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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.