Transposition of the Great Analogies or TGA is a creative work generated from a curiosity I had: what happens when the language of the poetic heart, that is the heart constructed by poetry, is mashed together with the heart constructed by medicine? The question arises organically; at least, my fascination with the heart as a subject of these respective discourses arises from my personal life. First, I sometimes write. Along with my BA in English Literature, I have a focus in creative writing. Using the heart today, to invoke love or death would be terribly cliché: “a sterotyped expression, a commonplace phrase; also, a stereotyped character, style” (“cliché def 1, 3a. fig.). Moreover, in literature the heart is not unique; it is done. And it is done because writers have exhausted its meaning. Evidence of the heart’s manifold expressions can be found, for example, in John Donne, Edgar Allan Poe, or Emily Dickinson. Yet, their work provides only a fraction fo the heart’s uses within even the canon, and at that, only the English language. The territory of the heart is extensive.
But what does it mean to be done? If the heat’s territory is so expansive, can we possibly have pushed its limits? it is beyond the scope of my project to detail each manifestation of the heart within literature, but I think that generalizations like Noubar Boyadjian makes when stating that “the heart, at the expence of all the other organs, is regarded as the center of Man, and has become for him the emblem of love, friendship intelligence and courage” (9) provide an overview of the heart’s various settings and materializations. Returning to the list of authors I made above, I could discuss the symbolization of the heart as intelligence or courage in Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart”, or love and piety in Donne’s “Holy Sonnet XIV” or love again in Dickinson’s “Heart, we will forget him”; I think these could all be scholarly articles [footnote 1]. I also think these essays could demonstrate the nuances of the heart’s metaphorization. But these nuances seem limited to me. Both DOnne and Dickinson’s work utilize the heart as a symbol for love. The love may be different, but it is evoked in the same way. So while Boyadijan states that the centrality of the heart cultivates its numerous emblems, I am arguing that as emblem for love, or courage etc., the heart is effectively dead because of thematic limitations.
To demonstrate this in another way, consider a Valentine’s care. Here is a “stereotyped character” that every year symbolizes love and affection and all the goop that goes along with this commercial holiday. When you give a Ventine’s card it means all this because it is historically attached to cultural-knowledge — the heart equals love. But it is cliché, because the minute a Valentine’s card is presented, the card-giver and receiver both know without cognitive effort that the card signifies the ideal love. Strangely, this historical connection heart has with love or any of the other common associations has not been undermined by scientific knowledge that the heart is an organ that regulates blood flow.
Scientic knowledge bestows another reason why the heart is ‘done’. The fact that in today’s scientific, medical dominated Western World, the heart is not understood to be afflicted by passion; nor is the heart thought to house the soul (Perloff 1502), acting as “the central organ of sensation and perception, which is mediated through the pneuma” as it did for Aristotle (Fuchs 24); nor is the heart believed to produce the body’s blood, heat, seme, spirits, and motion as was believed by some in the 13th and 14th Century (Webb 17) implies that the metaphorical space occupied by the heart is redundant. Those identities of the heart are certainly validated by the historical moments of the wirters, but today they are nullified by science. Thus to use the clichés to discuss the heart — an organ that today “beats to the electrical rhythms of a tiny pacemaker” (Helman 25) — results in metaphors that do not refer to the heart that exists in today’s world.
Then is it even worth writing about the heart? If the heart is cliché, can we even move past it? Here I locate my second reason. I was born with a congenital heart condition known as dextro-Transposition of the Great Arteries or TGA. The condition results from an “abnormality in conotruncal rotation” (Allen 14); specifically, in TGA the spiralling of the great vessels [footnote 2] is not completed, and consequently “the aorta [arises] from the morphologically right ventricle, and the pulmonary artery [arises] froma morphologically left ventricle” (Allen 1027).
Surviving Transposition fo the Great Arteries without medical attention is unlikely: “About 30% of these infants die within the first week of life, 50% within the first month, 70% within 6 months and 90% within the first year” (Allen 1027). Because of these figures and the technology available, aggressive medical intervention reshaped my physical heart [footnote 3]; however, this reconstruction is not simply the by-product of medical invention, but a whole interwoven network of ideas, emotions and systems. Moreover, medical science did not authoritatively reconstruct my identity with their own design; my heart was reconstructed via a complicated power dynamic between science, medicine, society, my family, my firends, definitions of normalcy and capital (to name a few) [footnoot 4]. In the end, it is not simply my physical heart that is transformed, but my whole identity.
Let me be clear that its is not the uniqueness of my ‘self’ that motivates me. People who have never experienced medical intervention have their identities shaped by similar power dynamics, thus their identities too, are altered by the systems around them. Nor would I claim that my medical upbringing is unique either. Cecil Helmans “partially artificial men” (italics in original) are rather populous in the twenty-first century, and with regards to the heart, this artificiality is no less present. There are artificial heart valves, and synthetic arteries, and there are machines like pacemakers implanted inside the body to regulate the heart (Helman 25). This medical and scientific reality produces for the heart, a specific identity. It is an organ that can by controlled [footnote 5]. What motivates me then, is the product of this power dynamic. Who am I once I have had a pacemaker sewn inside me? Who am I when cow and pig are used to patch my pericardium? Lastly, who is the subject of modern medicine in my situation — me or my heart — because the employment of objective analysis in the hospital removes, to a degree, the patient, because the focalization is on the ailment, the organ, not the patient’s self.
These two reason, clichés and my congenital condition, constitute the nucleus of my project. On one hand I want to explore the heart as a metaphor in poetry within the twenty-first century medical West, in an attempt to deconstruct the clichés of love and courage etc. But I also wish to explore the heart and me. This is a very personal project. And while I try to keep my distance, it leeches in, because I am reinterpreting my life through it. The primary works for my project are therefore texts of Romantic poetry which utilize the heart and its metaphors, my own three volume medical documents which include doctor’s notes, letters, EKGs, authorization forms, surgery reports etc., and a textbook recommended by my cardiologist that catalogues all congenital heart conditions, symptoms, remedies etc. On top fot his, there are also a number of secondary sources that provide alternative voices within my project. Some of these sources link directly to the heart, as did the few other poetic works and medical texts; others link indirectly either by association to my own condition, as did the guids to the laboratory care of animals; others are connected through their associations to ontology or medical theory, as did Donna Haraway and Thomas Fuchs; still others provided a modern spin on Romanticism, as did Kanye West’s twitter, 808s and Heartbreak, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
[footnote 1] Of course they would be well defended.
[footnote 2] The pulmonary artery, and Aorta.
[footnote 3] With GORE-TEXT shunts, an artificial conduit, bovine pericardium, and porcine valves and synthetic valves, my heart’s anatomy evokes images of Frankenstein tinkering. I am, I think, in may ways, as Cecil Helman says, “an ancestor of the cyborg” (25)
[footnote 4] Here I am trying hard to use Foucault’s understanding: “I do not mean a ‘Power’ as a group of institutions and mechanisms that ensure the subservience of the citizens of a given state. By power, I mean, either a mode of subjugation, which, in contrast to violence, has the form fo the rule” (92). In the specific realm of medicine, it is not the hospital that demands my good health, but the ideas upheld by the institution are simultaneously supported by the majority. People are in favour of good health, and the hospital has the tools to provide it.
[footnote 5] I am not implying that the heart is entirely controllable, however, the recent advances in genetics and molecular biology, that allow Hugh Allen to conclude that “the next era of paediatric cardiology will merge the genetic basis of genetic development with directed therapy and prevention (3) illuminate how seriously medicine perceives the future as a time when defects may be eliminated.