Stevienna de Saille (PhD Candidate, Sociology and Social Policy,
(re)Framing Works of ART: The Case of FINRRAGE
Sophie Jones (PhD Candidate, English, Birkbeck)
Automatic Men and the Reproductive Uncanny: Pregnancy, Privacy and Technology in post-1945 U.S. Fiction
Harriet Cooper (PhD Candidate, English, Birkbeck)
'Reproductive Futurism' and Neoliberalism: The Disruptive Body of the Disabled Child
Stevienna de Saille
The Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering (FINRRAGE) was a loose network of feminist activists and scholars which comprised over a thousand women in thirty-seven countries in its strongest phase (1985-1991), and continues to be active in Asia and Australia today. Drawing upon archival documents, published works, and lifecourse interviews carried out with twenty-four women affiliated with FINRRAGE, this paper will discuss the processes by which the network developed an analysis of issues which are still of pressing concern: the use of women's bodies for biological experimentation, commodification of women's body parts and bodily labour, and differential implications of the same technologies for women of the North and women of the South. Situating the network in socio-historic context through a comparison of four geographic areas (the UK, Australia, Germany and Bangladesh) provides an opportunity for re-examination of some of the foundational feminist arguments around reprogenetic technologies, and a consideration of their possibilities and limitations in the contemporary globalised reproductive market.
The automatic man is a recurring figure in representations
of modern industrial labour, perhaps most notoriously invoked in Charlie
Chaplin’s Modern Times . The
metaphor of the labourer-as-robot gained a new resonance in the 1950s and 1960s,
as the middle classes expanded and the boundaries between creative and
commercial work began to blur. My paper will examine the theme of automatism in
post-1945 American novels about abortion, focusing on Philip Roth’s Letting Go  and John Barth’s The End of the Road .
In Letting Go,
Libby Herz’s abortion is the product of her husband Paul’s anxiety as he works
on a car factory assembly line. Worried about his wife’s pregnancy, Paul
injures his hand and is given the number of an abortionist by the doctor who
treats him. Paul, in an almost somnambulant state of distraction, is then
accosted by an eavesdropping neighbour who threatens to report the couple’s
abortion plan to the police. The End of
the Road’s protagonist, Jacob Horner, is another automatic man. Undergoing
‘remobilization treatment’ after finding himself unable to move, Jacob begins
an adulterous love affair with Rennie Morgan. When he suggests they spy on her
husband, Jacob sets in motion a chain of events leading to Rennie’s death
during an illegal abortion. For both Roth and Barth, the automatic man is bound
up with scenes of privacy invasion that lead, as if inexorably, to abortions.
I will pursue the connection between domestic privacy, technology and abortion by considering these novels in the context of the U.S. Supreme Court’s appeal to privacy rights in its landmark decisions on contraception in 1965 and abortion in 1973. Drawing on theories of the unheimlich (uncanny or, more pertinently, unhomely) elaborated by Freud and others, I suggest that the automatic man epitomises the ‘unhomely’ confusion between the animate and the inanimate, challenging liberal notions of reproductive privacy.
Recent scholarship at the intersection of queer theory and disability theory has argued that Lee Edelman’s critique of “reproductive futurism” posits a nondisabled child (Edelman 2004, 2; Samuels 2011; Mollow 2012). I seek to develop this idea by suggesting that the disabled child’s disruption of the equation between futurity and the child needs to be understood in the context of contemporary neoliberal ideology, and, more specifically in the context of the notion of the child-as-commodity.
For Edelman, all political thought is motivated by an attachment to futurity. However, it seems significant that in one of Edelman’s key textual examples – Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – the act which signals Scrooge’s relinquishment of queer negativity is one of philanthropy. In embracing the “communal realization of futurity”, Scrooge is also accepting a place within a liberal, capitalist dominant order (Edelman, 44-5). Thus I read reproductive futurism as a neoliberal ideology: it demands that we reap the rewards of our (reproductive) labour through our child-commodities, which are the objective manifestations of that labour. If we regard the commodity relation as a futural relation, in that exchange value is anticipatory value, the child represents not only the future, but an investment for the future. As Sara Ahmed puts it, the child’s body carries “the promise of happiness” (Ahmed 2010, 45).
However, as Gail Landsman has observed, contemporary culture’s commodification of the child remains veiled and is unmasked only by the arrival of the disabled child (Landsman 2004, 105). The disabled baby does not signify the “promise of happiness” since it “might not even have a future at all” (Ahmed, 45; Mollow, 288). I suggest that in disrupting the hegemony of futurism, the disabled baby’s body draws attention to culture’s reification of the child as an investment for the future.
Ahmed, Sara. 2010. The Promise of Happiness. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Dickens, Charles. 1843. A Christmas Carol. London: Chapman and Hall.
Edelman, Lee. 2004. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Landsman, Gail. 2004. ‘‘Too Bad You Got a Lemon’: Peter Singer, Mothers of Children with Disabilities and the Critique of Consumer Culture’, in Consuming Motherhood, ed. by Janelle S. Taylor, Linda L. Layne and Danielle F. Wozniak, 100-121. New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press.
Mollow, Anna. 2012. ‘Is Sex Disability? Queer Theory and the Disability Drive’ in Sex and Disability, ed. by Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow, 285-312. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Samuels, Ellen. 2011. ‘Cripping Anti-Futurity, or If You Love Queer Theory So Much Why Don’t You Marry it?’, Society for Disability Studies’ Annual Conference, June.
Taylor, Janelle S., Linda L. Layne and Danielle F. Wozniak (eds.). 2004. Consuming Motherhood. New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press.
 On the child-as-commodity, see for example Taylor et al 2004.
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