Are stories about our ambivalent love affairs with our machines stories of imprisonment or empowerment? Are we in charge of our avatars, personal profiles and robots, or have they actually mastered us?  

These questions and more will be discussed on Tuesday, October 29, at UCSC’s annual Emeriti Faculty Lecture, beginning at 7 p.m. in the UCSC Music Recital Hall.

Emeritus dean of humanities and professor of literature Helene Moglen will speak on the topic: “From Frankenstein to Facebook: Reflections on the Dissolution of the Humanities,” shining a spotlight on the narratives shaping our collective experience in this current post-modern, virtual moment.

Drawing on Mary Shelley’s iconic science fiction novel about Frankenstein and his monster, Moglen will examine the relation of humanism to technology and expose psychological, social, and political realities which the pleasures of the virtual have often collaborated to conceal.

“For two or three years, I have asked  students in my class, The Gothic Imagination in Fiction and Film, to write about Facebook as a Frankenstein's monster--and I was fascinated by their responses,” Moglen noted. “The question clearly tapped into an ambivalence about social media that was quite deep and enormously interesting and important.”

Moglen said that in recent years, she has started to ask herself increasingly urgent questions about the ways in which interactions with our machines are modifying our consciousness, as well as our relations to knowledge and to one another.

She added that her lecture should be accessible to both a general and academic audience: “to anyone who is interested in how we relate to technology--and the relevance of that relation to pressing social, psychological, political and educational issues.”

“I hope the talk will help people to think in some new ways about the social and political implications of our relation to our gadgets--and that they will better understand the valuable contribution that the humanities can make to discussions and debates about the virtual world,” said Moglen.

Educated at Bryn Mawr College and Yale University, Moglen taught at New York University and SUNY Purchase before she came to UCSC in 1978 as professor of literature and dean of the Humanities Division.

Over the past three decades at UCSC, Moglen was founding director of two centers for feminist research, served as provost of Kresge College, chaired the academic senate, co-directed (with Mardi Wormhaudt) the policy board of the UCSC Women’s Center, and sat on and chaired numerous UCSC, UC, and Modern Language Association committees and commissions.

A member of the California Council for the Humanities and the Board of Governors of the Humanities Research Institute at Irvine, she was also the recipient of a UCSC Presidential Chair in Literature.

Moglen is the author of The Trauma of Gender: A Feminist Theory of the English Novel (UC Press 2001) and the co-editor of Female Subjects in Black and White: Race, Psychoanalysis, Feminism (UC Press, 1997). She has written widely on topics such as literacy, the future of doctoral studies, competition among academic women, and the erosion of the humanities.

Since her retirement from UCSC in 2008, Moglen has co-taught a creative writing workshop for veterans and co-directed Santa Cruz Commons, a project that facilitates the collaboration of community activists and activist academics.

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This event is free and open to the public. Free parking is available in the Performing Arts lot. For more information, email specialevents@ucsc.ed, or call (831) 459-5003.