ArticlePDF Available
Birth
Imogen Tyler
Natality and not mortality, may be the central category of political thought
(Hannah Arendt, 1958)
We are all born. Hannah Arendt suggests that the absence of this primary fact from
histories of thought represents a significant lacuna in political and philosophical
traditions. For Arendt natality, the capacity to begin, is the foundational fact of all
thought, all politics and all action. Without some fundmental understanding of the
place of birth, there can, she suggests, be no social change, no human future.
Arendt’s insistence on thinking birth as the basis for politics is radical in the context of
a European tradition so overwhelmingly preoccupied with death, terror and
mourning. Perhaps in Arendt’s natal thinking lie the seeds of an alternative, future-
orientated politics which might challenge the predominant neo-liberalism: An ideology
that Lauren Berlant eloquently describes as ‘the capitalist destruction of life in the
project of making value’ (2007: 282).
However, for Arendt natal politics bears no relation to childbirth and the reproductive
sphere. The labours of women (social reproduction) are for Arendt hidden within the
private realm of the household---whilst of course being absolutely foundational to and
sustaining the public sphere. Birth, Arendt insists, is an experience ’beyond speech‘
which is `antipolitical by definition’ (1958: 63). Indeed for Arendt, the public sphere
depends on the fact that `man does not know where he comes from’ (1958: 63). So
despite the radical break from tradition suggested by Arendt‘s concept of natality, her
insistence on separating the concept of birth, from the subjects who birth, places it within
a masculinist tradition in which birth only ever appears as `birth without women‘. This is a
tradition in which, as Luce Irigaray puts it, ‘every utterance, every statement is
...developed and affirmed by covering over the fact that being's unseverable relation to
the mother-matter has been buried’ (1985: 162).
When birth is represented within European philosophical and literary traditions, it is the
gift of men or male gods---`Zeus-given` (Arendt, 1958: 63).The history of philosophy and
literature are littered with male births, metaphorical births in which birth is imagined as a
masculine or divine act of creation (see Tyler, 2000). Michelangelo’s famous Sistine
chapel painting, The Creation of Adam in which the finger of God gives life, is one of the
most vivid examples of male procreation. Birth has been systematically disembodied and
appropriated by scientists, philosophers and artists. As the poet Anne Sexton expressed
it:
I have put a padlock
on you, Mother, dear dead human (Sexton, 1972: 75)
The foundational matricide inherent within European thought is a well-rehearsed
feminist argument (see Jacobs, 2009). Over a forty year period feminist scholarship from
a variety of disciplines has traced, uncovered and critiqued masculinist appropriations of
birth and the correlative abjection of maternal subjects from European histories of
thought and representation (see Luce Irigaray 1985, Iris-Marion Young 1990, Adriana
Cavavero 1998, Bracha Ettinger 2004).
And yet, women’s ‘troubling talent for making other bodies’ remains at the heart of
lived sexual inequalities (Donna Harraway 1991:253). To take one example, a recent
British Government Report, `Fairness and Freedom: The Final Report of the
Equalities Review` states, `Our new research reveals clearly that there is one factor
that above all leads to women’s inequality in the labour market becoming mothers.’
(2007: 66). Despite a raft of equal opportunities legislation since the 1970s, 7% of all
pregnant women in Britain lose their jobs each year as a consequence of becoming
pregnant and woman with children under 11 are the most discriminated group in the
British workforce (ibid). Furthermore, the `Fairness and Freedom` report reveals that
maternal inequalities impact on all women of child-bearing age, because your
likelihood of being employed at all is index-linked to your perceived capacity to give
birth. Indeed, as Christine Battersby argues, all women, whether `infertile, post-
menopausal or childless', are assigned, 'a subject- position linked to a body that has
perceived potentialities for birth. (1998:16 ) It is important that feminists connect
these everyday and ordinary discriminations to the abjection of maternal subjects
explored in feminist theoretical work. Sacking women from their jobs because they
have identified as `maternal subjects‘, and abjecting them to the `private sphere` of
domestic labour, illustrates in miniature the classic structure of `the human condition`
described by Arendt fifity years ago. The context seems dramatically differently, but if
we probe beneath the surface we are returned to the same fundamental
problematicwomen are no longer confined to private spheres, but they are only
able to enter the public sphere through processes of maternal abjectionpainful
processes of splitting and disavowal. Even when women accomplish this process
and achieve some degree of `equality‘ they will neverthless be continually
interpellated by their relation to the maternal. My claim here is that natality remains a
pressing political question for feminism.
