an interesting one. "Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Science" first opened in 1997 at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. Following the first successful run, the exhibition program collaborated with the American Library Association to adapt the exhibit to a traveling format, Tuohy said.

"During a five-year tour, the exhibition visited 82 libraries across America. This aspect of the project’s history drew to a close a year or so ago. Since then, we decided to 'reanimate' the project and make it available to interested libraries," she said.

Luckily for the students on campus, Jurecki stepped forward to have the Owen library host the exhibit.

"I thought that it would be a really interesting exhibit to bring because the possibilities are endless. Think of how Dr. Frankenstein’s creation has permeated popular culture. Most things with the 'Franken' prefix are overwhelmingly bad, but why? What is it about Frankenstein that resonates with us so deeply, and yet incurs such dread?" she said.

The issues inherently linked to the story of the monster were so fascinating they became a part of the theme for the 2008 Common Reading Program. This year, all students who attended Alive! orientation sessions received "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach.

Like the monster himself, the Frankenstein exhibit will be more than the sum of its parts. It's an exciting chance for students of all academic years and majors to take part in some of the new campus attractions.

"I think the exhibition will encourage audiences to explore the interdisciplinary nature of science, and the intersections of science and philosophy and science and morality," Jurecki said. "In an era of genetically modified food, stem cell research and cloned sheep, 'Frankenstein' is more relevant, and perhaps more cautionary, than ever before. It asked the question that we are still asking today: 'just because we can, does it mean we should?'"

The exhibit will help support the Common Reading Program, said Beth Lindsay, assistant dean of libraries for Public Services and Outreach.

"We're really glad to get the Frankenstein exhibit during the fall," she said.

Companion book.

Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

ISBN-10: 0813532000
ISBN-13: 978-0813532004

As science penetrates the secrets of nature, with each discovery generating new questions, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein will sound its note of warning. Many scientific developments have provoked references to Frankenstein, a story that, for nearly two centuries, has gripped our imaginations and haunted our nightmares. How can society balance the benefits of medical discoveries against the ethical or spiritual questions posed?

Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature accompanies a traveling exhibit of the same name. This lavishly illustrated volume begins by highlighting Shelley's novel and the context in which she conceived it. It next focuses on the redefinition of the Frankenstein myth in popular culture. Here, the fate of the monster becomes a moral lesson illustrating the punishment for ambitious scientists who seek to usurp the place of God by creating life. The final section examines the continuing power of the Frankenstein story to articulate present-day concerns raised by new developments in biomedicine such as cloning and xenografting (the use of animal organs in human bodies), and the role scientists and citizens play in determining acceptable limits of scientific and medical advances.

Online...Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

Thomas A. Edison's Frankenstein [1910]

James Whale's Frankenstein [1931] Trailer

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