Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

The Counterfeit Child

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

The Counterfeit Child

Article excerpt

I'LL BEGIN THE WAY MANY CONVERSATIONS begin nowadays--by telling you about my kids. First, there's Alice. She's very bright but has an overactive imagination. In this picture (figure 1, see over), she has been babysitting, but she dreams that the baby has turned into a pig--or, rather, it has turned back into a pig, since that is probably what it was to start with. (It had only been masquerading as a child.) It's just as well, muses Alice: "If it had grown up [...] it would have made a dreadfully ugly child: but it makes rather a handsome pig, I think" (Carroll 55-56). Then there's Ida. She too is very bright, and like Alice is given to babysitting. But sometimes she doesn't focus on her responsibilities. This was a problem one day when goblins came and stole her baby sister, replacing her with one made of ice (figure 2). Taking wonder horn in hand, Ida had to infiltrate the goblin wedding and extricate her baby sister from the Dionysian riot so that a "crooning and clapping" baby could be returned to mama from the counterfeit children's frenzied tempest (Sendak np). Then there's David, fresh from The Midwich Cuckoos and residing in The Village of the Damned (figure 3). Like the girls above, he too is preternaturally bright, and again this causes some consternation. As it turns out, David is not a human child at all but is one of dozens of alien implants, each of whom has used his "mother"'s womb merely as an incubation nest. From human families used and discarded, these juvenile impersonators will gather in socially and politically dangerous pods, killing any humans who get in their way. Which leads me to my fourth child, Damien Thorn of The Omen (figure 4, see previous page). Here is the ultimate counterfeit child: the son of Satan born of a jackal and adopted into a powerful American family to live as "normal," only until he can rise to the American presidency and, eventually, world domination.





From folk stories and the Golden Age of Children's Literature through science fiction to the contemporary Gothic, we are plagued with "counterfeit" children. Such "counterfeit" is, in the first instance, a descriptor, the particular quality of a thing. As the OED reminds us, "counterfeit" appears as an adjective in the fifteenth century to mean something "made in imitation of something else, [...] not genuine, [...] spurious, sham." This definition would clearly name the counterfeit children I have just enumerated: pigs, goblins, aliens, and demons all pretending to be children but who clearly aren't. In this sense, though, "counterfeit" also functions as a verb and, paradoxically, as the opposite of the counterfeit. These children make visible the ease with which fraud is detected and sham exposed. (This opposite meaning, significantly, is buried in the term's etymology, for "counterfeit" comes from the Latin contra-facere, meaning "to make in opposition or contrast" and thus to oppose the act of imitation.) At stake, then, is the ways in which numerous genres--whether for children or about them--inscribe the child as both the thing we wish the child to be and the thing that actively resists or undoes that wished-for thing, as both the quality of a child and that quality's undoing.

But a still larger sense of the counterfeit is also in operation here. It's the sense that comes to us from Jean Baudrillard, who sees the invention of the counterfeit as endemic to the invention of modernity, and, I will argue, to the invention of childhood as an ontological category. For Baudrillard, the European Renaissance is the "age of the counterfeit" in that signs of prestige once belonging to the feudal lord and having value in themselves (the gold coin, the tract of land, the offspring) came to be democratized across a middle class who used these signs to signify their prestige, that is, to deploy these signifiers as referents of themselves, rather than as guarantors of their own value (50). …

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