Franken-Cities of Delhi and Shenzhen

Our trip began with Mark Zuckerberg “forced to apologize to the world” for allowing Cambridge Analytica to mine Facebook users’ data and influence the US and other elections. It ended with the notice that “From July 1 Aadhaar to have face recognition facility too.” Aadhaar means “foundation” in English and refers to the 12-digit unique identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. It turns out that we are the bits and pieces necessary to animate the Franken-city, where “bots” belch ugly comments into debate and Russians in virtual trench coats haunt our digital consciousness.

The figure of the mad scientist—“Remember,” Frankenstein beseeches the reader, “I am not recording the vision of a madman.”—is a familiar metaphor for the relationship between knowledge and and what Michel Foucault called “bio-power.” Foucault aimed to describe how the medical gaze simultaneously brings the body into the fields of knowledge and of power in order to manipulate it through chemical and material interventions. These manipulations are legitimated by what Foucault termed the “medical gaze,” the dehumanizing practices of of alienating a patient’s identity from her body. Today, we’re trying to figure out how new technologies have extended the possibilities inherent in treating human beings as simultaneously human and not as our identities not only get mined and redeployed, but also have taken on lives of their own.

After the fateful conversation, where Frankenstein announces that he has deprived the monster of companionship and the monster threatens him in turn, the monster leaves on a small boat. When Frankenstein awakes, he wonders into a small Irish town, where he is accused of murder. At first, Frankenstein is sanguine, but upon hearing the details of the case, he realizes that the monster has killed again. What’s more, the monster has also killed one of his closest friends. The monster’s choice of victims is not arbitrary; he targets those closest to Frankenstein. Frankenstein falls into a two-month long fever and confesses to the murders of William, Justine and his friend. Two months later, he wakes as if from a dream and finds himself “in a prison, stretched on a wretched bed, surrounded by gaolers, turnkeys, bolts, and all the miserable apparatus of a dungeon.” The symbolism is all too clear. Frankenstein abandoned his creation on a table in a laboratory and he wakes on a bed in jail. Cause and effect, the Monkey King might chortle, are clear.

We have built our cities out of desire and knowledge, scavenged parts and synthetic flesh, rash angers and a persistent tenderness. These juxtapositions beg the question: just what can be compared between the National Capital Region and the Pearl River Delta Region? Governments and multi-nationals are organizing people and our productivities at the level of the region even as turning these wheels (within wheels within categorical boxes) requires all sorts of adjustments. In turn the “local” has been created through abandonment and betrayal; the “local,” it would seem is that which does not fit into global narratives, but which is nevertheless the site were extractive prosthetics are attached, creating ever larger organisms.

And so the Franken-City lurches forward, trapped in trajectories of our own making. If Mary Shelley is to be believed, the solution to our suffering is death, even as consciousness arrises when we understand the consequences of our actions. Frankenstein realizes the true meaning of his work when he sees William’s dead body, while the monster becomes fully enlightened when he sees Frankenstein’s corpse. “I have pursued him even to that irremediable ruin. There he lies, white and cold in death. You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself. I look on the hands which executed the deed; I think on the heart in which the imagination of it was conceived, and long for the moment when these hands will meet my eyes, when that imagination will haunt my thoughts no more.”

After his eloquent soliloquy, the monster jumps out the ship window onto floating ice and drifts into the distance. We packed our bags and went home.


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