A Review of Teri Babcock’s “Prometheus on the Operating Table” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran Press, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Frequently, the discourse around ageing is that elderly people are no longer useful in our society. Teri Babcock’s “Prometheus on the Operating Table” complicates these ideas of “usefulness” around ageing by creating an aged character who is the most useful person on the planet, indeed the story opens with “Old as I am, Im useful still, so they keep me alive”. After a viral outbreak damages the livers of Earth’s inhabitants, a 120 year old man discovers that he is the only person with immunity and his liver is repeatedly cut into smaller pieces to be disributed amongst the remaining population.
The discourse of usefulness shapes his care and he receives extra care because of his perceived importance, pointing out that frequently care is constructed as something that should only be available to the few people who society deems are useful. Yet, his care is also related to constant monitoring and control. He lives out his extended life in a coffin-like pod with a zipper attached to his body for easy access to his liver. Quality of life isn’t a concern for his care-givers and instead they focus on providing him with bodily necessities which reflect their own necessities for the use of his body.
While in “care”, his body is treated as a useable commodity, controlled and without options, and simultaneously treated as a resource to be exploited both for his liver and also for his other bodily fluids since his sperm is also taken and used to impregnate people without his consent.
Yet, Babcock brings attention to the way that care of aged people need to take into account psychological and social needs, portraying a decline in health coming from depression.
Babcock brings critical attention to the treatment of aged bodies and perceptions about identity and critical needs by portraying a future in which an aged body is constructed as extremely useful, resisting the social portrayal of ageing as a decline in use.
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