Research Output
Recalcitrant Tissue: Organ Transfer and the Struggle for Narrative Control.
  The Gothic has long been interested in failed communities, the snapping or violating of ties between kin or neighbours. As the Gothic mutates into new forms today, it is increasingly characterising texts which depict whole societies as wounded in their relational capacity – in the ability to connect, to care. Human organ transfer gives copious opportunities to rethink community and even kinship. From a positive perspective, Leslie Sharp has written about ‘biosentimentality’ with regard to cadaveric donation, the recipient’s joyful gratitude to the deceased donor for their ‘gift’, which along with new life gives the recipient a sense of meaningful connection to that deceased person and possibly also to their family and loved ones. More negatively, in anonymous living donation the donor is often represented as a mere manufacturer of tissue, a move which elides their sacrifice. This elision has facilitated a brutal predation on poor and vulnerable harvestees worldwide. This paper examines texts which complicate both those approaches by instead depicting the transferred tissue as both alien and active. Among other texts, I will examine Claire Denis’s film L’intrus (2004) which imagines a transplanted heart as ‘the intruder’. At their extreme, such texts make literal Gothic’s traditional preoccupation with alienation from the body: as David Punter says, ‘Gothic tests what it might be like to be a shell ... a shell which has been filled to the brim with something that looks like ourselves but is irremediably other…. Thus it is we ourselves who are cast as the ghost’ (Gothic Pathologies, 16). These texts resist the two dominant trends in medical transplant commentary: first, the sanitised language of ‘donation’ which subsumes the transfer to the gift; and second, the commercially-motivated tendency to deny the reality of the harvestee’s loss. In the process, they ask us to reflect on the way medical interventions establish seductive narrative structures, to which patients must either succumb or forge their own.

  • Type:

    Book Chapter

  • Date:

    01 January 2015

  • Publication Status:


  • Publisher


  • Library of Congress:

    PR English literature


Wasson, S. (2014). Recalcitrant Tissue: Organ Transfer and the Struggle for Narrative Control. In J. Edwards (Ed.), Technologies of the Gothic in Literature and Culture: Technogothics, 99-112. Routledge



medical gothic; body transformations; narrative in medicine

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