This article explores the historical continuity between women’s sexual and reproductive exploitation in chattel slavery and in contemporary biocapitalism. It theorizes the centrality of the exploitation of the reproductive body and reproductive processes to the long history of racial capitalism and examines neoliberalism’s role in co-opting and obscuring insurgency against such exploitation. It suggests that black feminist speculative fiction by Octavia Butler constitutes a “philosophy of history” that makes visible otherwise difficult to apprehend historical continuities and contradictions. Through readings of Kindred (a time-travel novel about slavery and its afterlife) and “Bloodchild” (a short story about interspecies surrogacy) it suggests how representation of reproductive slavery and surrogacy might yet provide critical awareness of and new responses to neoliberal rationality—specifically to postracialism and the discourses of reproductive “freedom” and “choice” on which neoliberalism relies. Building on Butler’s insights about reproductive slavery’s afterlife (especially in and through the practice of gestational surrogacy), the article advances a method of “proleptic reading”—of reading forward out of the past and into the future—that allows for apprehension of Butler’s philosophy of history as uniquely relevant in the present conjuncture. In revealing the uncanny persistence of racialized reproductive violence in our time, Butler brings into view the long histories of racial capitalism and biocapitalism and the complex imbrication of the two. Joining the larger conversation about the afterlife of slavery, the article concludes by demonstrating the political importance of speculative fiction that renders reproductive exploitation a privileged locus for elaboration of historical continuity and, too, for the contestation of neoliberal rationality.
December 3, 2013