Panel Abstract

Homo-reproductions

This panel reorients scholarship on reproduction in literary and sexuality studies. It focuses on overlooked narratives and tropes of what we call “homo-reproduction”—non-hetero, asexual, or nonsexual forms of reproduction that perpetuate sameness rather than difference—to challenge a long-standing assumption in literary criticism, gender studies, queer theory, and childhood and family studies: that reproduction is primarily heterosexual and heteronormative.  More specifically, these papers contest assumptions that reproduction connotes a linear progression in time, that it signifies difference or the synthesis of difference, that it promotes patriarchal lineage and authority. As a whole, this panel complicates the hetero-homo binary, showing how the two collude and overlap in unexpected ways, how the homo appears at times hegemonic rather than subversive, how the hetero can absorb or obscure the homo. In so doing, this panel delves into the unexplored complexities of a literary criticism attentive to homo-reproductions, demonstrating its potential as a paradigm for literary and sexuality studies.

Our interest in “homo-reproduction” emerges at a pivotal moment; scholars are now beginning to attend to the non-hetero and the non-familial. Since the 1980s, scholarship on reproduction has primarily dealt with questions of gender hierarchy—sentimental motherhood, separate spheres, patriarchal lineage—as well as race, empire, and childhood all of which unanimously assume a nuclear familial paradigm. Prompted by Kathryn Kent’s Making Girls into Women(2003), one of the first works to deploy the term “queer reproduction,” scholars in the past few years have begun explore the unexpectedly rich possibilities beyond the heterosexual family and the hetero-homo binary. They seem to answer Michael Warner’s call, in his 2000 essay “Irving’s Posterity,” to comprehend forms of “extrafamilial” and non-hetero reproduction as “something other than surrogacy,” as something not necessarily defined within the constraints of hetero-reproductive ideology (794).

Recent attempts to move beyond heterosexual reproduction include Sarah Ensor’s “Spinster Ecology: Rachel Carson, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Nonreproductive Futurity,” (2012), Peter Coviello’s “Whitman’s Children” (2013), Valerie Rohy’s “On Homosexual Reproduction” (2013) and Rohy’s “Bad Influence: The Picture of Dorian Gray,” in Feminist/Queer Narrative Theories(OSU, 2014), all of which respond to Lee Edelman’s seminal critique of reproductive futurism, No Future (2004). Meanwhile, calls to recognize the multiplicity of reproductions in our environment have emerged, both in the New York Times op-ed column—with David George Haskell’s “Nature’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage” (2013)—and the PMLA guest column—with  Timothy Morton’s “Queer Ecology” (2010). These studies begin to articulate forms of “homo-reproduction”—avuncular relations, replication, repetition—that destabilize long-held conceptions of futurity, inheritance, and intergenerational responsibility. Thinking of reproduction as homo, rather than as a synthesis of difference, alters not only how we think about generation, but also how we think about temporality as a projection into a hetero-reproductive future.

Embracing this nascent turn to the non-hetero, we locate and scrutinize a proliferation of “homo-reproductions”—the lateral, the atemporal, the parthenogenic, and the digital—in a variety of literary and cultural forms—memoirs, novels, and digital technology. Our papers dislodge assumptions about the linearity of a future-driven temporality and nuance the roles of sameness and difference in cultural narratives of sustainability and genetic transmission. To start, Valerie Rohy describes a queer reproduction that moves backward, producing not children but ancestors, in Paul Monette’s 1988 AIDS memoir Borrowed Time. Queer history, as Rohy points out, returns from the future: only when individuals are recognized as part of a queer lineage are they born as progenitors. Yet Rohy identifies in Monette’s memoir a lateral, metonymic, clone-like homo-reproduction of queer kinship that interpellates the modern reader into a fraternity rather than a hetero-family; Monette’s text will be to us the memorial and guidepost that the works of classical Greece were to him. Rohy thus discovers in Borrowed Time an alternative to reproductive futurism, futurism without reproduction–but this future is inextricable from the presence of the past.

While Rohy presents futurism without heterosexual reproduction, Abby Goode discusses reproduction without heterosexuality, found in the all-female parthenogenic utopia of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915). More specifically, Goode analyzes sustainability—a notion based on future generations—alongside the asexuality and eugenic breeding of Herland. While Herlanders practice homo-reproduction, they insist on differences among their citizenry, “variation in ideas, feelings, and products,” attributed mainly to education (78). Homo-reproduction in Herland, as Goode claims, maintains a genetic sameness that heterosexual reproduction cannot, yet enables Herlanders to achieve the right kind of difference, the kind that is acquired. Exploring the society’s agriculture and fertility, Goode argues that the novel contrasts a sustainable utopia with an unsustainable hetero-outside, an industrial, aristocratic, patriarchal, crowded, racially-diverse world of too much difference. In so doing, she reveals that sustainability and eugenics share a common goal of maintaining sameness, genetic and ecological, into the future: homo-sustainability.

Finally, Judith Roof explores what appears to be the most clone-like of all the homo-reproductions presented, that of digital generation. Roof describes digital technology as a mode of reproduction that generates identical material anew from its own encoding protocol. Although this process contrasts with “code”-based notions of reproduction such as DNA, Roof observes that, in its ascendance as a figuration, digital homo-generation transfigures into a heterochrony instead of rendering its imaginary analogues equally homogenerative. Unpacking the analogies between digital and genetic modes of reproduction, Roof demonstrates how, by envisioning both the digital and DNA as hetero, we ignore the fact that both digital and human reproduction require the homo. By complicating the opposition between hetero and homo in these understandings of human and digital generation, Roof dispels the cultural narrative of heterosexual reproduction to reveal the centrality of the mother as transmitter of “the same.”

Not only do these papers show multiple homo-reproductions, from various vantage points and methodologies, they confront the opposition between the hetero and the homo, between sameness and difference, to usher in an emergent chapter of repro-scholarship. This chapter, we predict, will revise understandings of reproduction as a synthesis of difference and engage with the homo as a constitutive element of the many reproductions we encounter.

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