Literature and Theatre
This chapter explores 1970s American literary and cinematic fantasies of institutionally mediated organ theft, in hospitals influenced by corporate and profit imperatives. Blood and tissue ‘banking’ developed rapidly during the twentieth century, and both the vocabulary and the processes were shaped by trends in neoliberal late capitalism. Through this lens, this chapter examines Robin Cook’s novel Coma (1977), Michael Crichton’s 1978 film adaptation, Robert Fiveson’s film Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979), John Hejinian’s novel Extreme Remedies (1974) and Dennis Etchison’s ‘The dead line’ (1979), and also science fictions from subsequent decades which further develop the trope of corporate transfer Gothic. These works comment on period concerns around organ procurement practices and critique a political economy that erodes compassion in healthcare. To communicate these perils, these fictions use spatial conventions characteristic of Gothic, staging their action in disorienting infrastructural spaces which seem claustrophobic and hallucinatory, through the lens of the protagonists’ vulnerabilities. These fictions also dramatise how tissue transfer can morph into finance’s intricate secondary forms including a language of mortgages, repossession, inherited debt and futures trading. The texts make visible the brutality concealed in the spectralising, deferred logics of neoliberal late capitalism.
This chapter considers turn-of-the-millennium fiction and film of transnational and intra-national organ sale, in which racial inequalities characterise donor pools and access to transplant. Texts from India, the UK and North America which engage inequalities around transfer access and clinical labour, informed by legacies of colonisation and slavery. Read at a figural level, these texts also symbolise ‘slow violence’, as Rob Nixon defines it, in which time itself is a force of ruination. Works discussed include Manjula Padmanabhan’s play Harvest (1997), Stephen Frears’s film Dirty Pretty Things (2002) and four works of African-American harvest horror from the US and Canada: Charles Gardner Bowers’s short story ‘The black hand’ (1931), Dennis Etchison’s ‘The machine demands a sacrifice’ (1972), Walter Mosley’s short story ‘Whispers in the dark’ (2001) and Nalo Hopkinson’s novel Brown Girl in the Ring (1998). This chapter uses Elizabeth Povinelli’s concept of a durative present, the protracted violence of quasi-events under neoliberal regimes, to consider how fictional texts present precarity and a durative present of horror. Each site’s transfer economies differ but each text engages pre- and post-surgical durée, and each resists the exoticisation of dysfunctional transfer as distant from American or European contexts.
This chapter explores affective and epistemological challenges posed by the novel diagnostic entities of ‘whole brain death’, ‘brain stem death’ and ‘controlled circulatory death’ as they developed within transfer milieux in the UK and US. Life support technology enabled cyborg hybridities of machine and flesh, and I draw on Annemarie Mol’s concept of diagnosis as assemblage and Giorgio Agamben’s concept of ‘bare life’ to analyse how writing in medicine and ethics manages the ambiguities of the new deaths. I coin the term ‘clinical necropoetics’ to convey how Gothic imagery, intertextualities and narrative strategies are marshalled to variously express uncertainty or unease or, by contrast, to manage doubt and normalise. Gothic facilitates contradictory meanings, communicating troubling affects and conceptual ambiguity, or eliding these very things. Gothic representations may ‘give a voice to the silenced dead’, in the words of Sarah Webster Goodwin and Elisabeth Bronfen, imbuing a dead body with social meaning. At the same time, Gothic can be part of a process of silencing the dead, reducing the dangerous superfluity of meanings that such bodies may bear.
This coda considers a woodcut from Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani Corpus Fabrica (1543) depicting a flayed human body in motion. The image distils a preoccupation that has run throughout Transplantation Gothic: a focus on bodies opened, their incisions not closed, yet life ongoing. This book is concerned with bodies wounded in ways that are not yet finished. It respects stories that do not end or stories that do not end neatly: the wounds of donors that spread to include intangible wounds like reduced earning capacity, pain or stigma, and recipient wounds that keep the body open for more changes – immunosuppressant pharmacology, the medical gaze, and interventions. This book is concerned with extended durations of time and affect, the slow violence of long legacies of health inequality and the long aftermath of care.
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.
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’.
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.
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.