Mother Trouble


In the late 1980s a practising painter who is also a practising psychoanalyst reflected upon the significance of events occurring in her painting and being reflected upon in her notebooks to evolve a major theoretical intervention in psychoanalytical thinking at the intersections of British Object Relations (Bion, Laing, Winnicott) in which she was trained at the Tavistock and Parisian Lacanian and post Lacanian thinking (Laplanche, Guattari, Aulagnier, Dolto).  Supplementing the  then dominant understanding of Lacan's phallic Symbolic,  defined by the sovereignty of the phallus as the sole signifier, Bracha Ettinger proposed a further symbol, the Matrix and its non-phallic, non-Oedipal process, metramorphosis.  The matrixial enables us to catch up into theoretical knowledge another, shifting but not excluding dimension of  subjectivity that is the effect , on all subjects, irrespective of later, Oedipalised gender or sexuality, of the  feminine sexual specificity of human generation in the non-prohibited intimacy of the feminine-becoming-maternal-in co-emergence-with an-unknown-becoming-partial-other.  Moving beyond the theoretical engagements of object relations with early mother-child, hence post-natal relations between subjects, hence beyond intersubjectivity, Ettinger has been exploring, for almost two decades, the implications for theories of subjectivity and hence for ethics and even the politics of our multiple moments of transsubjective co-affections and co-effects, of the proposition that the feminine, understood as this sexual specificity of the severality of mutual co-effecting becoming of life, has something profound to offer our understanding of the human, its ethics, aesthetics and even politics.  Daring to theorize the gift to later subjectivities of the prolonged encounter-event between pre-natality and pre-maternity, Ettinger has contributed to debates about the maternal, the feminine and human subjectivity in general. In this paper, I outline some of the fundamntals of this radical but not eccentric theoretical work, and introduce one of its most recent conceptual moves in which Ettinger challenges the psychoanalytical establishments failure of acknowledge as primal fantasies,  addressing sourceless primal enigmas, the  emergent subject's anguish over insufficiency, devouring and abandonment. Placing Ettinger's work on primal fantasies and the maternal in the contcxt of Winnicott, Kristeva and Laplanche, this article points to the implications of this major theorization for rethinking and working with often unresolved mother/daughter/ daughter/mother relations whose psychic freight remains unrelieved in contemporary phallic psychoanalytical paradigms and for the interface of ethics and aesthetics for which models of  matrixial severality and transsubjective passages are rich already in potential examples (studies of Sylvia Plath, Louise Bourgeois and Berthe Morisot had to be cut for reasons of length) and future possibilities, including responses to international and interethnic violence at the time of this article going to press.

How to Cite

Pollock, G., (2009) “Mother Trouble”, Studies in the Maternal 1(1), 1-31. doi:


Download PDF









Griselda Pollock



Publication details



All rights reserved


Peer Review

This article has been peer reviewed.

File Checksums (MD5)

  • PDF: 840acc8b95adae293c5985e61f7d4f0e