Too often feminist scholarship on birth and motherhood has remained atomized,
each generation writing as though stumbling into motherhood for the first time. There
has been a failure to find a way to resolve these questions inter-generationally--to
recognize that the politics of birth is the politics of generation. In positioning birth, and
those who birth, at the centre of politics, feminism needs to find ways to hold together
diverse work in this field so it can be inherited. Until recently there have been few
sucessful attempts to consolidate interdisciplinary research on birth and the maternal.
The Canadian based Association for Research on Mothering (ARM), founded in
1998, was, until recently, the only international feminist organization in this area.
However, the emergence of Mapping Maternal Subjectivities, Identities and Ethics, a
network co-founded by Lisa Baraitser and Sigal Spigel in 2007, consisting of a
diverse grouping of more than a hundred social scientists, humanities scholars,
novelists, perfomance artists, film-makers, and psychotherapists, and the launch of a
journal, Studies in the? Maternal (2009-), suggests that this field is finally having its
own re-naissance.
This special issue emerged out of a workshop, Maternal Bodies (2005) and a
conference Birth (2007), organised by Caroline Gatrell and myself at Lancaster
University. The articles and shorter papers introduce a selection of current feminist
work on the maternal and birth. Important and established scholars, such as the art
theorist Rosemary Betterton and geographer Robyn Longhurst, appear alongside
early career scholars and artists. All of the contributions in this issue are concerned,
in different ways, with the representation of birth and questions of maternal agency.
How can birth be thought and visualised differently? As the (problematic) cyclical
stucture of feminist work in this field might suggest, these questions have been
explored in some depth in feminist theory and art practices from the 1970s onwards
However, I want to imagine that a shift is taking place.;a movement from an abject
asethetics towards the creation of a `life-full` natal asethetics which cannot be
subsumed back within deathly abject paradigms (see Tyler, 2009).
This themed issue on birth emerges at an historical juncture when taboos on
representing childbirth are being broken. If the 1970s marked the rise of what
Berlant termed `foetal celebrity‘ (1997: 124) and the 1990s witnessed the breaking of
a taboo on the visibility of the pregnant body, in the noughties we have witnessed
the emergence of graphic representations of childbirth within the public sphere (see
Tyler, 2001). Childbirth is now visible across a range of popular media: it has
become televisual. In 2006 the reality television company Endemol brought British
viewers Birth Night Live, two hours of live television broadcast from a hospital
maternity unit. The Discovery Channel’s Birth Day and Deliver Me! are two of several
hugely popular television serials which follow (US) women through late pregnancy
and into childbirth. These television shows emerged out of a grassroots trend to
record childbirth on home movie cameras. As digital cameras have `democratised`
movie making, the trend to film childbirth has grown. As Robyn Longhurst examines
in this issue, the emergence of online video sharing platforms, such as Youtube,
mean that thousands of graphic unedited childbirth films can now be viewed ` at the
press of a few computer keys‘. In a fascinating study, Longhurst explores this
phenomenon and its possible impact on the cultural imaginary.
In `the Placental Body in 4D: Everyday Practices of Non-Diagnostic Sonography`. Julie
Palmer examines the impact and significance of another medium, non-diagnostic four-
dimensional ultrasound, a commercial practice in which still ultrasound scan images are
animated into cinematic style footage of foetal life in the wombsoundtracks added to
these films are copied onto DVD’s for expectant parent to take away. Drawing on rich
observational data from private scan studios Palmer examines in detail how the
placenta, the organ which is a point of connection and distinction between the pregnant
woman and the foetus, and which `often gets in the way of the best shot’, is constituted
in scanning practices. Bringing the insights of feminist philosophical work on the placenta
(see Maher 2002) to bear on everyday clinical practices enables Palmer to explore how
maternal and foetal subjects are constituted in `real-time` through inter-subjective
exchanges.Longhurst and Palmer’s work raises a number of interesting questions. What
will it feel like to be able to watch films of yourself before and during childbirth? If
maternal origin is that which we must psychologically disavow, then is this new and often
graphic visibility of birth suggestive of a significant historical and/or psycho-social shift?
