This book opens by providing an alternative answer to the question addressed
by St Augustine in his Confessions: ‘what was God doing before he created
the world?’ It argues that the saint’s visceral longing to physically
resurrect a figure from the Hebrew past, to have Moses before him, to ‘clasp
him and . . . beg him to explain to me the creation’, holds much in common
with lay performances of religious plays in England’s civic centres between
the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. Examining the York Fall of the
Angels Barker’s pageant, the chapter demonstrates how, like Augustine,
medieval dramatists needed to negotiate various models of time and eternity.
Noting that contesting figurations of time are drawn into relief at moments
of transition and in extra-Biblical episodes of conflict between men and
women, the introduction grounds this reading within recent research into
gender and Jewish studies. This analysis introduces the three questions
which inform this study’s central theme of conflict: first, what happens
when moments in time are not universally experienced in the same way;
second, what tensions emerge when Bible times are introduced to a medieval
present; third, how do subjective experiences of time shape the conflicts
the plays stage between Bible figures?
Linear time and Jewish conversion in the N-Town plays
Chapter 1 foregrounds the key issues of this study through a close
examination of an event frequently treated in medieval and modern
chronologies as a point of transition. Christ’s virgin conception formed the
basis of medieval dramatisations of Joseph’s doubts about Mary. The N-Town
manuscript plays amplify these doubts further than the other surviving
pageants, confronting Mary with a string of sceptical characters who demand
she repeatedly prove her purity. This chapter, however, draws attention to
the play’s emphasis on Joseph’s elderly, decrepit body, arguing that it
casts him as representative of a law which offers little scope for
comprehending the virgin pregnancy. While Mary reconciles her virgin,
pregnant state through her typological (mis)reading of the book of Isaiah,
Joseph, as the first Jew to encounter this ‘new’ law, inhabits a different
time-frame. Interrogating how the Holy Couple’s conflict is embodied in the
N-Town Joseph’s Doubt, the chapter examines the play’s utilisation of
medieval anti-Semitic tropes to navigate typological models which
re-fashioned the past through appropriating it. It finds that medieval
scholarly questions about when ‘Christian’ time began also posed a practical
problem for those representing biblical texts in drama.
This chapter asks what happens when dramatic personae recognise that they
occupy a time of theological transition and take steps to prevent it.
Engaging with Michel Serres’ model of folded, topological time, it examines
how the Towneley Herod the Great amplifies the ways in which its bible
source brings together multiple events from Hebrew and Christian scripture
in processes of prophecy and validation. Evaluating how Herod and the
Bethlehem mothers attempt to exert agency over time, the chapter finds in
the play evidence of a complex medieval understanding of the ways in which
religious and scriptural time works. This produces a new reading of the
favourite tyrant of medieval drama. Terrified of both past and future (or,
rather, what past Hebrew ‘prophecies’ tell him about the future), Herod
enacts a devastating act of violence in an attempt to tear his own pages out
of history. However, as this chapter shows, Herod’s temporal machinations,
along with the mothers’ resistance, have the effect of binding moments in
Christian and Hebrew history securely together.
This book produces an important re-theorisation of the ways gender, time and
Judaism have been considered in late medieval biblical drama. It employs
theories of gender, performance, antisemitism, queer theory and periodisation to
complicate readings of early theatre’s biblical matriarchs and patriarchs. It
argues that the conflicts staged by these plays provide crucial evidence of the
ways late medieval lay producers, performers and audiences were themselves
encouraged to question, experience, manipulate and understand time.
Interrogating medieval models of supersession and typology alongside more
contemporary models of ‘queer’ and topological time, this book charts the
conflicts staged between dramatic personae in plays that represent theological
transitions or ruptures, such as the Incarnation, Flood, Nativity and Bethlehem
slaughter. While these plays reflect a Christian preoccupation with what it
asserted was a ‘superseded’ Jewish past, this book asks how these models are
subverted when placed in dialogue with characters who experience alternative
readings of time.
Queering the Nativity in the Towneley Second Shepherds’ Play
This chapter examines what happens when the Towneley Second Shepherds’ Play
deliberately complicates the timeline of its biblical source and uses this
play as a starting-point for a critical re-evaluation of current work on
queer temporalities. Moving away from models of queer time which hinge on
the presupposition of a normative, or homogenous, way of experiencing time,
it suggests instead that a narrower idea of temporal queerness be deployed
which constitutes the interruption of time directed towards (heterosexual)
procreation. In so doing, it examines the Towneley Play’s delayed and
inverted nativity in which a woman appears to give ‘birth’ to a sheep and in
which the promised house full of children is curiously missing.
Corporate medical horror in late twentieth-century American transfer fiction
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.
Transnational harvest horror and racial vulnerability at the turn of the millennium
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.
Medical and ethics writing of death and transplantation
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 chapter imagines how it might be if, rather than emphasising deferral and difference, each departure from one context to another, from one representation to another, led precisely through that departure and difference to greater intimacy. In so doing, it evokes classic notions of the mid-century modern, for example in Marx, Manet and Baudelaire, only to explore how closely their visions of departure may be associated with this apparently paradoxical intimacy. The chapter itself departs from Marx to optical toys, from canonical Western art and Whitman’s poetry to painting in Spain and Latin America and to the works by Rosa Bonheur. It evokes the emergence of intimacy from opening gaps, attraction from a pushing away, the merger of visions of time and place in a flickering, the forming of a bubble encompassing diverse time and place within a location such as the Prado Museum. The chapter speaks of ventriloquism and of promiscuity. It ends with three key modalities by which departure intimates an erotics of sameness, featuring, alongside Bonheur, works by Courbet and the Argentine painter Pueyrredón. These are departure from one self to its own self, the slight departure from one to another, and the marked departure from self to other.