Power of Cyborg Woman: The Bride of Frankenstein from Elsa Lanchester to Saint Orlan

How does posthuman rhetoric subvert the oppressive circumstance of women? Does posthuman rhetoric bring the hope of the emancipation of women? Donna Haraway’s discourse “Cyborg Manifesto” lets us see the infinite possibilities of women cyborg rhetoric shedding light on women’s emancipation. In “Cyborg Manifesto,” Haraway proposes the concept of “cyborg”, trying to break traditional dualism to create brand new boundaries discourse. She claims that we should enjoy the pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and take the responsibility to construct new politics. How does cyborg, as “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction,” bring the promise of women’s emancipation? (148)

I think The Bride of Frankenstein, as the prototype of cyborg woman, is the best case to explore this issue. Undoubtedly, the bride of Frankenstein is the first cyborg woman in the fiction world. Thus, I want to focus on three examples of The Bride of Frankenstein, including Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein, James Whale’s film The Bride of Frankenstein, and Saint Orlan’s body performance The Bride of Frankenstein, trying to find out how The Bride of Frankenstein in different phases reflect the current situation of woman, how they demonstrate cyborg woman rhetoric, and how these cyborg woman rhetoric bring light on the end of tunnel of women’s oppression. Especially Orlan’s work which is the most radical, I want to see how she subvert the humanism absolutely and perfectly demonstrate the posthuman rhetoric.

In this project, I intend to elaborate how Orlan revives woman subjectivity which is originally vanished under the patriarchy from posthuman perspectives. In the beginning, I will refer to the historical background of 19th century and explain how woman subjectivity, characters as well as Mary Shelly’s authorship, repressed under the patriarchal order in the novel. In the second section, I try to analyze how James Whale successfully established the image of the Bride of Frankenstein, the prototype of posthuman by the film. Finally, I would investigate how Olan emancipates the woman subject from traditional dichotomy and resurrects woman subjectivity from the posthuman perspective. I will refer to Deleuze’s and Guattari’s concepts of “facialization machine” and Judith Butler’s concept of “performativity”, trying to explain how Orlan performs her identification by her surgical face, how she demonstrates Haraway’s discourse of “cyborg woman”, and how such posthuman rhetoric emancipates the chain of women subjectivity, bringing more possibilities.


James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein

Saint Orlan’s body performance The Bride of Frankenstein

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