It's not simply that representations of birth have increased and changed, but the fact that
so many public kinds of representations of birth are now possible. In the context of a
history in which birth was unrepresentable and unknowable, the possibility of visual
cultures of birth is perhaps symptomatic of new forms of natal politics.
Alongside new popular and clinical visualisations of birth, some of the most
interesting feminist work on birth resides on the axis between creative practice and
critical thought. The work of the Manchester based art activist group birthrites is
exemplary in this respect, with its concern with developing natal politics through
aesthetic collobrations between artists, midwives, childbirth activists, obstetrician and
other senior medical professionals (see http://birthrites.org.uk/). Other indicative
work introduced in this issue is the art activism of groups such as the taking place
collective, the affective photograpy of `urban explorers` whose work documents
abandoned maternity wards (examined by Holly Prescott in this issue) and the
polticial perfomance art of Lena Simic and Kerstin Bueschges. In a short essay titled
`The Taboo Aesthetics of the Birth Scene` I engage with US painter Jessica
Clements to explore the ways in which feminist art practice is challenging the taboo
on the representation of birth. Clements’s oil paintings of the physical act of birth, are,
I suggest, indicative of an anti-abject birth aesthetic-a political aesthetic in which the
birthing woman is resolutely the active subject not the abject-object of the birth-
scene. In ‘Louise Bourgeois, Ageing, and Maternal Bodies’ Rosemary Betterton
argues that Bourgeois‘ ‘maternal aesthetics‘ offers resources for challenging the
deep cultural taboo on `aged maternity‘. At the age of 96, Bourgouis presented
Nature Study (2007), depicting `carnal couples and pregnant and birthing figures
embodied in brilliant pinks and scarlet reds ...represent[ing] women as ...powerful
agents of the maternal‘.
The rhetorical practice of ‘coming out’ has long been central to counter-political
theory. Lisa Baraitser‘s brilliantly evocative article, `Mothers who make things public’
demonstrates the continued importance of autobiography for feminist theoretical
work. Here Baraister elaborates together two concerns, maternal ethics, and the idea
of `making things public`. Throughout she draws upon anecdotes to explore what it
means to think mothering as an ethics, as a public and as a political practice. The
challenge, as Baraitserr demonstrates, is to mobilize autobiographical interruptions in
ways that will transform the very terms of the debate. In other words, women need to
communicate what they already know in ways that will make a difference. One of the
central problems is that not all maternal subjects can be heard.
The current noisy political and public debate which circulates around the maternal
body is fraught and contradictory. Young working class mothers are still routinely
demonised in political discourse and are stable television comic fodder; older
mothers are censured and reviled for perverting `nature`; working mothers are
routinely castigated for failing their children; mothers who don’t work outside the
home are rebuked for failing themselves, their families and the economy. Meanwhile,
the spectre of infertility has taken root within the imaginary life of white middle-class
girls and women and the 25% of women who now chose not to have children are
pitied and feared. The visual backdrop to these terrorising maternal figurations is an
unending parade of images of beautiful, young, white, tight pregnant and post-partum
celebrity bodies. Indeed, the commodification and sexual objectification of the
maternal body, a subject matter deeply taboo as recently as the 1990s, is now
routine to the point of banality. In short, the maternal has never been so very public,
so hyper-visible, but the wall of commentary which surrounds the maternal and the
images which represent it, are deeply incoherent. Within the cacaphony of maternal
publicity, only certain kinds of maternal experience can be communicated and heard.
The rise of confessional mommy columns in broadsheet newspapers, and the
emergence of a `Mom lit‘ fiction genre, is evident of the ways in which middle class
women, with educational and economic captial, dominate mainstream literary and
journalistic accounts of maternal experienence.
