The Gamble of Reproduction: Conceiving Ada’s Queer Temporalities
Sam McBean is Lecturer in Modern Literature and Gender at Birkbeck, University of London. Prior to this post, she held a Visiting Fellowship at the LSE's Gender Institute. Her research is broadly interested in queer and feminist literary, media and cultural theory and questions of temporality. Her first monograph is forthcoming with Routledge, to be included in their Transformations series. She has published on the topics of contemporary women's writing, feminism's futurity, queer temporality, and lesbian intimacy in journals including Feminist Review, Camera Obscura, Feminist Theory, and the Journal of Lesbian Studies. She is currently working on exploring remediation and intimacy in online spaces as well as in contemporary women's writing.
This paper will consider the relationship between the body, reproduction, and feminist history in Lynn Hershman Leeson's 1997 film Conceiving Ada. The film focuses on contemporary computer scientist Emmy's attempt to save Ada, Countess of Lovelace, from being forgotten from history. The main threat to both Ada and Emmy's work is their respective pregnancies and thus the film at first seems to represent the female body's biological reproduction as antagonistic to the (desired) reproduction of feminist history. In a move that resonates with cyberfeminist theory, it is computer technology that enables Emmy to perfectly reproduce Ada's memories in the present. However, despite this seeming turn to digital reproduction, I argue that the film resists turning away from the female reproductive body. Instead, through Emmy's work to recover Ada, the film explores the pregnant body as a queer transmitter of history. Through the metaphor of 'gambling', the film explores the uneven temporalities of genetic inheritance, considering how inheritance is always tied to the past yet never entirely determined by this past. The 'gamble of reproduction' pushes queer temporality theory in its representation of the pregnant body while also offering a model of reproduction which is neither a barrier to feminist history nor a guarantee that the past can be copied perfectly into the future.