GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Why Family Isn’t Everything—And How We Can Create More Liberatory Alternatives by Sophie Lewis

Tolstoy famously opened his magnum opus with the truthy formula “All happy families are alike; unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way.” It sounds good, concedes Ursula K. Le Guin: “It’s a great first sentence.” So many families are extremely unhappy! And this extreme unhappiness feels unique, because its structural character—like the structure of capitalism—is cunningly obscured from view.

In fact, Le Guin suggests, the reverse of Tolstoy’s apothegm is ultimately closer to the truth. She knows of what she speaks, having herself grown up “in a family that on the whole seems to have been happier than most.” She finds it “false—an intolerable cheapening of reality—simply to describe it as happy.” To her, the very phrase “happy families” bespeaks a fundamental incuriosity about the nature of happiness, which—under capitalism especially—comes with enormous costs.

Genres of family critique other than the bourgeois novel do exist, but they aren’t necessarily pretty. I’m thinking of the medium crawling with moms turned murderers, blood-spattered dining-rooms, incest revenges, and homes set ablaze: Hereditary, The Shining, Society, Goodnight Mommy, Psycho, The Stepfather, Us. Critical cinema scholars have long identified a latently insurrectionary desire at play in horror movies, especially those that depict attacks (often from within) on the propertied white family, the patriarchal regime of housework, or the colonial homestead. Books like Hearths of Darkness: The Family in the American Horror Film argue that violent and scary movie-making is, more often than not, a popular vehicle for mass anti-family desire.

Think of the menacing domestic interiors, hostile kitchen appliances, creepy children, murderous kin, and claustrophobic hellscapes of your favorite horror flick. In slasher, home-invasion, and feminist horror canons, the narrative pretends to worry nationalistically about external threats to the family while, in fact, indulging every conceivable fantasy of dismembering and setting fire to it from within. From gore to so-called “psychological” horror, diverse genres openly implicate the family-form in the tortures it is enduring. In these movies, the suppressed, disavowed violence of the home is returning home. The monster is coming from inside the house.

Wow, who am I calling monsters—dads and moms and great-aunt Trish? No: family abolition is not “puerile” politics (albeit children must be on the front lines of imagining it). Family abolition does not expect a state of perfect, uninterrupted, universal happiness. Rather, I would ask you to flip the script and consider that it is the family that is unrealistic and utopian. The family, right now, is supposed to make everybody happy. We are all supposed to be avatars of our little biological team of competitive social reproduction. When we are delinquent, we are a burden on the family: an experience which, ideally, reforms us by making us remember (like it’s a good thing) that family is all we’ve got. Even when we are exceptional, we are, in a sense, chips off our biogenetic clan’s block; something for blood relations to be proud of.

I’d wager that you, too, can imagine something better than the lottery that drops a neonate arbitrarily among one or two or three or four individuals (of a particular class) and keeps her there for the best part of two decades without her consent, making her wholly beholden to them for her physical survival, legal existence, and economic identity, and forcing her to be the reason they give away their lives in work. I’d wager that you, too, can imagine something better than the norm that makes a prison for adults—especially women—out of their own commitment to children they love.

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GABBLER RECOMMENDS: The Hero’s Journey is BULL#$&@

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: How Wikipedia Got Ex Machina (2014) Wrong

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘Is Abortion Sacred?’ by Jia Tolentino

‘The idea that a fetus is not just a full human but a superior and kinglike one—a being whose survival is so paramount that another person can be legally compelled to accept harm, ruin, or death to insure it—is a recent invention. For most of history, women ended unwanted pregnancies as they needed to, taking herbal or plant-derived preparations on their own or with the help of female healers and midwives, who presided over all forms of treatment and care connected with pregnancy. They were likely enough to think that they were simply restoring their menstruation, treating a blockage of blood. Pregnancy was not confirmed until “quickening,” the point at which the pregnant person could feel fetal movement, a measurement that relied on her testimony. Then as now, there was often nothing that distinguished the result of an abortion—the body expelling fetal tissue—from a miscarriage.
Abortion is often talked about as a grave act that requires justification, but bringing a new life into the world felt, to me, like the decision that more clearly risked being a moral mistake. The debate about abortion in America is “rooted in the largely unacknowledged premise that continuing a pregnancy is a prima facie moral good,” the pro-choice Presbyterian minister Rebecca Todd Peters writes. But childbearing, Peters notes, is a morally weighted act, one that takes place in a world of limited and unequally distributed resources. Many people who get abortions—the majority of whom are poor women who already have children—understand this perfectly well. “We ought to take the decision to continue a pregnancy far more seriously than we do,” Peters writes.’

The scholar Katie Gentile argues that, in times of cultural crisis and upheaval, the fetus functions as a “site of projected and displaced anxieties,” a “fantasy of wholeness in the face of overwhelming anxiety and an inability to have faith in a progressive, better future.” The more degraded actual life becomes on earth, the more fervently conservatives will fight to protect potential life in utero. We are locked into the destruction of the world that birthed all of us; we turn our attention, now, to the worlds—the wombs—we think we can still control.

There is a loss, I think, entailed in abortion—as there is in miscarriage, whether it occurs at eight or twelve or twenty-nine weeks. I locate this loss in the irreducible complexity of life itself, in the terrible violence and magnificence of reproduction, in the death that shimmered at the edges of my consciousness in the shattering moment that my daughter was born. This understanding might be rooted in my religious upbringing—I am sure that it is. But I wonder, now, how I would square this: that fetuses were the most precious lives in existence, and that God, in His vision, already chooses to end a quarter of them. The fact that a quarter of women, regardless of their beliefs, also decide to end pregnancies at some point in their lifetimes: are they not acting in accordance with God’s plan for them, too?

 

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See also:

What we talk about when we talk about post-apocalyptic stories; when the apocalypse is solved through natalist tropes

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Alexander Calder performs his “Circus” | Whitney Museum of American Art

Alexander Calder shows us what all the amazing wire models that make up his miniature circus can do in this film by Jean Painleve from 1955. Calder is famous for his colorful mobiles, but Cirque Calder is one of his incredible lesser-known works from 1931.

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