Irene Gedalof’s article, ` Birth, Belonging and Migrant Mothers: Narratives of
Reproduction in Feminist Migration’ highlights the ways in which maternal practices
have been devalued in theoretical writing about migrant communities. Gedalof‘s
article argues for a more interdisiplinary scholarship in which feminsist philosophical
writing on the maternal can be brought into dialogue with feminist migration studies to
produce more fluid accounts of `home‘ and `belonging‘. Lucy Hadfield’s short essay,
`Conviviality and Maternity: Anticipating Childbirth and Negotiating Intergenerational
Difference`, explores similar questions of the complex coming together of inter-
generation, mothering and migration in birth practices. Drawing on ethnographic
data, Hadfield‘s account of Lyn, a British Chinese mother-to-be `illustrates the
intensity of the period of new motherhood in the lifecourse, as key beliefs and
boundaries are re-negotiated`. In a different vein, performance artist Lena Simic’s
`On Medea/Mothers’ Clothes: A ‘Foreigner’ Re-figuring Medea and Motherhood‘
returns us once more to themes of motherhood, migrancy and `home`. In this short
reflective piece on her artistic practice, Simic juxtaposes Medea, the archetypal anti-
mother, with her experiences and negotiations as a foreign mother in two working
class Liverpool toddler groups. This encounter ends with Simic `coming out` as an
artist and culminates in her staging a production of Medea for the Liverpool mothers.
There is something profoundly liminal (and intensely disciplinary) about ‘the toddler
group’; Simic exposes some of the painful difficulties of negotiating this border space
and in doing reveals something of what is at stake in thinking a feminist politics of
natality.
Discrimination in the workplace, inadequate childcare provision, the erosion of
maternal health care and reproductive rights, the deep structural relationship
between poverty and maternity - these are just some of the pressing reasons for a
focus on the politics of birth. Whilst feminism has to continue to concern itself with
these inequalities, Arendt’s work reminds us that we also need to think more
systematically about birth. What might it mean if natality, and not mortality, was
actually the central category of political thought? Of course Arendt is not the first
thinker to focus on the question of `life itself’. The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze
has become a central figure in what might be described as a new philosophy of life’,
a movement which has inspired contemporary thought with its emphasis on
immanence, creativity and ethics. However, as Michel Foucault argued, the
emergence of ‘biological’ thinking in the modern period made `life’ the central
category of state governance (biopolitics). Today, a potent mixture of geneticisation,
new imperalism and neoliberalism has instrumentalised `life` further, making it the
central node in global systems of capitalization, with the deepening inequalities which
accompany globalism (Donna Haraway, 1997: 143 and see Franklin 2000). Arendt,
writing in the aftermath of the Second World War, developed her concept of natality
as a political, humanist response to the terror, horror, alienation and banality of
contemporary life. Arendt’s challenge to us, to rethink life from the perspective of
birth, is undoubtedly as pressing as ever. While there is as yet no natalist
counterpoint to `death studies‘, this issue stakes a claim for birth as a vital site for
contemporary feminist thought and practice.
Special thanks to Lisa Baraitser, Louis Bennett, Caroline Gatrell and Irene Gedalof for their
help with composing this introduction.
References
Arendt, Hannah (1958) The Human Condition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Battersby, C. (1998) The Phenomenal Woman : Feminist Metaphysics and the Patterns
of Identity, Cambridge : Polity Press.
Berlant, L. (1997) The Queen of America Goes to Washington City, Durham: Duke
University Press.
Cavarero, Adriana (1998) Birth, love, politics’, radical philosophy, online at:
http://www.radicalphilosophy.com/default.asp?channel_id=2188&editorial_id=10336
Ettinger B. (2004) `Weaving a Woman Artist with-in the Matrixial Encounter-Event`
Theory, Culture & Society, 21 (1) 69-94.
Pollock, D (1999) Telling Bodies Performing Birth. New York: Columbia University
Press.
Franklin, S. C. Lury and J. Stacey (2000) Global Nature, Global Culture. London: Sage,
2000.
Harraway, D. (1997) Modest witness@second-millennium.femaleman©-meets-
oncomouse™:Feminism and technoscience. New York and London: Routledge.
Irigaray, L. (1985) Speculum of the Other Woman. trans. Gillian C. Gill
Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
Jacobs, A.(2007) On Matricide: Myth, Psychoanalysis and the Law of The Mother.
