ACLA Panel: "All in the Family: The Literary and Cultural Politics of Incest"

Carolyn Ownbey's picture
Type: 
Call for Papers
Date: 
September 23, 2015
Location: 
Massachusetts, United States
Subject Fields: 
Film and Film History, Literature, Women's & Gender History / Studies, Theatre & Performance History / Studies, Sexuality Studies

On this panel, we would like to consider the concept of incest in relation to society across a number of time periods and cultural forms. Incest may stem from an impulse to purity–keeping bloodlines clean and families insular–and at the same time it may result in deformity and monstrosity. Regardless of the character of an incestuous liaison, incest is in every instance bound up with the patriarchal, heteronormative social structure of the family, either disrupting this order or constituting it.

We begin by asking why incest is a not-infrequent theme in so many cultural forms across the ages–appearing in literary and cultural representations ranging from Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex to the Marquis de Sade’s Juliette; Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk to John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. In contemporary popular culture, the references are almost too numerous to name. The list of literary authors taking up this subject in the 20th and 21st centuries includes Ellison, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Márquez, Nabokov, McEwan, Irving, Le Guin, Tolkien, Dick, Morrison, Gordimer, Edugyan, Eugendies, Roy, and Oates, among many others. The subject arises in film and television adaptations of these literary texts with a particular frequency (The Cider House Rules, The Manchurian Candidate, Game of Thrones, Lolita, and more), and in standalone cinematic productions as well (Fury Road, Chinatown, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Crow, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, even Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay). Instances of incest appear in nearly every form of media: literature, film and television, theatre (Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, Marina Carr’s On Raftery's Hill), comic books (Ellis and Cassaday’s Planetary series), video games (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood), music (Pearl Jam’s “Alive,” Kate Bush’s “The Kick Inside”), opera (Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen), even sculpture (Harriet Goodhue Hosmer’s Beatrice Cenci). What do these representations signal about the societies which produce them? What are the social critiques inherent in representing incestuous relationships? What does incestuous procreation signal?

Potential topics include:

–Representations of real or imagined incestuous relationships

–Incestuous artistic production or process; ghostwriting, collaboration, plagiarism

–Changing social definitions of incest; representations of incest across time

–Distinctions within incestuous family relations; nuclear and non-nuclear incest

–Incest in relation to patriarchal social, political, or legal structures

–Cultural reception of literary and cultural representations of incest

–Political leverage or ramifications of representations of incest

–‘Consensual’ vs. nonconsensual incest; narratives of deviancy and abuse

All paper proposals should be submitted through the ACLA portal, with the Panel "All in the Family: The Literary and Cultural Politics of Incest" selected, here: http://www.acla.org/node/add/paper 

Panel Organizers: Carolyn Ownbey, McGill University; Stephen Guy-Bray, University of British Columbia; Bronwyn Malloy, University of British Columbia

Contact Info: 

Carolyn Ownbey

PhD Candidate, McGill University

carolyn.ownbey@mail.mcgill.ca