I lived principally in the country as a girl, and passed a considerable time in Scotland. I made occasional visits to the more picturesque parts; but my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy.Mary Shelley, preface to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus
Dundee had an embryonic role in the creation of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. Approaching the northern fringes of the United Kingdom, Dundee’s ‘eyry of freedom’ helped shape the imaginary that would result in Shelley’s famous text, and the infamous and unnatural conglomeration that it unleashed upon the world. Shelley’s reconstituted monster, created by Dr Frankenstein in his experimentations with the fringes of life, has become a cultural icon from page to stage to screen, and beyond. In taking it as inspiration for the theme of the Critical Legal Conference 2020, Frankenstein’s monster is reformulated as a rich and productive concept that encounters many of the multiple and profound tensions of modern law.
Frankenstein’s monster is typically characterised by the joining together of dead parts to constitute a reanimated whole, brought (back) to life by the power of modern science. As a conceptual figure, it thus becomes a notion of both unity and separation, of life and death, and of the power of reason to structure and animate otherwise individual and decaying parts. Rendered as a form of law—as a Frankenlaw—it conjures questions of detachment and community, of touching and separation, of independence and being bound, of unity and corporation, of the rational resolution of multiplicity—and of the modern social order: a divided whole, a community of atomistic modern subjects under a single, sovereign hierarchy.
Partaking in critical legal studies at Dundee, in the temporal shadow of Mary Shelley’s nascent imagination, it seems appropriate to let the theme of Frankenlaw permeate our reflections. To think with Frankenlaw is to encounter questions of corporate personhood, of the relationship between life and science, of bodies and their parts, of post-state or post-sovereign modes of power, of law as dead things (texts, buildings, victims) compiled and brought to life in different ways, of the possibility of unifying plurality, of community and modern subjecthood. It is an invitation and an opportunity to construct new concepts and modes of legal thought out of dead and useless ones, to animate our encounters with law in controversial and provocative ways, to seek to go beyond the boundaries of reason and modernity and see what we find.
Huddled around the thought of law, the dark of the uncritical creeping in, we shall make ghost stories of our own—we shall conjure for one another our own terrifying and inspiring visions … of Frankenlaw!
The call for streams for CLC2021, hosted by the University of Dundee from 2-4 September, will open later in 2020.