New York: Columbia University Press
Maher, J. (2002) `Visibly Pregnant: Toward a Placental Body’. Feminist Review, 72,
95-107.
Martin, A., (2002). Report on 'Natality' in Arendt, Cavarero and Irigaray. Paragraph.
25 (1) , pp. 32-54.
Sexton, A. (1972) The Book of Folly, Houghton Mifflin, The University of Michigan
Tyler, I. (2000) Reframing Pregnant Embodiment. IN Ahmed, S., Kilby, J., Lury, C.,
Mcneil, M. & Skeggs, B. (Eds.) Transformations: Thinking Through Feminism.
London, Routledge.
Tyler, I. (2001) Skin-Tight: Celebrity, Pregnancy and Subjectivity. in Ahmed, S. &
Stacey, J. (Eds.) Thinking Through the Skin. London, Routledge.
Tyler, I. (2009) 'Against Abjection' Feminist Theory. 10 (1): 77-98
Young, I. M. (1990) 'Pregnant Embodiment: Subjectivity and Alienation' in Throwing Like
a Girl and Other Essays in Feminist Philosophy and Social Theory. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press.
... But in addition, recent historical shifts in the division of domestic labor, the perception and mediation of birthing bodies and the relationships between birthing, pregnancy, and consumer culture have undergone massive changes in relation to other political, economic and cultural logics, and some of these discourses have become more visible, pronounced, and mediated over the recent past (cf. Bochantin et al., 2010;Douglas & Michaels, 2005;Moravec et al., 2011;O'Brien Hallstein, 2011;O'Donohoe, Hogg, Maclaran, Martens, & Stevens, 2013;Tyler, 2009). This includes work by Douglas and Michaels (2005) (2009) on the political-economic and cultural contexts within which maternal subjectivities are produced and maintained and mother blame and guilt rationalized, as an individualized, idealized maternal subjectivity privileged within the intensive motherhood discourse (Hays, 1998). ...
Article
Full-text available
In this article, I present an analysis of 1930 posts from 12 discussion threads from an online parenting forum, drawing upon a broader project on the mediation of childbirth. I present three themes in analysis: the multi-pronged functions of writing birth narratives, the discursive and perceived silencing of difficult stories, and the overt individualization and self-management evident in women’s accounts. I locate these as outcomes of the individualization of maternity in contemporary society and pendulum swings in cultural and policy-level conceptualizations of how births “should be.” I argue for greater attention to be paid to the mediation of parenting and networked maternal subjectivities.
Chapter
Birth is the moment at which not only a child but also a mother are born together into their new subjectivities. Birth is infinitely repeated through human history and yet each birth story will be unique. In this chapter we explore the relational narrative (Cavarero, 2000) as a means of narrating birth as a moment of becoming together: the mother becoming with her child and the performer becoming through the audience’s act of witnessing. We first examine Marni Kotak’s The Birth of Baby X (2011) and then move on to consider Third Angel’s performance Partus (2015) and Tracy Breathnach-Evans’ performance installation Cord (2016). Finally, we examine how maternal performance can do the important work of bringing birth stories as reported by the birthing mother into the public domain, or from ‘labour’ to ‘action’ (Arendt, 1958).
Article
Motherhood has recently re-emerged as ‘material’ for artistic practice, and as a viable subject of academic research that both recognizes and extends earlier feminist assertions that the maternal is a key site for the anxious psychosocial negotiations of identity, subjectivity, equality, ethics and politics. Additionally, pregnancy and birth have graphically entered the public domain. Hundreds of thousands of short films of live birth, for instance, circulate around the globe on video sharing platforms such as YouTube, some with followings of many million viewers. Yet, how might we understand the desire to perform and spectate birth? ‘YouTube birth’ raises questions about performing and spectating birth in digital culture, and the meaning of watching our own birth with a mass public of millions of viewers. In this paper I explore these questions through revisiting the psychoanalytic notion of the ‘primal scene’. The primal scene is the Freudian articulation of the crucial role of infantile sexual and violent fantasies in structuring psychic life, linked to the loss of, or denial of, the material/maternal body as source or origin. Although within feminist scholarship the primal scene as a theoretical concept is radically out of date, it may be productive to revisit primal fantasies in the digital age, and the ways digital technologies shift our relation to ‘analogue’ notions of place, scene, birth, origin and loss. Exploring the continued place of psychoanalysis in helping to understand issues to do with origin, reproduction and temporality, I ask both what psychoanalysis might have to offer our understanding of performing and watching birth, and how a psychoanalytic configuration of the primal scene may itself need to change in relation to digital primal fantasies and technologies that function through fungibility and loss-less-ness.
