Pregnant Men: Modernism, Disability, and Biofuturity in Djuna Barnes

Michael Davidson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


This essay investigates the idea of biofuturity within modernism, focusing specifically on the figure of male maternity in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood. Although the figure of the pregnant male occurs in ancient and classical literature, it surfaces significantly in modernist works-Joyce's Ulysses, Pound's Cantos, Freud's Schreber case-at a moment when biological life was being reimagined through the optic of eugenic science and comparative anatomy. The essay extends Lee Edelman's critique of reproductive futurity in No Future to suggest that dystopic biological futures were being imagined around figures such as Dr. O'Connor whose desire, as he says, to “boil some good man's potatoes and toss up a child … every nine months” reinforces his queer identity and annexes the importance of disability in many of the novel's characters. Modernist cultural representations of the pregnant male foreground the spectacle of reproduction loosed from its putative organic site in the female body and displace it elsewhere-the test tube, the surrogate womb, the male body, and, not insignificantly, the novel. This displacement is both a queering and cripping of normative attitudes toward reproductive health and the futures that such embodiment implies. It also warps traditional narrative attitudes toward biological futurity when the family romance no longer reproduces the heterosexual body. Barnes's novel is not a baroque anomaly among stream of consciousness narratives but perhaps the representative modernist novel because it offers an inside narrative of individuals interpellated within biological and racial science.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-226
JournalNovel: A Forum on Fiction
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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