Bodies dis(re)membered: Gothic and the transplant imaginary
This introduction considers tissue transfer as a boundary practice in multiple senses, unsettling conventional distinctions between self and other and between life and death, and challenging the limits of the body's capacity to transform and the ethical limits of scientific practice. It reviews how Gothic tropes and intertextualities have characterised representations of the processes from the nineteenth century to the present. It also reflects on the critical conundrum that attends this historicist reading of Gothic as hallucinatory mimesis, of reality become fantastic in its horrors, and offers an analytic framework for working the terrain between imaginative representation and the suffering that it indirectly refracts: the coinage bodies dis(re)membered describes four ways that Gothic can conduct ambiguous cultural work within these discursive borderlands. I identify Gothic narrative tropes in historiography of transplantation science and immunology, and review how vulnerable bodies, strange time and confining spaces of a Gothic mode may help to express biopolitical dimensions of particular transfer milieux. Finally, I defend the value of work in fantastic modes for medical humanities and comment on how transfer Gothic responds to calls in the critical medical humanities for attention to the distributed nature of health-related practice, in a nexus both global and local.
Uncanny assemblage and embodied scripts in tissue recipient horror
This chapter examines texts which imagine dead donor transfer tissue changing recipients. ‘Possession’ transfer Gothic is influenced by contemporaneous discourses of race, class and gender, but what also emerges is the sense of all human tissue as uncanny, including the recipient’s own pre-transplant’s body. Each text in this chapter resists the trend in transplant commentary to downplay any sense of the received tissue as alien or to elide recipients’ imaginative work or distress. The concepts of intercorporeality (Catherine Waldby), ‘absolute hospitality’ (Jacques Derrida) and ‘assemblage’ (Gilles Deleuze) offer a repertoire of strange relationalities between recipient and donor. I consider works from the pre-transplantation era including Frank Kinsella’s The Degeneration of Dorothy (1899), Arthur Cheney Train’s Mortmain (1907), Maurice Renard’s Les mains d’Orlac (1920), Robert Wiene’s film Orlacs Hände (1924) and Georges Franju’s film Les yeux sans visage / Eyes Without a Face (1958), and compare these with postmillennial representations of recipient experience of surgery and aftermath, autobiographical essays by Jean-Luc Nancy (2000) and Francisco Varela (2001) and Claire Denis’s film L’intrus (2004). In the latter works, Gothic tropes and intertextualities may express recipient acceptance of the fractures and contingencies of the post-transplant body, unsettling the language of either ‘possession’ or ‘self-possession’.
‘Machines of social death’ and state-sanctioned harvest in dystopian fiction
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.
This book is a shadow cultural history of transplantation as mediated through medical writing, science fiction, life writing and visual arts in a Gothic mode, from the nineteenth century to the present. Works in these genres explore the experience of donors or suppliers, recipients and practitioners, and simultaneously express transfer-related suffering and are complicit in its erasure. Examining texts from Europe, North America and India, the book resists exoticising predatorial tissue economies and considers fantasies of harvest as both product and symbol of ‘slow violence’ (Rob Nixon), precarity and structural ruination under neoliberal capitalism. Gothic tropes, intertextualities and narrative conventions are used in life writing to express the affective and conceptual challenges of post-transplant being, and used in medical writing to manage the ambiguities of hybrid bodies, as a ‘clinical necropoetics’. In their efforts to articulate bioengineered hybridity, these works are not only anxious but speculative. Works discussed include nineteenth-century Gothic, early twentieth-century fiction and film, 1970s American hospital organ theft horror in literature and film, turn-of-the-millennium fiction and film of organ sale, postmillennial science fiction dystopias, life writing and scientific writing from the nineteenth century to the present. Throughout, Gothic representations engage contemporary debates around the management of chronic illness, the changing economics of healthcare and the biopolitics of organ procurement and transplantation – in sum, the strange times and weird spaces of tissue mobilities. The book will be of interest to academics and students researching Gothic studies, science fiction, critical medical humanities and cultural studies of transplantation.
Ancient Egypt in the aesthetic and decadent imaginary
This chapter turns to ancient Egypt in the literature of the aesthetic and decadent movements, exploring how this differs from the so-called classical ‘ideal’ of Greece and Rome. Beginning with Baudelaire’s influential use of ancient Egypt in the ‘Spleen’ poems of Les Fleurs du mal (1857), it locates three interrelated, but also competing and seemingly contradictory, discursive deployments of ancient Egypt in literature of the period: firstly, in an argument derived from Hegel’s Aesthetics (1818–29), Egypt as ‘Symbolic’ mystery, whose art is underdeveloped by comparison to the ‘Classical Ideal’, waiting for the day of the ‘Greek spirit … with its power of speech’; secondly, Egypt as a site of ennui, where the ‘symbolic’ dimensions are linked intrinsically to a melancholic decadence and to death; and thirdly, Egypt as exoticism, and Orientalist sensuality, linking also to the significance of contemporary fin-de-siècle Egypt in homosexual culture. This chapter examines Walter Pater’s essay on ‘Winckelmann’ from The Renaissance (1873), and Oscar Wilde’s poem The Sphinx (1894) amongst other materials to argue that ancient Egypt was a marginal but nevertheless significant subject for the aesthetes and decadents.