Article
The mediation of parenting has recently occupied sociologists and media, communication and cultural studies scholars alike. This article locates itself within this developing strand of research, as it explores discourses of intensive motherhood on a Facebook discussion group that provides support and advice for a specific approach to and philosophy of childbirth. Presenting findings from an analysis of main posts and comments made on them, I tease out the brighter and darker sides of the performance of motherhood in anticipation of birth on social media - reading these against discussions about the self-managing, intensive mother who is responsible for making the very best decisions for her child.
Chapter
This final chapter reconsiders selective reproduction as occasioning a shift from one kind of maternal giving to another, rather than a novel form or capacity for giving enabled by reproductive technologies. In this light, feminist correctives to Arendt’s philosophy of birth, or natality, and its bearing on education, caution against reproductive practices that seek to determine the lives of future generations, but rather preserves their freedom to renew the world in unpredictable ways. A more hospitable notion of generational beneficence is therefore suggested, which holds open the experience of reproduction as the site of expressing an ethical response to natality, where refusal to choose one’s children can be one virtuous response.
Article
In this paper, we use Hannah Arendt's conception of praxis and her critique of family to diagnose how praxis and diversity initiatives may suffer when family is used as an organizing principle. As an organizing principle, notions of family function to promote hierarchical sameness within organizations, thereby suppressing diversity. In response to hierarchical sameness, Arendtian praxis can destabilize homogenizing tendencies, and effect social change by challenging 'business as usual'. Further, because praxis is situated within a diverse, plural community of actors, it is able to appreciate diversity within organizations. Hence, we suggest that organizations can 'do' diversity better with a structure that enables praxis to emerge. In addition, we point to ways in which family as an organizational principle privileges a narrow conception of family that obscures gender, racial, sexual and class-based inequities. This project contributes to the feminist scholarship on diversity and organizational inequities.
Article
Drawing on a feminist poststructuralist approach, this exploratory research studies the embodied construction of female workers produced in two focus groups of Portuguese businesswomen when they discuss their female subordinates. We sought to understand the positioning ascribed by the businesswomen to the female body in relation to an ideal professional body and its implications for the relations between the businesswomen and their subordinate female coworkers. An analysis of the group interactions shows that the embodied constructions of female workers entail two opposing interpretative repertoires through which the businesswomen participate in the discipline and/or resistance of the female employees' bodies to a professional masculine and heteronormative discourse. We also reflect upon the implications of the power relations between women in the conception and perceived adequacy of the female body in the work context.
Article
The sociology of childbirth emerged in the 1970s largely as a result of influences from outside sociology. These included feminism, maternity care activism, the increasing medicalisation of childbirth, and evidence-based health care. This paper uses the author's own sociological 'career' to map a journey through four decades of childbirth research. It demonstrates the importance of social networks and interdisciplinary work, particularly across the medical-social science divide and including cross-cultural perspectives, argues that the study of reproduction has facilitated methodological development within the social sciences, and suggests that childbirth remains on the periphery of mainstream sociological concerns.
Article
Full-text available
This article is about the theoretical life of `the abject'. It focuses on the ways in which Anglo-American and Australian feminist theoretical accounts of maternal bodies and identities have utilized Julia Kristeva's theory of abjection. Whilst the abject has proved a compelling and productive concept for feminist theory, this article cautions against the repetition of the maternal (as) abject within theoretical writing. It argues that employing a Kristevan abject paradigm risks reproducing, rather than challenging, histories of violent disgust towards maternal bodies. In place of the Kristevan model of the abject, it argues for a more thoroughly social and political account of abjection. This entails a critical shift from the current feminist theoretical preoccupation with the `transgressive potentiality' of `encounters with the abject' to a consideration of consequences of being abject within specific social and political locations.
