Liminal Lives

Imagining the Human at the Frontiers of Biomedicine

Liminal Lives

Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 17 b&w photos, 24 illus. Published: December 2004

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Medicine and Health > Medical Humanities, Science and Technology Studies

Embryo adoptions, stem cells capable of transforming into any cell in the human body, intra- and inter-species organ transplantation—these and other biomedical advances have unsettled ideas of what it means to be human, of when life begins and ends. In the first study to consider the cultural impact of the medical transformation of the entire human life span, Susan Merrill Squier argues that fiction—particularly science fiction—serves as a space where worries about ethically and socially charged scientific procedures are worked through. Indeed, she demonstrates that in many instances fiction has anticipated and paved the way for far-reaching biomedical changes. Squier uses the anthropological concept of liminality—the state of being on the threshold of change, no longer one thing yet not quite another—to explore how, from the early twentieth century forward, fiction and science together have altered not only the concept of the human being but the contours of human life.

Drawing on archival materials of twentieth-century biology; little-known works of fiction and science fiction; and twentieth- and twenty-first century U.S. and U.K. government reports by the National Institutes of Health, the Parliamentary Advisory Group on the Ethics of Xenotransplantation, and the President’s Council on Bioethics, she examines a number of biomedical changes as each was portrayed by scientists, social scientists, and authors of fiction and poetry. Among the scientific developments she considers are the cultured cell, the hybrid embryo, the engineered intrauterine fetus, the child treated with human growth hormone, the process of organ transplantation, and the elderly person rejuvenated by hormone replacement therapy or other artificial means. Squier shows that in the midst of new phenomena such as these, literature helps us imagine new ways of living. It allows us to reflect on the possibilities and perils of our liminal lives.


“[T]his book will be a revelation for many and a guide for those who already know. It is a work that the emerging field of biocultures needs to consider and the world of politics needs to absorb.” — Leonard J. Davis , Literature and Medicine

“Squier delineates convincingly throughout Liminal Lives . . . the juxtaposition and investigation of science and literature as imaginative practices that come to structure the world, not separately but in tandem. In order to understand how this structuring happens we must create a methodology that juxtaposes the scientific and the literary, and in Liminal Lives Susan Squier has done just that.” — Lisa Diedrich , Journal of the History of Sexuality

"For someone who is working on biotechnology and SF and employing a theoretically advanced and interdisciplinary methodology, Liminal Lives is a very important text." — Mark Decker , SFRA Review

"Offering a far-ranging and provocative analysis, Squier moves effortlessly among science fiction, government reports, and scientific writing in a diverse range of fields as she focuses on the culture's grappling with various types of 'liminal lives.' . . . Highly recommended." — R. D. Morrison , Choice

"Squier’s approach is welcome because it asks us to carefully not distinguish between 'narrative' as a practice exclusive to literature or film. Liminal Lives prompts us to consider the ways in which 'science fiction' is a verb, and not simply a literary or film genre." — Eugene Thacker , Leonardo Reviews

“Susan Merrill Squier’s Liminal Lives is compelling, timely, imaginative, and wonderfully provocative.” — Priscilla Wald, author of Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form

Liminal Lives offers very strong and important theoretical insights into relationships between scientific knowledge and practice and literary production. Its innovative methodology creates possibilities for better communication and exchange between scientific, literary, and social scientific knowledge in a way that will be very useful to others interested in interdisciplinary science studies.” — Catherine Waldby, author of AIDS and The Body Politic: Biomedicine and Sexual Difference

“A brilliant and provocative exploration of how biomedicine and literature, particularly science fiction, are together reconfiguring the very shape of the entire life span, producing adoptable embryos, giant babies, interspecies pregnancies, and regenerated old bodies—all in the context of a new and grim bio-economy in which hearts and kidneys are for sale and earrings are fabricated out of fetal remains.” — Kathleen Woodward, author of Aging and Its Discontents: Freud and Other Fictions


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Susan Merrill Squier is Brill Professor of Women’s Studies and English at The Pennsylvania State University. She is author of Babies in Bottles: Twentieth-Century Visions of Reproductive Technology; editor of Communities of the Air: Radio Century, Radio Culture (published by Duke University Press); and coeditor of Playing Dolly: Technocultural Formations, Fantasies, and Fictions of Assisted Reproduction and Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation. She is past president and Executive Board Member of the Society for Literature and Science.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Networking Liminality 1

1. The Uses of Literature for Feminist Science Studies: Tracing Liminal Lives 25

2. The Cultured Cell: Life and Death at Strangeways 58

3. The Hybrid Embryo and Xenogenic Desire 89

4. Giant Babies: Graphing Growth in the Early Twentieth Century 112

5. Incubabies and Rejuvenates: The Traffic between Technologies of Reproduction and Age Extension 146

6. Transplant Medicine and Transformative Narrative 168

7. Liminal Performances of Aging: From Replacement to Regeneration 214

Coda: The Pluripotent Discourse of Stem Cells: Liminality, Reflexivity, and Literature 253

Notes 281

Works Cited 315

Index 335
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3366-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3381-4
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