Instead of modernity revisits the key moment in the mid-nineteenth century when, it is said, ‘all that is solid melts into air’. Spanning the visual arts, literature, and thought, it reconsiders artists and writers linked to the foundations of modern culture: Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Whitman, Whistler and Courbet. In so doing, it offers an alternative to the obsession with notions of ‘modernity’ that underpin many influential theories of culture. It incorporates the Hispanic world (Spain and Spanish America) into the story of this time, disrupting and reconfiguring the narrative of ‘modernity’, challenging the belief the Hispanic had opened the doors to the ‘modern’ but was overtaken by cultures of the north-west Atlantic. While this points beyond the divide between a supposed core and periphery in culture, the book likewise undermines the patriarchal basis of canonical modernity, giving prominence to women from the painter Rosa Bonheur, and the photographers Jane Clifford and Julia Margaret Cameron, to the actress Matilde Díez. Instead of ‘modernity’, the book conjures visions of intimate connection between places and times, between representations and realities, between selves and others. It explores commonality and similarity. In its own prose, it envisages ways of conducting and writing comparative cultural study, beyond contextualisation and historicisation, drawing on the nineteenth-century imagination. In that spirit, the book finds its way across diverse fields and subject matter, tracing connections between them, from sexuality to optical technology, from brain slices to taxidermy. In so doing, it conjures four moods: meeting, departure, sacifice and repose.
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.
From modernity to the aesthetic appreciation of history
Influential cultural theories – for example those of Barthes and Foucault – have their basis in an account of modernity, based on an understanding of the mid-nineteenth century. This account is exclusionary – notably of the Hispanic, which supposedly had a foundational role in the modern world, through the conquest of the Americas and the establishment of large-scale statehood, but putatively was then not a key player in the modernity it had helped initiate. The process of reincorporating a supposed periphery, alongside other marginalised aspects of culture, undermines the cogency of the notion of modernity. Both in its conceptual implications and in the practice of reincorporating what was excluded, this opens up the perspective of intimate connections across time and place, self and other, representation and reality. Nineteenth-century culture itself contains still untapped potential for such ways of imagining comparisons, commonalities and similarities, often beyond direct causal connection. The chapter takes inspiration from writers such as Dimock and Manning. Instead of modernity, all this opens up the perspective of ways of writing comparisons beyond narrow contextualisation and historicisation. In their place comes an aesthetic appreciation of history, of the forms and patterns that may be traced across place and time. These form ‘moods’, explored in a spirit of ‘lavishness’ and drama that evoke a psychological journeying across contingent juxtapositions, without pre-established maps or rules.
In the first of the moods, we imagine the possibility of an intimate encounter, a coming together beyond absence and ironisation. We explore that possibility by bringing together apparently diverse aspects of mid-nineteenth-century culture. In the first section of the chapter – Coming together parts 1 and 2, with interlude – we imagine a kind of triptych with a slim middle panel, exploring intimacy across the depths of time and the stretches of place, and between sign and referent. We move from two gauchos outside Buenos Aires recounting the story of Gounod’s opera Faust, to a visual fantasia on the same opera by the painter Fortuny in Spain, through to Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy and its consideration of Greek gods and the arts. The chapter evokes the possibility of what it calls an intimate culture, and considers what this might involve for good or ill. In the second section – Taking shape – we explore how the adoption of forms can enable intimate communication across place and time. Here we bring together nineteenth-century performance, the role of the occult and hypnotism, the pervasive concern with descriptive geometry, the relatively new art of photography, and the supposed uncanny, passing through images of intensifying infrastructure, actors and historical figures, and culminating in a consideration of a version of Poe’s Valdemar and of the photographic representation of Velázquez’s Las Meninas.
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’.
In the mood of repose, we encounter a possibility that seems more familiar in the theory of culture: the notion of a decentring or attenuation in which mastery is relinquished and an affect of weakness predominates, from Derrida’s dissemination to Vattimo’s weak thought or Dimock’s weak networks. In the continual distraction from a centre, connections are formed. These kinds of outlook have often been seen as legacies of mid-century modernity, for example through influential accounts of Flaubert’s prose. But this chapter does not sentimentalise nineteenth-century notions of repose, nor does it limit them to such perspectives. It recognises the often uncomfortable, apparently alien nature of these mid-century meditations, their implication with prejudice and imperialism. It sees them as shadows of the other three moods. The chapter itself is decentred, moving through distractions from the hallucinatory, meditative effects of Fortuny’s and Courbet’s painting by way of speculative scientific treatises, to deliberate deflection from history’s violent dominant heart in Latin American writing, to serene versions of paintings of empire’s origins and legacies, and the deathliness and emptiness of visions of novelty and modernity in France and Spain. It turns to possibility of an all-embracing vision from an apparently tangential viewpoint, whether in Darwin’s garden, Thoreau’s Walden, through the eyes of a Spanish artisan, or an obsessive dwelling on donkeys. The chapter culminates with a return to a now lesser Faust in rural Andalusia.
This chapter explores the implications of the notion that self-destructive and destructive forces may project intimate connections across apparently diverse contexts. It seriously explores the sacrificial obsessions of mid-nineteenth-century culture, often felt to be something of an historical embarrassment to modernity. It acknowledges the danger of ‘traumophilia’ while avoiding a simple dismissal of such impulses. Setting out from Hunt’s Scapegoat, the chapter moves from one death and dying to another, from the intimations of demise in Juliet Margaret Cameron’s photography through notions of an opened body in Spanish literature, from taxidermy, mummification and mortuary photography to Whistler’s nocturnes, Marx’s vampiric capital, visions of historic and contemporary devastation in the Americas, and glass culture in the Crystal Palace and in Mexico. It mixes Melville’s Moby Dick with re-creations of Goya’s Black Paintings, the corpses of Spain’s Lovers of Teruel with Millet’s Angelus (which so obsessed Salvador Dalí), the slicing of brains in France with a Puerto Rican’s reversal of Columbus’s Atlantic journey, Alice in Wonderland with Flaubert’s Simple Heart. It passes from history painting to practices of copying. The chapter speaks of limbo, of traumatic looping, of heterotopias of demise, of dissolution into abstraction, of a vision of Benjamin’s Angel longing for history’s debris. It explores pastiche as a dallying with deathliness. It considers the riskiness of what it calls history’s edge-play, the unsettling association of aesthetic force with extreme violence, and the ultimate threat of insanity that the mood of sacrifice involves.
‘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.
This article traces how the queer Black writer James Baldwin’s
transnational palate and experiences influenced the ways he wrote about Black
domestic spaces in the late twentieth century. In the 1960s and 1970s, while
Black feminist cooks and writers like Edna Lewis, Jessica B. Harris, and
Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor developed new theories of soul food in relation to the
Black American community and broader American cuisine, Baldwin incorporated
these philosophies and transnational tastes into his lifestyle and works. He
traveled and worked around Europe, settling in places like Paris, Istanbul, and
Saint-Paul de Vence for years at a time. In Saint-Paul de Vence, where he spent
his last years, he set up his own welcome table, at which he hosted
internationally renowned guests and shared his love of cuisine. Inevitably,
Baldwin’s passion for cooking and hosting meals became a large, though
scholarly neglected, component of his novels and essays. In his novels
Another Country, which he finished in Istanbul and
published in 1962, and Just Above My Head, which he finished in
Saint-Paul de Vence and published in 1979, Baldwin’s depictions of food
and Black kitchens take a queer turn. Instead of lingering on traditional Black
family structures, these texts specifically present new formulations of intimate
home life and reimagine relationships between food, kitchens, race, and sex in
the late twentieth century.