Author Archives: Mattheus Oliveira

Post by Mattheus Oliviera:

Although incest in particular isn’t a core concern of mine, a lot of my interests lie in how people imagine non-normative and explicitly taboo romances. It really is an interest in how we want our romantic writing to look. This paper is then not an exploration into any actual romances that we could find out there in the news, online, or through coded rumors. More importantly, this is not an argument for or against. Rather, it is a survey on how we creatively imagine these romances to play out. I am currently looking at incestuous romances as they occur in television, film, novels, novellas, manga, and graphic novels.  The some of the current relationships under question are siblings, twins, uncle and niece, cousins, and the shaky step-relation.

haha incest

The meme makes light of an otherwise commonly grim concern – generally – for many people while capitalizing on Star Wars fandom. Without much effort, we could find expansive conversations where fans debate the potential romantic relationship between Luke and Leia despite the romantic conclusion of Leia and Han Solo’s pairing at the end of Episode VI. With the new lead Rei’s missing parents a hot question amongst fans, we see this conversation come up yet again. Yet despite the heat generated in these conversations, it’s a minor concern as we bite our fingers in anticipation of more information on this new group of sith lords wreaking havoc on the galaxy.

Stepping back from Star Wars, however, the taboo against incest is well observed and quickly jumped upon when any relationship bubbles up into the public sphere. All well and good and a concern for an entirely different project. Despite the relatively scary conversation that happens in real life, a cursory glance at work we give high school students to read such as The God of Small Things, The Metamorphosis, and the programs we air on television such as A Game of Thrones and Card Captor Sakura lead me to believe that incest is that horrendous. And I think the porn companies would agree with me. And the fandoms.

My preliminary observations haven’t revealed anything particularly astounding, although works have started to reveal trends. Some works have the anti-incest agenda slathered across all of its writing, with the clearest example found in Flowers in the Attic. These texts treat incest as the main subject matter, and are the ones that offer a – oftentimes problematic – stance. It is most certainly the case that the family is suffering, but all the pain we see comes from the paranoia and greed of the grandmother and mother. Alternatively, Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary throws away all paranoia and illustrates us a narrative where brother and sister have to escape not only divine Christian judgement for their love, but a messy revolution that takes places over a series of reincarnations. Setsuna and Sara are most certainly the core of our concerns, and the heaven and hell war narrative only pushes the readers towards a peaceful resolution for them.

Works that treat incest alongside a host of other taboos are less explicit. Yun Kouga’s Earthian concerns itself with combating homosexuality, and incest comes up as another taboo amongst other characters. The repetition of arguments in defense of homosexuality get most notably re-appropriated by Lucifel in her defense of her affections for Michael, her twin brother. Elvira’s rapid physical growth in response to her love for her father can be juxtaposed as a romance without a need for arguments. Every imagined stance can be contested in these works. More stateside narratives show similar narrative practices. Game of Thrones most certainly draws us in over and over with Cersei and Jamie’s romance, but beyond intentionally vague arguments Cersei makes over the seasons, the writing reveals no inherent judgement on her relationship. It’s difficult for a host of very obvious reasons, not because it’s deemed as evil as a certain village of systematic incestuous rape (granted the village gets treated like a problem-of-the day rather than a consistent subplot).

Finally we have works that just have incestuous relationships but leaves them ignore or vague. Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things doesn’t particularly care that the twins sleep together, but does care about how their personal relationship changes in general. CLAMP’s Card Captor Sakura showered audiences with adorable outfits and sweet magical hijinks, but didn’t spend too much time on Tomoyo’s open love for Sakura. Incest is there yet it doesn’t have any weight as a narrative catalyst. A Marxist revolution and the chaos of a freed deck of destructive spirits seems to be a bigger concern.

