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Staying with the Violence: Womb Work and Family Abolition
Institute of Contemporary Arts

Writer Sophie Lewis presents a lecture drawing on her new theories of surrogacy, gestational justice and family abolition, followed by a discussion with poet Anne Boyer.

With the active cells of pregnancy proven to ‘rampage’ through every tissue they touch, scientific studies have identified the genes active in embryonic development to also be implicated in cancer. As Sophie Lewis identifies in Full Surrogacy Now (Verso, 2019), Kathy Acker’s violent fictional representations of the unconsciously destructive nature of gestating do not cite such studies but do unconsciously channel their findings. Staying with the violence of gestation work – such as that unmasked by Acker – Lewis argues for a utopian approach to the problem of pregnancy, calling for ‘full surrogacy ... real surrogacy.’

Full Surrogacy Now brings a unique perspective to debates around assisted reproduction, stemming from Lewis’ contention that all reproduction is assisted. Arguing for solidarity between paid and unpaid gestators, Lewis suggests that the struggles of workers in the surrogacy industry may help illuminate the path towards alternative family arrangements based on transgenerational caring relationships (or, ‘family abolition’, as it has been referred to by some utopian socialists and queer feminists). Interviewing paid surrogates alongside other gestational workers, Lewis breaks down our assumptions that children necessarily belong to those whose genetics they share, calling for the radical transformation of kinship and the institution of the family.
A poet and essayist from Kansas City, Anne Boyer’s honours include the 2018 Cy Twombly Award for Poetry from the Foundation for Contemporary Art, a 2018 Whiting Award in nonfiction and poetry, and the 2016 CLMP award for her book of poetry, Garments Against Women. The Undying, her memoir about cancer, care, and having a body inside of history is forthcoming from Penguin UK in 2019. She is the 2018 – 2019 Judith E. Wilson poetry fellow at Cambridge University and a visiting poetry fellow at Peterhouse. 

Sophie Lewis, the author of Full Surrogacy Now, is a writer, translator and feminist geographer who teaches at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research in Philadelphia. She is a member of the Out of the Woods collective and an editor at Blind Field: A Journal of Cultural Inquiry. Her essays on subjects ranging from Donna Haraway to dating have appeared in The New York Times, Boston Review, Viewpoint, Salvage Quarterly, The New Socialist, The New Inquiry and The London Review of Books.
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This lecture is available from Monday 15 February, 7pm.

This lecture was recorded on 21 May 2019, as part of the I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker programme.