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Feral Creatures: Domesticity, Empire, and the Humanist Imaginary

Authors
  • Sutton, Summer
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2023
Source
eScholarship - University of California
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown
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Abstract

“Feral Creatures” examines the domestic sphere as an onto-epistemological structure foundational to both the modern Western political sphere and its implicit racialization: the first zone in which we come to know the self in relation to Others. In this contention, I build on transnational feminist theorists who trace how the forms of selfhood and kinship embodied by the Western nuclear family enforce imperial forms of affect, relatedness, recognition, and justice. “Feral Creatures” thus complicates the second wave feminist critique of the domestic as primarily a forum of invisibilized labor, which implicitly posits a solution of ushering (white) women into an always already racialized workforce. In its place, I trace the imperial narrativization of domesticity as a space to be left behind as figuring an imaginary of homogenized Others as preindustrial and nonproductive—hopelessly domestic— whose implications for racialized dispossession processes extend far beyond the walls of the family home. To do so, I close read modern and contemporary Western literary representations of nuclear families striven by structural and interpersonal violences. I draw on texts whose character-systems foreground structurally Othered domestic subject positions, such as daughters, queer sons, and domestic workers. Narrative dispossession from an authoritative subject position allows such characters to retain an epistemological opacity that facilitates spectral, subversive imaginings and modes of relation: a strategically nontransparent onto-epistemological space of creative self-fashioning and interpersonal possibility I name ferality. My conceptualization of ferality builds on Black feminist theories of fugitivity, postcolonial theories of opacity, animal studies theories of the other-than-human, feminist theories of gender performativity, and queer theories of anti-relationality. The figure of ferality that emerges from such a diffuse genealogical heritage is necessarily shadowy but nonetheless has a story to tell. The ambiguity of its story revolves around its demand to recognize the violence of (mis)recognition. Meeting such a demand requires speaking a language both quieter and more forceful than a scream.

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