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Everybody’s Family Romance

Everybody’s Family Romance: Reading Incest in Neoliberal America

Gillian Harkins
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Everybody’s Family Romance
    Book Description:

    Gillian Harkins places the proliferation of incest literature at the center of transformations in the political and economic climate of the late twentieth century. In contrast to recent claims that incest narratives eclipse broader frameworks of political and economic power, Harkins argues that their emergence exposes changing structural relations between the family and the nation and, in doing so, transforms the analyses of American familial sexual violence.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7057-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: Nobody’s Home
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. Introduction: Everybody’s Family Romance
    (pp. 1-25)

    Incest has a long and distinguished career as a literary figure marking relations between the family and the polis. Incest has figured prominently in arts and letters since at leastOedipus the King,and scholars of emergent English language literature have traced its use from medieval allegory to Shakespeare’s comedies, from sibling incest in late eighteenth-century romanticism to paternal incest in women’s writing from the nineteenth century onward.¹ In the United States, incest played a particularly important role in early efforts to consolidate an Anglo–U.S. national literature. Incest was used to Wgure a nation whose family matters were in...

  5. One Laying Down the Law: The Modernization of American Incest
    (pp. 26-68)

    These epigraphs illuminate a central paradox of modern incest: the ubiquity of its discourse, and the elusiveness of its taboo. On one hand, incest discourse is everywhere. Rising to prominence in early twentieth-century Europe and the United States, incest discourse emerged from new disciplines of anthropology, psychoanalysis, and sexology. These new disciplines used the incest taboo to explain the telos of modernity, a movement from “elementary structures of kinship” to the modern bourgeois household. On the other hand, the incest taboo appears nowhere. Despite the ubiquity of its discourse, the incest taboo never takes positive form. Its ineffability, its elusiveness...

  6. Two Legal Fantasies: Populist Trauma and the Theater of Memory
    (pp. 69-113)

    If chapter 1 explored the modernization of incest, chapter 2 explores what some might call its “postmodernization.” In the late 1980s and 1990s, incest became a dominant trope for a national culture in crisis, without its moorings in cold war security rubrics or the rationalities of welfare statism. While neoliberal economic transformation had been under way since the 1970s, its cultural and political transformations of U.S. nationalism only fully emerged in the aftermath of the three-worlds system. Looking at the role of incest in these transformations, this chapter asks: How can 1990s incest be read as part of new technologies...

  7. Three Seduction by Literature: Sexual Property and Testimonial Possession
    (pp. 114-151)

    In June 1991 theWashington Postprinted three interconnected articles responding to the publication of Carolivia Herron’s experimental novelThereafter Johnnie.¹ The longest of these articles provided an in-depth interview with Herron about the connections between her first novel, her public disclosure of recovered memories of childhood incest, and her announcement of a new work-in-progress documenting her personal story of sexual abuse at the hands of an uncle. Over the course of her interview with Donna Britt, Herron explained how she had recovered memories of child sexual abuse by different members of her extended family.² She explained how these memories...

  8. Four Surviving the Family Romance? Realism and the Labor of Incest
    (pp. 152-187)

    Declaring her commitment to literary radicalism, Dorothy Allison opens her essay “Believing in Literature” (1994 ) by questioning the difference between true stories and literature. In her usual aphoristic style, Allison poses the difference between autobiography and literature as a question of taste. It is taste, not truth, that has historically differentiated literature from autobiography—particularly from the autobiographies of the poor, the minoritized, and the oppressed. Allison’s oeuvre offers a recurrent meditation on the politics and aesthetics of taste, pursuing a “violent, distasteful, painful, stunning, and haunting” aesthetics of working-class life, domestic abuse, and queer sexuality (Skin,166 )....

  9. Five Consensual Relations: The Scattered Generations of Kinship
    (pp. 188-227)

    Does incest fantasy have real-life consequences? I have argued in this book that incest marks a turning point or pivot in relations between family and nation, turning from welfare to neoliberal governance, from modern to postmodern modes of representation. The book’s chapters on the federal standardization of harm in childhood disciplines, the popular and legal adjudication of recovered memory, and the experimental and realist novelization of the daughter’s agency examined changing uses of fantasy as a mode of articulation. This final chapter asks how the refunctioned incest trope might be used to remake the generational borders of kinship. What happens...

  10. Conclusion: Beyond the Incest Taboo
    (pp. 228-238)

    Incest poses a peculiar problem in the conceptualization of justice. If incest is an offense, it is difficult to discern precisely what has been offended by acts of incest. If the offense is to be discerned from the infliction of harm, it is equally unclear how that harm should be defined and measured. This book has argued that incest served as a principle of articulation (both pivot and secret) across welfare and neoliberal governmentality, crossing over and forging connections between changing formations of culture, law, and literature. Throughout, I have sought to address how these formations become fixed forms within...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 239-242)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 243-264)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-298)
  14. Index
    (pp. 299-316)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-317)