- Wild Child: Intensive Parenting and Posthumanist Ethics by Naomi Morgenstern
In this book, Naomi Morgenstern carefully crafts her conception of how recent cultural developments question the humanistic perception of the human as autonomous and distinct from nature. Her claim is that these developments “have helped precipitate a posthumanist encounter with the ethics of reproductive choice and with the figure of the wild child” (2). Using literary analysis, she focuses on how parents interact with their children and their choice to reproduce in several texts explicitly showing parent-child relations. Throughout the book Morgenstern skillfully traces the relations between parents and children to call attention to the ways in which parents within the primary texts engage their children to move them toward humanness, with explicit attention given to the effects on the parents themselves. Using a posthuman theoretical framework, she shows how these sources offer a means of questioning reproductive choice and how parents must deal with wild children who remain in their natural otherness. She thus explicitly follows the posthumanist theoretical leanings of Cary Wolf, who defines posthuman not as “after humanity” but as distinctly contrary to ideas of human autonomy and agency persisting from humanism. In the introduction, then, Morgenstern establishes her book as challenging humanist ideals, troubling the cultural understanding of [End Page 115] humans as autonomous, rational, distinguished beings. She accomplishes this work by turning to literature and literary analysis.
Following her introduction, Morgenstern uses each subsequent chapter to closely analyze a primary text that reveals a situation of intensive parenting and angst around reproductive choice. The first chapter, “Is There a Space of Maternal Ethics?,” investigates Emma Donoghue’s Room to highlight the contractual obligation that reproduction forces on mothers to raise the child into an established human adult: “no child can survive without at some point holding someone (a parent, a guardian) hostage in order for it to come into being” (67). Following her focus on motherhood, chapter 2, “Postapocalyptic Responsibility,” considers the possibility of the end of patriarchal dominance within the social sphere through analysis of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Chapter 3, “Maternal Love/Maternal Violence,” brings race and slavery into the conversation about parental ethics, focusing on reproductive choice in relation to slavery. Thinking with Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, Morgenstern addresses the ways in which black bodies, particularly those of children, present a new form of alterity for white people because slaves have no rights.
Moving further into her argument, the fourth chapter, “‘Monstrous Decision,’” explores tensions between viewing reproduction as a choice versus viewing it as a mandate. Discussing Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, Morgenstern cleverly draws on the frightening possibility of children becoming criminals to explore the dangers of reproductive choice and the violence of relating to another being. The final chapter, “Dis-ap-peared,” concentrates on how children become beings to be protected but do not possess rights as fully human individuals. Through discussing Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners and Alice Munro’s “Miles City, Montana,” Morgenstern finds that children embody an interstitial space: “Between consent and nonconsent . . . one encounters the figure of the child as quasi-rational, quasi-consensual, quasi-animal” (171). Following this positioning of the child, Morgenstern’s afterword conceptualizes the ways in which animals (and subsequently the “wild child”) disturb and disrupt what it means to be human, giving particular attention to language and speech acts.
For scholars of childhood and children’s literature, Morgenstern’s claims about the wild child disrupting the boundaries of the human seem most beneficial. Within her introduction, the link between wildness and children is explicit: “Wildness names the child’s absolute otherness with respect to any version of human being or human relation that has come before, but, as such, the ‘wild’ child also names the very possibility of a future for something like a human being” (29). While this assertion is explored in detail within the introduction, Morgenstern relatively neglects this line of argument within her chapters, focusing rather on the parents and on relational aspects from the parental point of view...