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Wild Child

Intensive Parenting and Posthumanist Ethics

2018
Author:

Naomi Morgenstern

Wild Child

Exploring how the figure of the “wild child” in contemporary fiction grapples with contemporary cultural anxieties about reproductive ethics and the future of humanity

Wild Child considers how twenty-first-century fiction imagines the decision to reproduce and the ethical challenges of posthumanist parenting. Naomi Morgenstern explores depictions of children and caregivers in extreme situations—from the violence of slavery and sexual captivity to accidental death and global apocalypse—in such works as Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and Denis Villeneuve’s film Prisoners.

Your child isn’t civilized. Neither are you. Expect the child to be more productively destructive and survivalist than you imagined, showing us to be the techno-relational-vulnerable animals that we are, strange to the core in crisis and change. Also expect that you won’t find a smarter, more forthright, and beautifully nuanced guide to these thoughts than Naomi Morgenstern. Impressive and persuasive.

Kathryn Bond Stockton, author of The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century*

In the eighteenth century, Western philosophy positioned the figure of “the child” at the border between untamed nature and rational adulthood. Contemporary cultural anxieties about the ethics and politics of reproductive choice and the crisis of parental responsibility have freighted this liminal figure with new meaning in twenty-first-century narratives.

In Wild Child, Naomi Morgenstern explores depictions of children and their adult caregivers in extreme situations—ranging from the violence of slavery and sexual captivity to accidental death, mass murder, torture, and global apocalypse—in such works as Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, Emma Donoghue’s Room, and Denis Villeneuve’s film Prisoners. Morgenstern shows how, in such narratives, “wild” children function as symptoms of new ethical crises and existential fears raised by transformations in the technology and politics of reproduction and by increased ethical questions about the very decision to reproduce. In the face of an uncertain future that no longer confirms the confidence of patriarchal humanism, such narratives displace or project present-day apprehensions about maternal sacrifice and paternal protection onto the wildness of children in a series of hyperbolically violent scenes.

Urgent and engaging, Wild Child offers the only extended consideration of how twenty-first-century fiction has begun to imagine the decision to reproduce and the ethical challenges of posthumanist parenting.

Wild Child

Naomi Morgenstern is associate professor of English at the University of Toronto.

Wild Child

Your child isn’t civilized. Neither are you. Expect the child to be more productively destructive and survivalist than you imagined, showing us to be the techno-relational-vulnerable animals that we are, strange to the core in crisis and change. Also expect that you won’t find a smarter, more forthright, and beautifully nuanced guide to these thoughts than Naomi Morgenstern. Impressive and persuasive.

Kathryn Bond Stockton, author of The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century*

Wild Child is a brilliant and thoroughly engaging study of reproductive ethics and the ethics of parenting in narratives of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Naomi Morgenstern's command of theoretical texts, both philosophical and psychoanalytic, is prodigious, and her writing style is vibrant—at once theoretically complex and alive with personal twists and turns of language.

Jean Wyatt, author of Love and Narrative Form in Toni Morrison's Later Novels

Wild Child

Contents
Introduction: The Posthumanist Wild Child
1. Is There a Space of Maternal Ethics? Emma Donoghue’s Room
2. Postapocalyptic Responsibility: Patriarchy at the End of the World in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
3. Maternal Love/Maternal Violence: Inventing Ethics in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy
4. “Monstrous Decision”: Destruction and Relation in Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin
5. “Dis-ap-peared”: Endangered Children in Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners and Alice Munro’s “Miles City, Montana”
Afterword: The Pretense of the Human from Victor of Aveyron to Nim Chimpsky
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index