It should be pretty obvious now that my research has largely divided itself into Eastern and Western thinking. As it stands, the cultural differences between the two – incredibly generalized – spheres of thought have not clashed in these preliminary notes. I have yet to decide where there is a space for fan works in general, although I feel that there are strong merits to include the types of relationships fans are imagining/reading. My work now is the meticulous one of categorizing and wrapping my head around the research of other writers. If anyone has questions or suggestions (even as we are about to jump into the new semester) I would be eager to hear them.

Method – Unsettling Narratives

Through an extensive study of indigenous writing, Clare Bradford attempts to lay bare the complex ways in which indigenous writers resist the systematic colonization of their culture. This arises from a core concern she bring up early on where “the fact that non-Indigenous people learn about Indigenous people largely through representations produced [. . .] through “stories told by former colonists” means that Indigenous cultures and people are generally the objects of discourse and not their subjects” (10). This core concern sweeps throughout her primary analysis of Indigenous novels – for kids and adults, and all in Australia. She easily sets up her conversation to include race, language, Eurocentrism, whiteness, canon, and concerns with assimilation. The primary readings are littered throughout the text and those are fairly generative, but also unfortunately short, as hardly any text gets more than two paragraphs before we move on. For me, however, it is her discussion of resistances to method and cautionary asides that I found most interesting.

Bradford’s first chapter concerns itself with a discussion on the impacts of images and language as they function as true/respectful/accurate/responsible vehicles towards representing Indigenous people. Yet before she can dive into her sources, she points out from a reading of Langston that “it is not the case that texts by Indigenous writers always produce “better” representations of Indigenous peoples and cultures than those by non-Indigenous writers [. . .] because there is no single “correct” mode of being Aboriginal” (11-12). This claim is almost obvious, that to imagine that any one narrative – presumably a good/accurate one – could actually encompass the entirety of Indigenous people is obviously absurd (although she does acknowledge that Indigenous writers are in a position to write with greater awareness). Yet Bradford, as she tackles writing that resists and grapples with a systematic colonization of people, offsets her reading with this cautionary claim. It is a very responsible move, and attempts to address an imagined need/impulse to accept single narratives as all encompassing, even as it does justice for the group it discusses. This cautionary moment puts more value in her many primary readings, even as they present potentially conflicting messages.

Bradford, like many of our other thinkers, tackles the discomfort surrounding discussions of race/class/gender quite succinctly as she notes “there is no such thing as an innocent text, that all texts are informed by ideologies, some overt but others implicit and often invisible to authors and illustrators” (14-15). Like we’ve been noting throughout our discussions, this seems to be another moment in which a need to affirm studies of children’s lit arises. Bradford does, however, add more nuance to this sentiment as she quotes Ashcroft to say “meaning is achieved constitutively as a product of the dialogic situation of reading” (15). The reminder that writers, illustrators, and readers all individual influence the meaning of the texts reminds us of the complexity of children’s lit., even more specifically those that are meant to openly resist norms of colonization.

But again, nothing particularly new. That is, however, until she notes that “judgments of quality in children’s literature frequently rely on naturalized notions about literariness” and that “such ideas are problematic [. . .] because they rely on a bundle of assumptions derived from Western notions of literary quality” (15-16). Here is where Bradford addresses a new deconstructive approach to Indigenous writing. Namely, our assumptions and discussion surrounding quality inherently assume a (white, European) Western bias for our narratives.

This focus on the assumptions of theory were particularly interesting. Bradford writes that “a crucial problem in postcolonial theory lies in how resistance is understood – as a collision of force and counter-force” (20). The assumption that resistance needs to relatively clear and confrontational – at the very least defiant – behavior problematizes passive methods and imagines the quite resistance as meaningless silence. Bradford is fully committed to tackling this issue, and structures much of her primary reading to acknowledge these passive forms of resistance.

Bradford’s second chapter addresses critically the loss of language as a tragedy of colonization. Tracing a history of Indigenous publishing and publishing house behaviors, she grapples with a rather unique issues that oral traditions present. Again, Bradford reminds us of the troubles of Western-dominated narrative thinking as it attempts to transcribe old narratives. Issues of categorized, with different narratives following different forms of oral tradition become messy as accurate tools for representation in translation.

