Across shifts in scientific paradigms from naturalism to Darwinism, “native tales” of the sexual abduction of women by apes functioned as an empirical and imaginative resource for emerging European hierarchies of race and species. This talk turns to French popular author Félicien Champsaur’s imaginative substitution of a white woman for a native woman within this scenario in Ouha: King of the Apes (Ouha: Roi des singes, 1923) to consider the efficacy of this text’s critique of white patriarchy and European species hierarchies. I contrast this novel with two contemporary “native tales” – a Bornean joke about the origins of the proboscis monkey and Himalayan women’s stories (as analyzed by Radhika Govindrajan) about abduction by Asian black bears. While the contextual function of the original native tales collected by European explorers has been lost, these examples are suggestive of the potential meanings of interspecies sex within ontological frameworks that have been systematically discounted by European humanism and Darwinist hierarchies of race and species.
Kadji Amin is Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. He is the recipient of a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in “Sex” from the University of Pennsylvania and a Humanities Institute Faculty Fellowship from Stony Brook University. Amin’s research focuses on the disorienting effects of the queer and transgender past on politicized fields of scholarship. His book, Disturbing Attachments: Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer History (Duke 2017) won an Honorable Mention for best book in LGBT studies form the GL/Q Caucus of the Modern Language Association. He is currently at work on a second book project, tentatively titled “Trans Inheritances,” that critically interrogates the notion of an autonomous gender identity while tethering trans to a range of histories that decenter selfhood and problematize autonomy.