Literature and Theatre

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What God was doing before he created the world
Daisy Black

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?

in Play time
Linear time and Jewish conversion in the N-Town plays
Daisy Black

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.

in Play time
Temporal origami in the Towneley Herod the Great
Daisy Black

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.

in Play time
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Gender, anti-Semitism and temporality in medieval biblical drama
Author: Daisy Black

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.

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Queering the Nativity in the Towneley Second Shepherds’ Play
Daisy Black

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.

in Play time
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Corporate medical horror in late twentieth-century American transfer fiction
Sara Wasson

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.

in Transplantation Gothic
Transnational harvest horror and racial vulnerability at the turn of the millennium
Sara Wasson

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.

in Transplantation Gothic
Medical and ethics writing of death and transplantation
Sara Wasson

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.

in Transplantation Gothic
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Writing wounds
Sara Wasson

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.

in Transplantation Gothic
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To leap beyond yet nearer bring
Andrew Ginger

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.

in Instead of modernity