Book
Book synopsis: Despite advances in feminism, the "law of the father" remains the dominant model of Western psychological and cultural analysis, and the law of the mother continues to exist as an underdeveloped and marginal concept. In her radical rereading of the Greek myth, Oresteia, Amber Jacobs hopes to rectify the occlusion of the mother and reinforce her role as an active agent in the laws that determine and reinforce our cultural organization. According to Greek myth, Metis, Athena's mother, was Zeus's first wife. Zeus swallowed Metis to prevent her from bearing children who would overthrow him. Nevertheless, Metis bore Zeus a child-Athena-who sprang forth fully formed from his head. In Aeschylus's Oresteia, Athena's motherless status functions as a crucial justification for absolving Orestes of the crime of matricide. In his defense of Orestes, Zeus argues that the father is more important than the mother, using Athena's "motherless" birth as an example. Conducting a close reading of critical works on Aeschylus's text, Jacobs reveals that psychoanalytic theorists have unwittingly reproduced the denial of Metis in their own critiques. This repression, which can be found in the work of Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein as well as in the work of more contemporary theorists such as André Green and Luce Irigaray, has resulted in both an incomplete analysis of Oresteia and an inability to account for the fantasies and unconscious processes that fall outside the oedipal/patricidal paradigm. By bringing the story of Athena's mother, Metis, to the forefront, Jacobs challenges the primacy of the Oedipus myth in Western culture and psychoanalysis and introduces a bold new theory of matricide and maternal law. She finds that the Metis myth exists in cryptic forms within Aeschylus's text, uncovering what she terms the "latent content of the Oresteian myth," and argues that the occlusion of the law of the mother is proof of the patriarchal structures underlying our contemporary social and psychic realities. Jacobs's work not only provides new insight into the Oresteian trilogy but also advances a postpatriarchal model of the symbolic order that has strong ramifications for psychoanalysis, feminism, and theories of representation, as well as for clinical practice and epistemology.
Article
Criticizing Lacan and Levinas, and starting from Freud and Lacan’s denial of the womb and from the Genius-Male-Hero (as theorized by Rank), who is self-creating and holds the power of creation and thus depends on the elimination of the birth-giving begetting mother, I continue my research to formulate a feminine difference that is neither dependency/disguise (Riviere, Butler) nor revolt and struggle in the phallic texture (Kristeva). Unlike other ideas concerning the difference of the feminine, the originary difference that I call matrixial supplies a measure of difference that functions between a woman and a woman, and not only between a man and a woman. With the concepts of the Matrixial, metramorphosis, border-swerving, borderlinking, I outline how both male and female subjects have access to the matrixial sphere and might, as artists, become a ‘woman-artist’; how the Matrixial dissolves the concept of the unitary, separate phallic subject; and how female bodily specificity allows the conceptualization of a field of co-affectivity, shareability and transmissibility. I develop the aesthetic and psychic value of the matrixial voice and its resonance as trans-subjective, based upon a psychic Encounter-Event (rather than just unqualified Thing). Even though the matrixial difference refers both primarily and on the levels of the Imaginary and the Symbolic to the female body – womb, fetus, gestation, pregnancy provide its corpo-real basis – the Matrixial is formulated in terms of a transgressive stratum of subjectivation, where unconscious trans-subjectivity occurs due to particular links and transmission between partial-subjects and partial-objects in co-emergence and co-fading.
Article
In recent years, feminist theorists have examined the use of visual technologies in pregnancy and argued that these technologies are reconstructing the meaning of pregnancy. The imaged body of gestation can be deployed to distinguish and separate maternal and foetal interests. Drawing on this work, ‘Visibly Pregnant: Toward a placental body’ argues that the use of visual technology also obfuscates that which it purports to make clear. The images produced by these technologies in particular do not locate and acknowledge the significance of the placenta as a point of connection and distinction for the gestating body. The possibilities suggested by a concentration on the placenta show how the morphology of the pregnant body itself rejects the distinction outlined in the technologically produced images of pregnancy and offers some new possibilities for thinking subjectivity.Feminist Review (2002) 72, 95–107. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.fr.9400023