Friday, August 12, 2011

with the Feminist Reading Group of Biblioteca Alternativa, the Bureau of Melodramatic Research & ST

The foetus is the socialist property of the whole society. Giving birth is a patriotic duty. Those who refuse to have children are deserters, escaping the law of natural continuity.
Nicolae Ceausescu, excerpt from a public discourse at the end of the 80s

How does the logic of property function when it comes to the organic and the biological? Asking who the foetus belongs to unquestionably rules out metaphysical questions of moral status or personhood, describing the unborn child almost in terms of natural resources, whose ownership needs to be regulated and agreed upon. Who therefore owns the foetus and who is entitled to make it its own, as a starting point in the extension of possession to life itself.

In the last two decades of the communist period in Romania, abortion was prohibited by law, in keeping with similar measures spreading across most of the Soviet bloc. This was following a liberal period in the 50s, which in turn was coming after strict eugenics inspired regulations in the interwar period. In 1966 Ceausescu issued the 770 Decree, criminalizing abortion in almost all circumstances, which accompanied by the banning of all types of contraception, led to a black market system of medical supplies and pregnancy interruptions. The decision was part of another type of metaphysics, that of the “New Man” and “New Socialist Society”, atheist in theory but bearing the moralizing, idealized construction of the previous religious undertakings it meant to replace.

After the Revolution of 1989, the laws were amended to legalise abortion. However, the moral control of society, previously overseen by the Communist Party, subsequently fell into the hands of the Orthodox Church. As such, the issue of abortion is still a taboo in Romanian society.

In spite of the fact that more conservative sections of society deem the issue immoral, the memory of Ceausescu’s repressive policies, and the still evident repercussions, prevents a discourse on the similarities between the previous government and the current religious stance on abortion. The representation of the past is now part of a new institutionalized discourse. Anticommunism has progressively been turned into a state doctrine, which aims at the purification of history itself in order to properly legitimize the present. For it, the removal of the past demon takes again the form of religious-like rituals. Willingly or not, artists, film-makers or writers dealing with recent history are caught in the manichaeistic debate. One such example is the 2007 Palme d’Or winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days film about an abortion case in 1987 Bucharest, whose fetishised image of the aborted foetus at the climax of the film’s action, with its plasticized hyper-reality, is redolent of the biological pathos of the anti-abortion campaigns.

The politics of biological reproduction should be considered in the context of the reproduction of images, and we would like to research the relation between images of fertility and the fertility of images themselves.

We are also interested in how societies use political and legal systems to supplement morality, and conversely how they use ideological tools to supplement the law.
The question of bioethics is what the Bureau has recognized as an intersection point between its field of activity and the controversy surrounding the issue of abortion. Morality as a code of conduct put forward on the basis of the delineations between a so called good/right and a so called evil/wrong is a key aspect of melodrama, which always has a polarized fight at its core. But what are the premises underpinning this type of moralizing discourse? Melodrama as a genre appeared in a time in history marked by increasing secularization, in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. According to theoretician Peter Brooks, it comes into being in a world where the traditional imperatives of truth and ethics have been violently thrown into question (...) filling the void opened up by the loss of religious certainty and compensatory moral legibility. (Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination. Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama and the Mode of Excess, 1976)