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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Organ ensembles : medicalization, modernity, and horror in 19th and 20th century narratives of the body in its parts

  • Author(s): Yang, Yeesheen
  • et al.

The cultural anxieties that imagine life-saving transplant technologies as a source of horror in the 21st century prompt my investigation in this project into the tensions between, roughly, the medical imagination of the body and the cultural imagination of the body of transplant medicine. Insofar as the notion of a body made up of interchangeable parts that can be broken up, worked, put into circulation, sold, it is constructed as a figure of horror and pathos. This same body, however, can also be healed, made whole, and opened up to new social, political, and physical possibilities. The tensions between the notion of the transplant body as a whole or in parts, as an object of horror or redemption, as a biological object or a site of cultural meaning is a part of what this dissertation concerns itself with. In exploring these questions, this dissertation seeks to expand the discourse from the body seen as a medicalized, instrumentalized object that is alienated (the idea that an organ is simply an organ) to one that is the site of conflicting, evolving, and shifting meanings. This project performs a cultural history of the present, tracing cultural representations of the transplant body in key moments of its technological emergence, in order to assert that the body is a cultural object as well as a medical/technical one, and explore the ways in which these systems of meaning overlap and inform each other

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