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Scalpel and Metaphor: The Ceremony of Organ Harvest in Gothic Science Fiction

Wasson, Sara-Patricia


Sara-Patricia Wasson


In organ transfer, tissue moves through a web of language. Metaphors reclassify the tissue to enable its redeployment, framing the process for practitioners and public. The process of marking off tissue as transferrable in legal and cultural terms parallels many of the processes that typically accompany commodification in late capitalism. This language of economic transformation echoes the language of Gothic ceremony, of purification and demarcation. As in literary Gothic' s representations of ceremony, this economic work is anxious and the boundaries it creates unstable. This article identifies dominant metaphors shaping that ceremony of tissue reclassifi cation, and examines how three twenty-first century novels deploy these metaphors to represent the' harvest' (procurement) process (the metaphor of' harvest'; is itself highly problematic, as I will discuss). Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (2005), Neal Shusterman Unwind (2007), and Ninni Holmqvist's Swedish novel Enhet (The Unit) (2006, translated into English in 2010) each depict vulnerable protagonists within societies where extreme tissue procurement protocols have state sanction. The texts invite us to reflect on the kinds of symbolic substitutions that help legitimate tissue transfer and the way that procurement protocols may become influenced by social imperatives. In each text, the Gothic trope of dismemberment becomes charged with new urgency.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2015-05
Deposit Date May 1, 2015
Publicly Available Date May 31, 2015
Print ISSN 1362-7937
Electronic ISSN 2050-456X
Publisher Manchester University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Issue 1
Pages 104-123
Keywords Holmqvist; Ishiguro; Medical Gothic; Shusterman; medicine; metaphor; organ procurement; organ transplant
Public URL
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Contract Date May 1, 2015