- A Challenge to Reproductive Futurism:Queer Families and Nonhuman Companionships in Ueda Sayuri's The Ocean Chronicles
Introduction and Methodology
Science fiction novels typically create elaborate, multilayered worlds that often, and sometimes literally, turn our own world upside down. In her series The Ocean Chronicles (Ōshan kuronikuru shirīzu), Ueda Sayuri (b. 1964) depicts a post-apocalyptic world that discourages human reproduction and anticipates the extinction of the human race. I argue that she does so to challenge the notion of "reproductive futurism," to borrow a term coined by Lee Edelman (2004, 2) to describe the belief that having children will ensure the future that underlies many policies in Japan and other nations.
In No Future: Queer Theories and the Death Drive, Edelman (2004) discusses how reproductive futurism is deeply embedded in the ideological and political discourse of heteronormativity. Using psychoanalysis, he argues that "queerness" is at the opposite end of the spectrum—"the place of the social order's death drive"—which resists reproductive futurism (Edelman 2004, 2-3). The concept of futurism is also limited by the fact that we do not know what the future will bring. It is, inherently, human speculation or imagination of the present. However, the belief that humans must reproduce to ensure a future is expected and prevalent as a norm. While Edelman is concerned with LGBT activism, I apply his explanation of queerness and how it is a critique of heteronormativity to the [End Page 46] study of Ueda's science fiction to see how her stories offer resistance to human-centered and heteronormative reproduction, which is central to Japanese government policies that aim to raise birthrates to ensure the future of the nation.
Also integral to my argument is Donna Haraway's (2003) notion of "queer families" in her work on cyborg feminism and the interconnectedness of humans and non-humans to the critique of reproductive futurism. In her Companion Species Manifesto, Haraway states, "I have come to see cyborgs as junior siblings in the much bigger, queer family of companion species" (11). She emphasizes that all entities are "companion species" that impact one another and evolve co-constitutively; in other words, they engage in "co-evolution." As a significant aspect of co-evolution, these companion relationships are "permanently in progress, in principle" (3). The companion species concept can be used, along with the notion of queer families, to investigate the interconnection between humans and nonhumans, as well as with a wide range of continually changing relationships among various species. As I will explain, Ueda's The Ocean Chronicles depicts a variety of queer families to challenge the normativity of patriarchal families by highlighting "queer futurity" instead of heteronormative reproductive futurity.
I draw from feminist and queer theories, in addition to those by Edelman and Haraway, that use ideas from environmentalism and science to understand the interconnectedness of humans and nonhumans. Many of these theories focus on the reconceptualization of the human body, nonhuman entities/elements, and normative sexuality. Particularly, the nonhuman turn in material feminisms led by Haraway and quantum physics feminist Karen Barad offer a new approach to redefining gender through physical attributes and limitations of the body, through the enmeshment of humans and nonhumans, and through the blurred boundaries between subjects and objects. In addition, ecocriticism scholar Timothy Morton (2011) stresses the concept of "mesh"—the entire interconnected system of all life forms is an "open form without center or edge" in the ecological system (22). In other words, this paradoxical concept is necessary. While each life form has a distinctive identity, it has a flexible form (22). While Haraway's focus is on the relationship between humans and animals (especially dogs), Barad (2003) includes human relationships to non-living elements. Barad reconsiders material agents (including human subjects) and argues that they (things) do not exist without relations to other entities, a concept she calls "intra-activity." Barad states, "Agency is a matter of intra-acting; it is an enactment, not something that someone or something has… Agency is not an attribute whatsoever—it is 'doing'/'being' in its intra-activity" (826). Barad denies the presumed distinction of things and beings as basic and fixed...