Michael Davidson - “Pregnant Men: Modernism, Disability, and Biofuturity in Nightwood"

Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Sulzberger Parlor, 3rd Floor Barnard Hall

This talk investigates the idea of biofuturity within modernism, focusing specifically on the figure of male maternity in Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood. Although the figure of the pregnant male occurs in ancient and classical literature it surfaces significantly among modernist works–Joyce’s Ulysses, Pound’s Cantos, Freud’s Schreber case–at a moment when biological life was being re-imagined through the optic of eugenic science and comparative anatomy. The talk extends Lee Edelman’s critique of reproductive futurity in No Future to suggest that dystopic biological futures were being imagined around figures such as Dr. O’Connor whose desire, as he says, to “boil some good man’s potatoes and toss up a child...every nine months”  reinforces his queer identity and annexes the importance of disability in many of the novel’s characters. Modernist cultural representations of the pregnant male foreground the spectacle of reproduction loosed from its putative organic site in the female body and displace it elsewhere–the test tube, the surrogate womb, the male body–and, not insignificantly–the novel. This displacement is both a queering and cripping of normative attitudes toward reproductive health and the futures that such embodiment implies. It also warps traditional narrative attitudes towards biological futurity when the family romance no longer reproduces the heterosexual body. Barnes’s novel is not as a baroque anomaly among stream of consciousness narratives but as perhaps the representative modernist novel by offering an inside narrative of individuals interpellated within biological and racial science.