Have a heart, or have someone else's heart

Something has been making me think about the movie Mad Love, later remade as The Hands of Orlac and then again as Hands of a Stranger, but it's the original 1935 movie I've been thinking about, though I have a feeling there may have been a silent German version even before that. Don't ask me, I'm not a film buff, I just know what I like. And what I especially liked about Mad Love was Peter Lorre bulging his beetle eyes and saying "I, a poor peasant, have conquered science, why can't I conquer love?"

We all knew the movie at school. Strange, considering how old it was, even then. Maybe it was always on telly. Or maybe our parents had told us about it, making it so vivid that we thought we'd seen it when we hadn't. No mystery, though, why we liked the line about conquering science but not love. That described our condition too. We each had a dozen O-levels but none of us had a girlfriend. Science, art, literature, all fell before our unstoppable advance; only girls resisted us.

Looking back, I accept we might have done better had we not bulged our eyes like Peter Lorre's. But we were confused in the matter of what turned girls our age on. We thought they liked comedy. And we thought we were being funny when we shrunk ourselves to half our height, twisted our shoulders, made ourselves look like frogs, and wondered, through our noses, why we, poor peasants, had conquered literature and science but not love.

We also supposed that any association of our intelligences with ludicrous melodrama would somehow work in our favour. In Mad Love, you will remember, the demented Dr Gogol (Peter Lorre), hopelessly in love with an actress, is called upon to save the career of a concert pianist (the actress's husband) whose hands have been irreparably damaged in a train crash. Not one to let the niceties of medical ethics stand in the way of an opportunity to conquer love at last, Gogol transplants the hands of Rollo, a blade-throwing murderer. The moment the pianist discovers that his hands won't play Chopin any more, but are expert flinging knives, was also in our repertoire. Look girls - dum-de-dum, oops, sorry! But they didn't find that particularly engaging either. All girls wanted in those days were retiring types with no sense of the ridiculous.

As doubtless they still do.

But an attentive reader will have worked out by now why Mad Love has been on my mind. George Best. Poor Georgie Best and the disrespect he was said to have shown last week to the spotless liver of which he has only recently become the recipient. No similarity between the surgeon who effected the transplant and the demoniacal Dr Gogol is intended. And no similarity, of course, between Rollo the knife-thrower and the munificent donor of the organ which Best has started to abuse. So what is it about George Best that has put me in mind of Mad Love? Why, only this: that it must be deranging to have another person's parts attached to your own. And that we shouldn't be surprised what we find ourselves doing once half of us is stranger to the other.

It hardly needs saying that without the fear and fascination engendered by the idea of transplant there wouldn't be any horror literature. Giving to one species what pertains to another, breathing the breath of man into the nostrils of a beast (or vice versa), sewing the eyes of the dead onto the faces of the living - these, assuredly, are the essential building blocks of horror, testing to the limit our sense of the scientifically allowable, questioning the idea we have of ourselves as sacred in body and in mind - for both are made in the image of God, remember - and bringing doubt to bear, at last, on the very concept of individuality. Can we go on being of God if we have a monkey's brain? Can we go on being uniquely ourselves if we are kept alive by another man's heart?

That the danger lies in accepting the organs of pickpockets or homicidal maniacs, because those organs, even severed, retain a penchant for felony, we can now reject as implausible. More serious altogether, viewed psychopathologically, is the intimation these new limbs and organs seem to give us of uncharted life, of unexpended energy, of transgressive impetus. In goes the new heart or liver, the new hip, the new collar bone, and suddenly we don't just want to live as we did before we were impaired, we want to live as we have never lived before. Think Lourdes where every prayer has been answered; each petitioner able now to throw away his stick and minder, not a drip or respirator in evidence, every infirmity transformed into impertinently blooming health. Thus the insides of a newly transplanted person. It is a little Lourdes in there. Lourdes gone haywire, forgetful and orgiastic.

How could it be otherwise? Not only have you been given your own new lease of life, you have been given another person's. There are two of you to satisfy now. Something other is driving you, God is dead, everything is permissible, and your anterior obligations are at a stroke dissolved. Any wonder you leap from the operating table and serve divorce papers on your spouse? Any wonder you sidle slippery as a snake into the pub you have promised never again to go near, in order to introduce your virgin liver to the sort of soaking it has hitherto avoided like the plague. This is not backsliding; it is, if anything, the observance of a terrible duty.

Have a heart, reader - have someone else's! - and do not judge by the standards of everyday that which does not belong to everyday. Foreign matter changes everything. Have you never had a new filling in a tooth? Do you not recall how your mouth feels when the pain subsides? Invaded, unfamiliar, snarling, hungry for every experience going.

Now imagine that sensation in your chest.