This article discusses the cultural genealogy of the image of Dr. Death:the godlike surgeon with power over life and death, who uses this power to torture and mutilate. First appearing in H. G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), this image has become firmly associated with Nazi medicine, as demonstrated by Lucius Shepard's short story“Mengele” (1989). This association accurately reflects the ideological trajectory, which involves the transformation of social Darwinism and eugenics, reflected in Wells's novel, into the“bio-ideologies” of fascism and National Socialism. The essay argues that Dr. Death is a variant of the fascist New Man, a new modality of corporeal subjectivity, produced through the utilization of the sublime experience of violence for ideological ends. Rooted in the aftershocks of the Darwinian revolution, the new perception of nature as cruel and rapacious fueled a desire to “naturalize” society by rejecting traditional morality. In parallel, there arose a dream of new subjectivity of the scientific Übermensch, whose imitation of the cruelty of nature would elevate him above ordinary humanity. Science became a source of a sublime experi-ence based on violence and pain that promised to transform the torturer-physician into a New Man without bodily weakness and psychological self-division. The essay combines a theoretical argument on the connection between sublimity and pain with a historical overview of the rise of bio-ideologies. It ends with an analysis of The Island of Doctor Moreau, pointing out parallels between the novel and contemporary representations of Mengele.
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Research Article| June 01 2000
From Dr. Moreau to Dr. Mengele: The Biological Sublime
Poetics Today (2000) 21 (2): 393–421.
Elana Gomel; From Dr. Moreau to Dr. Mengele: The Biological Sublime. Poetics Today 1 June 2000; 21 (2): 393–421. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-21-2-393
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