- Verpflanzungsgebiete. Wissenskulturen und Poetik der Transplantation by Irmela Marei Krüger-Fürhoff
In Rabelais and His World, Mikhail Bakhtin prominently distinguishes the premodern from the modern concept of the body. The premodern body is fundamentally “open”: it is continuous with the world around it, flowing into it by copulation, pregnancy, and birth. The modern body, in contrast, is “closed.” It is complete within itself and shut off from its environment; all elements of the body’s openness are suppressed. Bakhtin’s distinction between the open and closed body offers great insights into historical shifts in our understanding of the fundamental preconditions of life and identity. Moreover, his distinction enables productive readings of early modern art, whose grotesque depictions of oversized mouths and anuses speak to Bakhtin’s concept of the open body. However, Bakhtin’s stark dichotomy runs the risk of blinding us to the uncanny ways in which the horror or ideal of the open body keeps reverberating through modernity.
Irmela Marei Krüger-Fürhoff’s published works constructively question Bakhtin’s dichotomy and carefully reconstruct the historical afterlife of the open body in modernity. In her first monograph, the 2001 Der versehrte Körper (The Wounded Body), Krüger-Fürhoff shows that the specter of the open body retained its presence throughout German Classicism in the figure of physiques injured or harmed. Her second monograph and Habilitationsschrift, the 2012 Verpflanzungsgebiete (Areas of Transplantation), continues this research on the open body through the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. In Verpflanzungsgebiete, Krüger-Fürhoff focuses on organ transplants as one dominant practice through which the essential openness of the human body remained a concern in medical, artistic, and popular discourse. As evident in the numerous patient testimonies, films, novels, and theoretical works that Krüger-Fürhoff presents in her study, the possibility of replacing major parts of our organism raises fundamental questions about what exactly separates individuals from one another.
In the first chapter, Krüger-Fürhoff introduces the history of the concept and practices of transplantation since the nineteenth century. Then across the following [End Page 168] three chapters, she explains the challenge that the practice of organ transplantation poses to our established understandings of identity under three different headings. Chapter 2 examines the disruptive influence of organ transplants on conceived notions of individual physical identity. Chapter 3 discusses the impact of transplants on theories of national identity. And chapter 4 shows how organ transplants disturb our thinking of the elementary structures of family relations. The underlying assumption in all three chapters is that the organ receiver is in some medical, psychological, or ethical way influenced by and tied to the organ donor. The fifth and final chapter is devoted to a discussion of the literary techniques that writers use to illustrate the medical reality of organ transplantation. These “aesthetic equivalents” (313) of organ transplantation include prominent modern artistic procedures such as montage and fragmentation.
This research draws on an astonishing breadth of examples to reveal the recurring problems and patterns in fictional and nonfictional accounts of organ transplantation. In total, Krüger-Fürhoff discusses some 40 films and 90 literary texts. The complete bibliography boasts 839 entries on 50 pages. This nearly exhaustive coverage of the cultural repercussions of the medical practice of organ transplantation makes Krüger-Fürhoff’s monograph an inevitable resource for anyone studying the interrelations of medicine and literature in general or the ethics and aesthetics of organ transplantation in particular. In this latter respect, Verpflanzungsgebiete meaningfully supplements Thomas Schlich’s works on the medical history of organ transplants (notably, the 1998 Die Erfindung der Organtransplantation [The Invention of Organ Transplantation] on which Krüger-Fürhoff’s study draws) and Silke Schicktanz’s research on the ethics of organ transplantation.
While the majority of novels and films in Krüger-Fürhoff’s study receives only a cursory reading, some twenty-five texts and films that are deemed to be “aesthetically demanding” (32) or of...