Unsettling Narratives does a lot of what we have already seen, but Bradford pushes us to acknowledge the man ingrained Western assumptions we have about our narratives. Her observations are incredibly nuanced, and do a great job of restructuring future discussions of race.

Method: Between Boys: Edward Stevenson’s Left to Themselves and the Birth of Gay Children’s Literature

Reading through Tribunella just invokes an appreciation for a good close reading. Other respondents have already noted that this article is a move to queer the canon through a historical recognition of gay literature (although I may disagree on the meaning of “subtly”). Like many of our other thinkers this semester, Tribunella also finds a need to remind us that children are not empty vessels sitting around to be filled (376). It wasn’t until I reached his discussion on blackmail that I really got engaged with the text.

Tribunella draws on Eve Sedgewick’s work, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, to frame this historical precedent for sexual blackmail. This, alongside the paraphrase of McLaren that notes “it would have been difficult for informed nineteenth-century readers, even in the United States, not to read scenes of blackmail as associated with sexual secrets, especially sodomy and homosexuality,” dramatically opens up the way in which we might read other novels of the era. His use of Sedgewick is quite remarkable, and he continues to draw on the historical work of other queer theory thinkers to push his readings. The assumption of sexual deviancy behind these plots adds a level of sexual politics on entirely assumed behavior.

Although Tribunella has introduced some really interesting concepts, I did find his readings problematic. The emphasis on openness was particularly contentious for me. On the one hand, yes promoting openness – and affirmation – is obviously good. However, the affirmation of love and openness doesn’t seem to subvert the fear of sexual behavior. The juxtaposition of the two boys to the evil (?) Jennison is then a struggle of sexual behavior. The boys get to be homosexual and “out” for the novel in part because they, as children, don’t participate in sodomy. If we are to read the coded homophobia as true, doesn’t this then problematize the desexualized (although certainly no less passionate) boys?

Even if its true that “it is precisely his insistent honesty that enables Philip to triumph over Jennison,” it is an honesty that is put at odds with a sexual threat. In promoting honesty within a culture of blackmail, Stevenson seems forced to leave unchallenged destructive modes of thinking about sex. If “Stevenson casts the character whose manners and actions are most suggestive of closetedness as the villain,” he also characterizes closeted men (and I would imagine women as well) as intentionally deceitful. These are – to me – some dangerous points to be left out in the open, and I wished that Tribunella would have taken these issues up.

All said an done, Tribunella stands a solid example of a good close reading that draws productively from the theory he has available to him.

Barbie’s Queer Accesories – Method

It was very difficult to read Rand’s work and not gush at both what she does and what I can remember about Barbie. But the most exciting thing about this chapter are Rand’s effort to continuously challenge the modes of thinking. Rand will drop a testimony and read it in a particular way , only to explore in the following paragraph that that a particular lens may be excluding other thoughts. For me, it was the intricacies surrounding approaches to testimony that were so valuable.

Rand deconstructs the multitude of Barbie stories through the almost exclusive use of adult testimonies, broken up by short acknowledgements to marketing practices. She additionally breaks down the chapter to address several issues: consumer generated meaning for Barbie and consumer resistances to perceived Barbie messages. Additionally, Rand concerns herself with almost exclusively women’s stories for what I imagine are obvious reasons.

She summarizes her chapter quite succinctly several pages in, at the end of an analysis of Carol Nicksin’s testimony, where Rand observes that “Barbie […] seemed to demand a stance, which often had to be fought for, or fought over, because more than Barbie was at stake. Taking a position on Barbie meant taking a position about other issues, or defining oneself, or defying authority” (98). She read the Barbie phenomena as one that necessitates a conversations on naturally intersecting topics. To address Barbie at all, regardless of your age, is to enter into this space.. And this is a really exciting thing to say in one sentence.

