Gendered Futures, Katharine Burdekin and Reproductive Queer Negativity: No Future Conference post 2 of 2

Following on from my previous post discussing the No Future conference more generally, my panel was memorable enough for a post of its own. I’ve edited this post from the original as I’ve taken down the full text of my conference paper; I’m working on major revisions for a longer version I hope to publish, and I don’t feel too comfortable having the unfinished version available online, but I am happy to share it if you contact me.

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I had great copanelists on my “Gendered Futures” panel. Elizabeth Russell gave a paper on ‘Gender Crime and Futures without Women,’ where she opened with this rather fascinating image encouraging Scottish men to donate sperm for the good of the future race (I confess, it makes me imagine Scotland as a nation of lesbian couples, a prospect I find not wholly unappealing). She then moved on from its connotations of virility and white supremacy to talk about two Indian futuristic fictions that, like Swastika Night though in a very different context, imagine women as an endangered species: Manjula Padmanabhan’s 2008 novel Escape and Manish Jhai’s 2004 film Matrubhoomi.

The other panelist was co-organizer Caitríona Ní Dhúill, whose paper on ‘Futures Desired, Future Desires’ discussed queer futurity and anti-futurity by exploring Bloch’s stereotypical and yet utopian representations of femininity.

And then there was me (actually I went first, but it was easiest to put this last), with my paper “The History of No Future: Reproductive Deviance and the Politics of Futurelessness in Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night.” I’m happy to share the paper with anyone who is interested, but I’ve taken it off the public internet for the moment. Here is an abstract:

The critique of normative futurity has been a powerful force in recent queer theory. Lee Edelman, Elizabeth Freeman and Judith Halberstam have variously contemplated the ways in which nonreproductive sexualities and life narratives alter straight understandings of time. But the contemporary discourse of queer temporality rarely pays close attention to the history of cultural meanings associated with reproductive futures. Seeking to trace a longer history for queer models of temporality than is often accounted for, I turn to Katharine Burdekin’s 1937 Swastika Night, a feminist and anti-fascist dystopia first published under the male name Murray Constantine. Imagined dystopian futures, where negative elements of historical materiality are projected as narrowing the range of possible futures, cast what it means to imagine a future––or a lack of one––into sharp relief.

Burdekin’s novel is most often read for its prescience in imagining the horrifying foreclosures of a Nazi victory before the beginning of World War II, but its merging of a disturbing vision of nonsentient femininity with a homoerotic representation of fascism prefigures many concerns of queer studies. In particular, it allows for a reconfiguration of Lee Edelman’s representation of queer anti-futurism as opposition to the conservative ‘reproductive futurism’ he identifies as “the fascism of the baby’s face.” In Swastika Night, futurity’s absence appears via the figures of women reduced to reproductivity, who resist their oppression by mutely failing to give birth to the male children who will render a future biologically possible. Burdekin’s gendered critique of fascist futurity offers a feminist model for futurelessness as a mode of concrete politics.  It also makes a complex intervention into discourses around male homosexuality, fascism and nationalism, sympathetically portraying queer sexualities that nevertheless prop up a reproductive futurism aligned with fascism and imperialism.

My paper considers Burdekin’s work as a potential intervention into both historical and contemporary discussions of queerness and futurity. Confronting the rise of European fascism and the seductions as well as the horrors that it proffered, Swastika Night routes modernity’s futures through reproductive bodies in ways that can trouble oppositions that 21st century critical theory often wants to naturalize: between queer and straight time, futurity and negativity, deviant and normative pleasures.

And here are my presentation visuals––made in Prezi to help balance the visual monotony of a mostly text-based presentation. I am pleased with how it turned out.

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