Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Frankenzebra: Dangerous Knowledge and the Narrative Construction of Monsters

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Frankenzebra: Dangerous Knowledge and the Narrative Construction of Monsters

Article excerpt


This article explores the enduring fear of "dangerous knowledge". It argues that the "de-extinction movement" towards reviving long-disappeared species has been understood largely through recourse to one key "story"--the Frankenstein Myth. It looks at three de-extinction projects--the mammoth, quagga, and thylacine--using the way these projects have been couched to analyse anxieties over the hubristic abuse of technology. The article focuses on the power of mythic narratives to not only explain but shape understandings of science in society, concealing more nuanced understandings. Indeed, deeply entrenched narratives can actually influence scientific endeavour.


Hierdie artikel bestudeer die vasgewortelde vrees vir "gevaarlike kennis". Daar word aangevoer dat die "de-uitwissingsbeweging", gemik op die hervestiging van langverdwene spesies, grootliks verstaan word deur die lens van een sleutelverhaal--die mite van Frankenstein. Drie van hierdie de-uitwissingsprojekte word ondersoek: die mammoet, kwagga en buidelwolf. Die manier waarop hierdie projekte verstaan is, word gebruik om vrese random die aanmatigende misbruik van tegnologie te analiseer. Die artikel fokus op die mag van mitiese narratiewe in hul verklaring maar ook hul vorming van die wetenskap in die samelewing, soos hulle ook meer genuanseerde idees verdoesel. Diepliggende narratiewe kan inderdaad wetenskaplike ondersoek bei'nvloed.


Learn from me, ... at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge ...

--Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

The monster is the one doing the experiment.

--Anonymous, lab room graffiti

The woolly mammoths--giant tusked grass-eaters of the Ice Age tundra roamed the frozen steppe until about 4 000 years ago. A little girl called Olivia wants us to remember them. Earlier this year, this South Carolina third grader noted that, although her state has 50 official symbols (including a "state migratory marine mammal" and a "state beverage") it does not have a state fossil, so she wrote to her local legislators asking for official recognition of the mammoth. Realising that simply "because I like fossils" was insufficient to convince hard-bitten law-makers, she offered these three motivations: One of the first American paleontological discoveries was mammoth's teeth unearthed on a South Carolina plantation; all but seven states have an official state fossil; and, thirdly, "Fossils tell us about our past". The proposed bill was blocked in the South Carolina senate by Sen. Kevin Bryant who wanted to amend it to include three verses from the Book of Genesis detailing God's creation of the Earth and its living inhabitants including mammoths. Bryant explained: "I just felt like it'd be a good thing to acknowledge the creator of the fossils". (In fact, some bloggers suggested that that official state fossil should be Senator Kevin Bryant; on the grounds that--while he might not hail from the Pleistocene Era--his views do). His amendment was ruled out of order because it introduced a new subject. So he submitted another stalling amendment, describing the mammoth "as created on the Sixth Day with the beasts of the field" (Griggs 2014; Hernandez-Cruz 2014). For now, Olivia's fossil bill is on hold.

Creation stories matter to people. They are stories about power--a power predicated on knowledge. Indeed, there is an ancient story told by way of warning when a child asks a question that seems too bold. The fable takes many forms but its essence is this: Do not cross the societal boundaries to acquire knowledge. You steal fire from the gods, you are chained to a rock and your liver gets pecked by avenging avians for eternity. You fly too near the sun, you fall into the sea and drown. You insist on finding out your parentage, discover inadvertent incest and have to blind your own eyes. You eat an apple from the Tree of Knowledge you are evicted from paradise. …

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