Forging new concepts—kid Orientalism, reverse pedophilia, and manifest latency—this essay speculates on something that's been surfacing in Anglo-American public culture over the last ten years or so. A future the public fears is coming—child sexuality, evidenced by sexting, “gay” kids in middle school, and sexual bullying—is accompanying exportation of a fading child (the figure of the innocent child) to other lands, where it seems weirdly possible to recover it. Quite paradoxically, the aesthetics of world documentaries on the-child-in-peril-in-the-third-world may be “restoring” the “Western”-style innocent child through, of all things, the sexualized, racialized “HIV child.” Yet this child-in-peril becomes a threat in a different direction, because of the demands it makes for our response. Feeling thus threatened, we flee from children who, we imagine, are desiring us (in reverse pedophilia). Is there any antidote to these strange dynamics? How does experimental literary form in the novel Push, and something Stockton calls “lyrical fat” in the film Precious, work against this fray? Stockton finds answers among depictions of children's passion for signification—children's libidinal relationships to signifiers—and through new conceptions of sexual latency via the latency of signification.
1 October 2016