Rand notes her concerns openly in the third paragraph of the chapter as she remarks “memories, even the most vivid, are notoriously unreliable, their veracity hard, if not impossible, to test.” (94) The issues surrounding these testimonies, all by adults who are looking back on their childhoods reveals to Rand the importance of understanding the impact of perception and personal stake. These moments where she pauses to examine her approach were the most valuable to me. She writes that “anecdotes can’t be placed on a continuum from acceptance to rejection, mainstream to marginal, or straight to queer” (102). This is easily defended through Rand’s extensive collection of testimonies, and put serious pressure on how we approach such a messy primary source.

Rand quotes William Pope who points out how “Barbie turned my sister into a materialistic bimbo” has the same truth value as “Barbie loves Ken.” Barbie cannot actually do either of those things. Yet the first, unlike the second, often stands as a credible description of reality because phrases like “turned my sister into” are understood as figures of speech” (104-105). The statements that are commonly taken with a level of meaningful truth and those that get pushed aside reveal a hierarchy of interests. It is much more interest, it would seem, to hear about the tragic downfall of young women as opposed to an uncontested statement about heterosexual affection. There is perhaps some unintentional irony here, as Rand will proceed to talk almost exclusively about the queering of the Barbie experience in about 5 sentences. 6 if you count the subheading. This does lead to a general concern (which really fits into any kind of inquiry); what narratives or normative behavior are we dismissing as we address testimony?

These questions/concerns become further complicated as we reach the dyke destiny stories. This section of the chapter brought in some key questions that reoccur throughout the text. In reviewing the adult testimonials, Rand comes across a number of recollections that “wink” to Barbie as somehow a lens or catalyst towards understanding that child is somehow queer. Yet this simple assumption of a connection between a young child’s relationship or play with Barbie and their identity in adulthood gets deconstructed and challenged as she broadens the scope of her stories.

Observations Rand makes on interpretation are exciting, as she notes, by quoting Nestle, that “there is a tendency to interpret a fem’s use of and pleasure in certain styles and attributes traditionally labeled as feminine as a sign that she has uncritically bought the whole package, instead of as a sign that she has picked those particular elements and not others” (110). Just a few lines down on the page we see an observation by Rand who observes that “Fem stories get told less often, and without the dyke destiny nudge because dykes scan our childhoods with an eye toward the coming-out story” (110). There is a palpable expectation of queerness (and later sections will add race and class as the audience changes, but we don’t ever leave expectation behind) that isn’t a generalized wanting. It is a wanting that looks for rebellion, where queer narratives, by nature of their rebellious quality when discussing Barbie, establishes them as the more attractive story. (141) These connections and expectations are drawn throughout allege testimonies, regardless of the revealed identity of the speaker.

Having gone through discussions of dyke destiny stories, class associations with Barbie accessories (I am aware that this has been largely ignored by me), hegemonic marketing by Mattel (which has its own delightfully messy hands in race politics), and predominately white heterosexual ideologies, Rand reaches her conclusions. “Another indication of the extent to which people construe Barbie narratives through already extent habits of cultural narration is the striking similarity between tales designated nonfiction by their tellers and those categorized as fiction” (137). For our purposes, its pretty useful that testimonies can (but not always) fall into a narrative structure. However, how does the need for an interesting narrative and the expectation of “uniqueness” develop a normative standard for Barbies testimonies – or for testimonies in general? Do children, who still haven’t been trained to make the same form of narrative moves and conventions, have another shared structure?

However, exciting as these challenges are, none of it is to suggest that we throw out or accept less critically these testimonies. However, and more in line with the goals of the class, every single recollection, subversive moment, move to rebel that get retold in Rand’s writing lends itself to combat the creepy myth that children are simply passive consumers. These personal testimonies attribute to that reality, and come wrapped up with a concluding warning that “many dubious censorship moves are justified by raising the specter of impressionable children who merely absorb what they see” (147). Even though there is a whole book beyond this chapter, Rand does end with an affirmation of the complexity of childhood. Reading these stories might be problematic, but that is where we can find all these intricacies and complexities.