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Reproducing and representing reproductive politics in contemporary North American texts

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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My dissertation examines representations of reproductive politics in North American fictional texts since the early 1980s. I comparatively analyze texts by authors Toni Morrison, Kathy Acker, Shelley Jackson, Margaret Atwood, Nancy Huston, and Larissa Lai, and by film director Alfonso Cuarón, in order to argue that the anxiety surrounding reproductive politics, and especially the abortion debate, has increased since Roe v. Wade both inside and outside the US. I claim that the ideologies of individual “choices” and “rights,” which publicly frame reproductive politics, have been inadequate in making sense of the topic’s complexities, and that these fictional texts offer representations of abortion and other reproductive technologies, such as cloning, outside the confines of this discourse. They therefore present a chance to explore how these politics function culturally and creatively, as they tell stories about reproductive technologies and politics in a variety of ways different from traditional debates about whether or not certain reproductive acts are right or wrong, and in a manner that is often critical of the terms of the debates themselves. The texts help reveal the important connections between narrative and reproduction and highlight fiction’s ability to imagine alternate realities. At the same time, they reveal fiction’s ability to engage with the cultural and creative theories structuring the world in which it is produced, and I also argue that the texts engage with both political history and with feminist cultural and psychoanalytic theories in a way that productively complicates popular understandings of reproductive politics. Ultimately, I argue that the fictional texts help us see that reproductive technologies, and their associated politics, are deeply connected to cultural ideas about maternity, family, citizenship, race, technology, and, more recently, ideas about terror and terrorism— anxieties that cannot be contained under the rubrics of individual “rights” and “choices.”
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