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MLA 2012: Automating Love's Labors (special session)
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Natalia Cecire and Scott Selisker
When Adam requires a companion to alleviate his loneliness, God fashions him one out of a spare bone; if Christ, of whom Adam is the prefiguration, is “begotten, not made,” Eve is pointedly the reverse. Thus when Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam envisions an Ève future (1886), it is perhaps no surprise that this ideal helpmeet should be a machine: she perfects the machinic quality of the original Eve. While a prevalent discourse of the machine age marks out the robotic and the automatic as the cold inverse of real human (often female) affection, British and American texts of the modernist period, broadly conceived, stage the robotic and the automatic as inquiries into the relations between modernity, labor, affect, and gender. From L’Ève future and Metropolis to The Feminine Mystique and Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto, modernist and mid-century narratives have taken up developments such as Christine Frederick’s domestic Taylorism, advertising’s construction of the credulous female shopper, and the advent of domestic appliances. This panel draws on recent work by Michael North, Jennifer L. Fleissner, Bill Brown, Sianne Ngai, and Minsoo Kang, among others, to inquire into the remarkably tight relationship between the always gendered labors of care—what Eva Feder Kittay has called “love’s labor”—and discourses of automatism in industrial and early postindustrial culture, as they are staged in literary and theoretical interventions in the British and American contexts. By giving new historical groundings to fictions and manifestos that examine the profoundly feminized domain of domestic and affective labor between the 1900s and the 1960s, the papers in this panel also hope to attain a stronger purchase on the broader role of “love’s labor” in more recent decades, from the centrality of affective labor in the postindustrial economy (Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Arlie Russell Hochschild), to the cultural and political consequences of Donna Haraway’s cyborgs, Cynthia Breazeal’s “Personal Robots” project, and the Roomba. Moreover, we contend that a focus on the literatures of gendered affective labor can renew scholarly understandings of feminist and vernacular modernisms, feminist forms of liberation, literary stagings of labor and repetition, and a feminist ethic of care.
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