Scalpel and metaphor
‘Machines of social death’ and state-sanctioned harvest in dystopian fiction
in Transplantation Gothic
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Metaphors for transfer tissue help to normalise transfer process, and procurement protocols are influenced by a society’s values. This chapter examines dystopian fictions of state-sanctioned coercive harvest in which discursive work performs its own violence alongside the scalpels. While the fictions are fantastical, covert hierarchies of life value are also in play today, as are metaphors for transfer tissue (waste, gift, natural resources and vegetation). I contrast works from the early days of transplantation around the time of the emergence of neurological criteria for death – Cordwainer Smith’s novella ‘A planet called Shayol’ (1961), Larry Niven’s A Gift from Earth (1968) and Dennis Etchison’s ‘Calling all monsters’ (1973) – with twenty-first-century novels, Neal Shusterman’s Unwind (2007), Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005) and Ninni Holmqvist’s novel Enhet (The Unit) (2006). All six texts imagine people reduced to ‘ungrievable lives’ (Judith Butler), no longer recognised as quite human; these characters are consigned to social death and dismemberment for organs. Yet the twenty-first century works also show characters’ internalising these metaphors in ways that reinforce social hierarchies. Hints of resistance emerge in what might be called ‘queer’ time (Elizabeth Freeman), in which a person marked as socially non-normative dreams of interpersonal connection.

Transplantation Gothic

Tissue transfer in literature, film, and medicine


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