Hysterical Pregnancies: Feng Sun Chen and Jenny Boully

by on Oct.26, 2011

In a recent post on this very blog, Feng wrote about poetry as a “hysterical pregnancy”:

I’d rather not have a baby, but I know that perversely, I really actually want to be pregnant. Ideally, this would be a pregnancy without birth. I would keep the baby inside me, protected, subconscious, forever. A pregnancy without terms. I’ve been obsessed and possessed by this idea since adolescence, which is also when I started writing poetry. To me, poetry and pregnancy are the same thing. It is about the potentiality of new life, new voice. Yet both are things I cannot allow. I will not pretend to do anything good with my poetry, which is a voice unborn even in manifestation, which will not gaze back at me in the forest of symbols, which will always be embodied without body, dark, not human. This isn’t meant to have a negative connotation, this hysterical and endless pregnancy. I think it is a metaphor of incipience, desire, possession, and incubation. It’s only termination is death, the ultimate potentiality.

This hysterical pregnancy is not just a counterfeit pregnancy, but it’s a pregnancy of counterfeiture. Or as I wrote about her poetry book Ugly Fish:

The non-result is “the pregnancy of decadence, which is full of fetuses.”
The non-result is proliferation: “Pigs are everywhere.”


What better example of “hysterical pregnancy” than not merely because the unknown was stalking toward them, Jenny Boully’s re-versioning of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. In Barrie’s book, Wendy Darling (later transformed into Candy Darling) is an 11-year-old girl who loves to play mother for her younger brothers, but then comes the day that she’s supposed to grow up and leave her role as fake mother of her brothers and move into her own room, become a young woman, enter society etc. That’s when Peter Pan comes and rescues her, taking her to Neverland to be his mother (and the mother of all his “lost boys”). That is to say, Neverland is a place she escapes to in order to remain a fake mother, so that she won’t become a teenager who might become a real mother. But even in Neverland, she does seem to grow into adulthood, as she gets crushed out on Peter, who insists that he only loves her the way a son would love a mother. I might have some of this wrong, but that’s the basic idea of the story.

Boully’s book is a Neverland-ambient book: character come and go, the narrator inhabiting various folks at various times. This ambience is an ambience of sex and pregnancy; or rather the ambience of “Neverland” seems to be incredibly fertile; it can transform anything into a pregnancy, even poison:

Peter, there must be some sort of allergen. Do you think, Peter, do you think Tink has been spreading some sort of bacterium around here? I can hardly get out. Of bed. She has a certain aversion to wildwood pollen, but the girl Wendy doesn’t quite know it. Yet. The bed sheets, the blankets, the pillowcases, they’re fairly misted with the spores of the Neverland forest. In a few days, there will appear there a blanket of fungus, a thicket of huckleberry bushes. Peter, you’ve been bringing certain critters to bed, have you? Have you, my dear? The little allergen, it’s so tiny; it doesn’t quite yet have. Hands.


Dearest, I will arrange the teapots so that they are just so, just so. If the water in there is all a-murky, it’s because it was collected back then; can’t quite remember just when; the pond-skater all at home in it just now. As for the little tadpole – he’s gone away; he’s gone away into a belly. No tea, but rather; that’s all we children need to stay. Alive. I do believe that there’s a little mole scratching up there. A badger, a claw-y glow worm. There are tree branchesand tree roots somewhere down there all a-meshed with the hair of our newborn. Get me the scissors, but the cord is up there, way up igh, there between the space of those two stars…

The result, as in Lucas’s post is a proliferation – of children, of stories (the original play, the novelization, the Boully reversioning), of sex, of Art: more, more, more.

Just as viruses have multiple, individual ancestors, this voracious art does not stop spawning origins along with destinations. It is fruit hanging off a viral tree of life.

If we want to go back to Tony Hoagland’s paradigm, according to which good poetry is poetry where the speaker appears clearly, as an “adult”, a properly completed person, an “authentic” “human” and where ambience is an unhealthy addiction, it seems that Boully’s pick of Wendy suggests an interest in not being a properly installed subject, an interest in an unhealthy in-between state, saturated with a kind of birth/sex ambience that generates more and more and more. Boully’s obviously “degenerate,” anachronistic.

2 comments for this entry:
  1. Seth Oelbaum

    1) Hysterical pregnancy as an allegory for human existence. In my interaction with creatures who identify as people, I’ve witnessed quite a bit of talk about “souls,” “feelings,” “interiority,” and so on. “Really?” I ask (rhetorically). As Sylvia Plath correctly says, “There is nothing there.” Neither in the women’s belly or in the sub-flesh of the human. It’s all empty. But I don’t think the lack of highfalutin ideals should bring anyone down. No one says you have to be human. With enough courage, you can be anything you want. I mean, you can be a boy who fights pirates in green outfits or a girl who kills her husband/daddy.

    2) I think “adult” is an insulting term. I’d much rather read the poems of the lost boys than those composed by Grown Up Male Writers.

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