Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

Mas Que Un Numero: Tecnologias Reproductivas, Clonacion Y la Problematica De la Paternidad En a Number, De Caryl Churchill

Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

Mas Que Un Numero: Tecnologias Reproductivas, Clonacion Y la Problematica De la Paternidad En a Number, De Caryl Churchill

Article excerpt

More Than a Number: Reproductive Technologies, Cloning and The Problematic of Fatherhood in Caryl Churchill's A Number

1. INTRODUCTION

The rise of new family formations as lived experience, (1) not least as a function of developments in reproductive technologies, (2) has been accompanied by a range of cultural productions--auto/biography, poetry, films, plays, novels--centring on the question of the impact of these technologies on the individuals concerned. These productions include films such as the tellingly titled The Kids Are All Right (2010) and the 2010 film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel Never Let Me Go. They are indicative of our continuing cultural preoccupation with the meanings and implications of divergent procreative processes. The exploration of these processes has a long provenance in the Western cultural imaginary: one might argue that the story of the creation of Jesus Christ is one such narrative, (3) as are the many Greek myths that detail how various gods and demigods were created. In recent cultural texts exploring this phenomenon, the focus has been not so much on the underlying biotechnological processes themselves--these remain largely the domain of science--but on the socio-emotional and ethical implications of creating human beings through divergent processes. (4) In this article I shall focus on one such text, Caryl Churchill's (2002) play A Number, in order to analyse the imaginative transformation of current debates about reproductive technologies in that work, and to examine what kind of intervention it makes in those debates. As I shall demonstrate, many of the issues raised within A Number with regard to cloning are concerns that are also significantly debated in relation to other types of divergent procreative processes such as donor insemination and ivf. In analysing Churchill's engagement with these issues, I shall be less concerned with the play as a play, i.e. its performative dimensions, (5) and more with the substantive issues around fatherhood which it raises.

According to James Brandon, A Number "was one of the most frequently produced plays in American professional theatres during the 2005-2006 season" (2006: 502), following its original run at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2002 and at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2004. Brandon attributes this success to the play's "minimal technical requirements, a cast of two" and its focus on "the important contemporary issue of cloning" (502). I would argue that as subsequent films such as The Kids Are All Right (2010) and The Switch (2010) for example show, it is not simply its highlighting of cloning as a divergent and, at present, still utopian procreative process that contributed to the success of A Number, but the fact that its issues speak to concerns that can equally be raised in relation to other forms of biotechnologically assisted reproduction.

In its preoccupation with family formations and the problematics of family and relational dynamics A Number emblematizes one of the key long-term concerns of Churchill's work, the "[smashing] of the bourgeois family structure" (Gobert 2009: 121). This is as evident in the radio plays Abortive (1971), The Judge's Wife (1972) and The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution (1990), as it is in her theatre plays, from Cloud Nine (1979) through Top Girls (1982) to Blue Heart (1998). In many of her plays it is an outsider, often genetically unrelated, who serves to highlight the precarity of familial relations. But A Number is the only play that centres exclusively on the father-son relationship, and it is this on which I focus here.

2. PRIVILEGING THE FATHER-SON RELATIONSHIP

At the centre of A Number, and in this respect productively unlike many contemporary cultural texts dealing with donor insemination, cloning and divergent forms of reproduction, is the relationship between a father and his sons. Churchill's play thus makes an important intervention in the arena that has been termed "new fatherhood" studies (see e. …

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