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Imagining the Heart: Incorporations, Intrusions and Identity
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, The Department of Gender Studies. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9360-0931
2012 (English)In: Somatechnics, ISSN 2044-0138, EISSN 2044-0146, Vol. 2, no 2, 233-249 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Surgical intervention into human corporeality relies on the Cartesian machine model of the body to justify such radical intrusion as the properly reasoned and informed actions and choices of essentially disembodied sovereign subjects. Both the surgical subject and the surgical team are engaged in a form of heroic, albeit supremely functional, medicine in which questions of self, embodiment, and intercorporeality are put to one side. This is especially evident in the field of heart transplantation. Nonetheless, of all the non-visible parts of the body, it is the heart that has been most clearly at the centre of both imagery and imagination in western culture. What is striking is the degree to which the heart is represented not as a merely functional part of the body that might be exchanged at will, but as an organ of immense personal significance. In socio-cultural terms the heart stands in for a range of inherently human attributes such as love, empathy, fear, guilt and so on that are at the core of selfhood. And as my current research on transplantation shows, both recipients and donors are troubled by not so much by biomedical risk, as by issues of identity and the vexed relation between self and other.

How then does this cultural and personal understanding line up with the biomedical need to represent the organ as a mere pump, as an exchangeable depersonalised mass that can unproblematically take its place in ‘spare part surgery’? I shall review some contemporary representations of heart donation and transplantation that both re-enforce the supposed utility of the process while at the same time sliding away into the realm of psychic significance where the heart is figured as the gift of life. What are the implications for recipients of receiving such a gift that in the most substantive way crosses the boundary between self and other in a mode that leaves the categorical identity of both open to doubt. How can we reimagine the problematic in ways that would leave behind intimations of intrusion and acknowledge intercorporeality as a positive and desirable outcome?

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012. Vol. 2, no 2, 233-249 p.
Keyword [en]
Heart transplantation, Identity, The imaginary, Visualisation
National Category
Cultural Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-81680DOI: 10.3366/soma.2012.0059OAI: diva2:555676
Available from: 2012-09-21 Created: 2012-09-20 Last updated: 2014-02-07

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Shildrick, Margrit
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