Pondering My Navel

I’m struggling with how to make this blog a space to share new research, so here I am writing about that, in the hope that doing so might loosen up my present blogger’s block. [1]

I’m moving on from previous concerns at a rate of knots. There’s a few more Mark Fisher things in the pipeline that I’m excited to announce — some polemic, some productive — but, for my sanity, I think it’s best I put critical engagement with Mark’s writing to bed for a while after this is all over. I’ve made my case and had my fill. Best to let the dust settle around a man who feels so weirdly contentious at the moment whilst dealing with the more personal side of things behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, my new topic isn’t exactly a break from this kind of fraught personal/critical writing practice. In fact, it’s even more personal than Egress, and devoid of any external (public) figure around whom to centre the conversation. As a result, I am unsure how to shift the focus on this blog so that it can remain a notebook for future public projects which, at present, and somewhat paradoxically, still feel too private to share.

For those that don’t know — and expect me to mention this for forever from now on until everyone is painfully aware of what I’m working on — my next book is a big extension of my old essay “The Primal Wound”. I’m still very excited about the general trajectory of that essay and I have discovered so much more material lurking in the cracks, transforming the book version into a truly epic project in which I hope to unearth and offer up an accessible overview of the history of psychoanalysis that has the experience of the adoptee firmly at its heart.

What is becoming more and more surprising to me, as my research develops, is that establishing this counter-narrative doesn’t necessitate a great divergence from the popular theories that people know. Whilst the argument that Freud’s Oedipus complex concerns adopted children far more explicitly has only deepened and become more grounded in Freud’s wider body of work, I’ve found that Anna Freud, in particular, drew attention to the plight of adopted, orphaned, fostered, or otherwise displaced children regularly in her writings. It’s impossible to consider the younger Freud without also considering Melanie Klein’s “object relations” theory and this also takes the primal wound as its central kernel, even if implicitly. So whereas my original essay jumped from Freud to Lacan and Deleuze and Guattari, straight over a great deal of feminist discourse, the book version is taking its time with the intervening period. As a result of this, adoption is looming ever larger as an issue sat strangely and quietly within the heart of psychoanalysis, and far more explicitly than I’d previously imagined.

It is also a topic central to contemporary bioethics and societal politics, in an age when families are changing shape and our relationships to one another are changing more generally as well. This is, of course, particularly relevant to feminism as well, and many will hear the above hints towards familial abolition and cheer. However, the fact remains that adoptees have long been overrepresented in seeking psychotherapy and suffering from mental illness whilst, as discovered previously, adoptees are also curiously over-represented within the trans population. For better or for worse, the results of this kind of familial displacement are frequently traumatic, and the implications of that trauma for broader conversations seems woefully absent to me at a time when alternative forms of parenthood, but also motherhood in particular, feels (literarily) all the rage.

A further case that needs to be argued in the book is that the response to this kind of concern is not simply to privilege birth-parent relationships over adoptive ones. Things are far more complex than this and warrant a suitably complex unfolding. Here’s a 2020 article in the Guardian, for instance, responding to a recent call by the UK government to prioritise adoption for children in care, in which professors Anna Gupta and Brid Featherstone make an argument that will be familiar to anyone concerned with the particulars of adoption politics. They write:

Adoption is not a risk-free panacea, as government policy seems to suggest. It is highly complex, with implications for all concerned that endure for decades. There are other options, such as placements with kinship carers or long-term foster carers, and legal remedies such as special guardianship orders, which can provide safety and stability for children, but do not require such a severe break with key relationships.

Echoes of the humanities new humanisms abound here, with talk of kinship and alternative family arrangements, but still there is a gap here as we consider what kinds of subjectivity are produced by this sort of experimentation. The argument is not against experimentation at all, but the conversation certainly needs to diversify.

For me, this brings in other debates that continue to swirl around Adoption Studies, such as the so-called “bonding myth” — the view that there is a particular patriarchal emphasis placed upon the necessity of birth mothers retaining contact with their children, whether that is in “standard” child-rearing practices or prior to the fulfilment of other arrangements — and I think this is a particularly under-explored path within contemporary feminist discourses surrounding both surrogacy and xenofeminism. [2]

It’s interesting to talk about these topics in isolation — and I might well do that in future — but the manner in which someone does this feels quite difficult to navigate. Adoption studies is a peculiar area of research, I’ve found, in that some academic publishing houses — university presses most specifically — will happily publish memoirs that attempt to contribute to this area of research.

This is surely quite rare as far as “research fields” go, but it is also indicative of where Adoption Studies remains. There is little out there that is not aimed at the bleeding heart Hallmark Movie market or at adoptees and their relatives looking for self-help guides as they navigate the complex unconscious landscape of the post-adoption subject, whether they are looking to suture their primal wound or be better understood. As a result, how to navigate these expectations as an adoptee and writer who wants to engage in this topic in a new and novel way by reaching into something beyond clinical case studies and mother-child memoir is bringing me both headaches and a peculiar sadness.

One thing, however, has made me feel quite emboldened in undertaking this new project recently, which will inevitably involve some element of memoir whilst interrogating the very function of that genre. It is a declaration provided by the Bastard Nation, in a crowd-sourced list of affirmative statements explaining to adoptees and outsiders “why it’s great to be a bastard”:

36. You truly have every reason to ponder your navel.

That’s an epigraph for this project if ever there was one.

[1] Blogger’s block is decisively different from writer’s block, but a far more depressing affliction for me personally.

[2] Considering xenofeminism, I’m particularly interested in discussing how experiences of alienation are innate to post-adoption and post-surrogacy experiences, as well as the ways in which some XF antecedents — 0rphan Drift most explicitly, perhaps, at least in name — relate this sort of displaced postnatal subjectivity to a more generalised human condition within modernity. If anyone interested fancies talking about some of this stuff over email, with the potential for it to become blog fodder, drop me a line at xenogoth@gmail.com. I know I have friends who I could easily reach out to regarding this stuff but I’m a bit reticent to stick my nose in others inboxes just to pursue my own agenda, so I’d prefer to be less direct about this and invite others to reach out instead. I feel proper isolated with this research hole at the moment, so chatty folks welcome.

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