This chapter addresses the ancient Egyptian dimensions of George Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859). Using Eliot’s opening lines likening authorship to Egyptian sorcery as a springboard, this chapter argues for the continued significance of this reference throughout Adam Bede, demonstrating an interconnectedness between established Christian motifs and ancient Egyptian religion and mythology. In addition to the Wesleyan Methodist aspects of the novel, this chapter demonstrates a discernible recreation of the biblical Genesis story running throughout the text, combined with tangible references to ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses. This analysis is contextualised through references to other works on ancient Egypt that likely influenced Eliot, including Edward William Lane’s Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1836), his translations of The Thousand and One Nights (1838–40), and Charles Knight’s The Pictorial Bible (1836–38). Overall, this chapter places Eliot’s first novel within its contemporary Egyptological culture and, in doing so, proposes that Adam Bede retells the biblical story of Adam and Eve with a distinctly ancient Egyptian inflection.
This chapter focuses on a British illustration for Edgar Allan Poe’s satirical short story ‘Some Words with a Mummy’ (1845), which was published posthumously in an anthology of his works in 1852. This illustration is the earliest known visual depiction of a revived Egyptian mummy, a character that later became an archetypal figure in Victorian literature. This chapter situates the unknown artist’s vision of the fictional mummy Allamistakeo within the history of visual and literary depictions of mummies and the sociopolitical discourses they articulated, comparing the illustrator’s engagement within contemporary debates with those suggested by Poe’s text. While Poe does not assign a racial identity to Allamistakeo, the illustrator gives the mummy an African appearance, evoking scientific disputes about the racial origins of the ancient Egyptians. In bringing to light this illustration and analysing it as part of the wider corpus of mummy literature as well as the racial debates that this body of literature responded to and furthered, this chapter demonstrates that both Poe and his illustrator invited contemporary readers to question commonly held racial stereotypes and European imperialist ideology.
This chapter considers Bram Stoker’s novel The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903) within the broader context of archaeological fiction, a genre that is characterised by detailed description of artefacts and strategic citation of authorities. Stoker’s credibility as a novice Egyptologist is suggested through his setting of an ancient Egyptian tomb in the Valley of the Sorcerer, an obvious parallel to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, and his apparent basing of his fictional Queen Tera on the real pharaoh Hatshepsut. Equally significant, this chapter demonstrates, is his synthesis of the Egyptological writings of E. A. Wallis Budge, Flinders Petrie and Amelia Edwards into his depiction of the journey to the ‘beyond’. Stoker, as this chapter shows, relies on a wealth of academic writing to weave his fiction; the role of the narrator is to peruse relevant archaeological studies and scrutinise symbolically charged artefacts, becoming the intermediary who functions not only as a conduit between the ancient past and the modern present, but also the fictional world that Stoker creates and the real world from which he gleans a substantial quantity of Egyptological detail.
The introduction to this volume teases out the nuances of the ways in which nineteenth-century notions of taste, gender, religion and empire were shifting across the century, via references to ancient Egypt. It ascertains how the chapters that make up this book provide new readings of canonical authors and texts, and introduce a wealth of new material into a burgeoning critical debate, relating pertinent arguments that emerge in individual chapters to each other to provide a critical framework with which the reader might understand the collection as a whole. It also emphasises how, as the first multi-authored study of ancient Egypt in literary culture, the chapters of the volume collectively suggest that nineteenth-century cultural fascination with ancient Egypt is far more widespread than previously realised.
This chapter considers ancient Egypt’s decadent associations at the fin de siècle, considering how the iconography of elite goods trickled down into mass consumer culture, taking Guy Boothby’s thriller Pharos the Egyptian (1898; 1899) as its starting point. The titular Pharos produces his own cigarettes and perfumes, which heighten sensations and lead to visions during states of semi-consciousness. Negotiating, on the one hand, decadent circles and the associated culture of recreational drug use at the fin de siècle, and on the other, advertising for mass-market products drawing upon ancient Egypt’s increasing attraction, this chapter identifies how Boothby uses cigarettes and perfume in Pharos the Egyptian to navigate the boundaries between the high- and middlebrow. It also incorporates discussion of the materiality of Boothby’s volume itself. Originally published in instalments in the Windsor Magazine in 1898, Boothby’s text was reissued as a novel in 1899. This chapter also argues that, as with cigarettes and perfume whose advertising displayed such imagery, Boothby’s novel becomes itself an object that is part of a broader material culture.