Editorial: M(O)ther Trouble: Motherhood, Psychoanalysis, Feminism

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Baraitser, L., Pollock, G. & Spigel, S., (2010) “Editorial: M(O)ther Trouble: Motherhood, Psychoanalysis, Feminism”, Studies in the Maternal 2(1), 1. doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/sim.80


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Editorial: M(O)ther Trouble: Motherhood, Psychoanalysis, Feminism

Lisa Baraitser, Griselda Pollock, Sigal Spigel

For this Special Issue of Studies in the Maternal, we are drawing together a wide range of papers presented at M(O)ther Trouble, an international conference co-hosted in May 2009 by MaMSIE, (Birkbeck, University of London) and CentreCATH, (University of Leeds). This was a unique two-day event that emerged out of discussions between Lisa Baraitser and Sigal Spigel, the co-founders of MaMSIE, and Griselda Pollock, longstanding feminist scholar and art historian, and founder of CentreCATH. At the time Pollock was curating Resonance/Overlay/Interweave: Bracha Ettinger in the Freudian Space of Memory and Migration (2009), an exhibition of art works at the Freud Museum, London, by the artist, psychoanalyst and theorist, Bracha Ettinger. This offered a rare opportunity to organise a parallel event with a twofold aim. These were firstly, to revisit the longstanding and productive enmeshment between psychoanalysis, feminism and the maternal, seeking to understand its contemporary manifestations in the wider context of what Zygmunt Bauman has called 'liquid modernity'i. Secondly, we wanted to provide an academic forum in which to debate Ettinger's recent theoretical work alongside the work of other prominent feminist philosophers, psychoanalysts and theorists.

Central to MaMSIE's concerns has been the potential for the maternal, as embodied and material practice, as well as in its figural, symbolic and representational forms, to provide a focal point for diverse interdisciplinary discussions about identities, subjectivities, sexualities, desires, ethics, aesthetics, technologies, labour, and care. The maternal can be thought of as acting like a 'troubling' lens that reveals and recasts often already animated debates within other interdisciplinary contexts. This lens then rebounds on the maternal itself, shifting the ways we understand the material and embodied practices of birth, maternal labour and motherhood, and questioning the ontological and epistemological groundings of these terms. Debates in previous issues of this journal, for instance, have circulated around whether the maternal emerges from this redoubling lens as a way of thinking 'besides' or 'otherwise' to inherited and prescribed modes of thought, due to the capacity of the maternal to unsettle or queer philosophical models of subjectivity that are grounded in indivisible individualism; or whether the maternal is particularly implicated in the (re)production of liberal and neoliberal subjects and remains symbolically, as well as materially linked to 'reproductive futurism', as Lee Edelmanii has named it, with all the normative implications of this claim.

M(O)ther Trouble aimed to narrow the focus of these debates to the rather tender dialogue between feminism and psychoanalysis, a dialogue that was instigated over four decades ago, with both discourses functioning as an internal critique of the other when the two terms became historically engaged post 1968. The maternal has always held an important and yet ambivalent place in both feminist and psychoanalytic thinking and practice, and could be thought of as a third term that triangulates this dialogue, holding both psychoanalysis and feminist theory to account for a restrained figuration of the feminine. In representing that which exceeds the feminine, as well as the vanishing point of the feminine itself, the maternal has been simultaneously erased and 'rescued' by both feminism and psychoanalysis through a range of political, theoretical and clinical gestures. We therefore wanted to review the conjunction psychoanalysis/feminism/maternal, despite its anachronistic reverberations, seeking out the subtle changes that have taken place in feminist and psychoanalytic theory and practice over the intervening decades, and retroubling these changes by viewing them through a maternal lens. Just as we have seen dramatic shifts in women's lives in our current technologically driven era of advanced capitalism as well as recalcitrant areas that seem to defy such changes, so these two key domains of thought and practice have both shifted the boundaries of how we understand femininity, desire, subjectivity, agency, speech, and recognition and yet continually reterritorialise these very spaces. The maternal, as a site for that re-territorialisation forces a reconsideration of these issues. Feminism and psychoanalysis must then continue to find creative ways to respond, and these creative responses offer, in turn, new ways to understand the maternal.

Over sixty papers were presented at the conference, and we have attempted here to select a small sample of the work from across the varied and lively panels, in order to represent some of the main questions and debates the conference raised. We are delighted that we are including contributions to this special double issue from Caroline Bainbridge, Elisabetta Bertolino, Adriana Cerne, Bracha Ettinger, Gillian Howie, Maggie Humm, Amber Jacobs, Tracey Jensen, Paula McCloskey, Patricia Moran, Laura Mulvey, Griselda Pollock, Joan Raphael-Leff, Alison Rowley, Renata Salecl, Margrit Shildrick, Lena Simic, Fanny Söderbäck, Alison Stone, Imogen Tyler, and Angie Voela.

Major interventions at the conference were made by Adriana Cavarero, Bracha Ettinger and Laura Mulvey, three feminist theorists approaching the maternal, psychoanalysis and feminism from quite different perspectives.

Adriana Cavarero's contribution will be published elsewhere this yeariii but we have included in this special double issue a commentary on her paper by the feminist philosopher Alison Stone. Stone raises questions about Cavarero's relation to Hannah Arendt's work; her concentration on the male rather than female child, the distinction she makes between birth and caregiving, and her articulation of maternal ambivalence as the twin trope of infant vulnerability and maternal 'inclination', either towards or away from her child.

A version of Bracha Ettinger's talk is published in this issue, and covers essential aspects of her recent theoretical take on the specifically Ettingerian feminine-matrixial dimension of psychic life accessed through maternal subjectivity. This includes her articulation of the three primal mother-phantasies of Not-enoughness, Abandonment and Devouring and an outline of compassion, awe and fascinance as primary affects that counter-balance rage, fear, anger, disgust and greediness. She makes here a crucial clinical proposal concerning the attitude of the therapist: that of empathy (with the patient), within a relation of compassion (with the patient's transconnected past and present figures), a proposal that changes our understanding of both the therapeutic process and the countertransference, and supplements Bion's notion of 'reverie' by adding what she terms 'reverance'. Her theorising of the matrixial takes us from m(o)ther trouble to m/Other respect.

Laura Mulvey's pre-recorded interview with Griselda Pollock accompanied a screening of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen's 1977 film Riddles of the Sphinx that centrally explored motherhood under patriarchy and the meaning of the maternal in culture through the prism of psychoanalysis. Riddles of the Sphinx has been hailed as one of the most important events in feminist cinema and avant-garde poetics in the 1970s. A transcript of the interview is included here, and continues a series of intergenerational conversations in Studies in the Maternal with feminists whose work is identified with the 'second-wave'.

Continuing the theme of the maternal in film, a cluster of papers respond to the seminal work of Chantal Akerman, whose films and installations constantly return to themes of maternal and feminine difference, loss, trauma and female desire. Three papers by Griselda Pollock, Alison Rowley and Adriana Cerne engage both with the maternal in Akerman's work, as well as with Bracha Ettinger's feminine-matrixial, to elucidate these themes.

Papers by Renata Salecl, Gillian Howie, Paula McCloskey and Margrit Shildrick are concerned with the notion of 'encounter' and its resultant affects. Gillian Howie looks at the encounter between second and third wave feminism and its over-reliance on the mother-daughter trope as a way of articulating their relationship that keeps the dynamic as either identification with, or breaking away from, symbolic second-wave mothers. Drawing on Irigaray, she develops further the notion of the Maternal Order, calling for a new covenant between women of different generations that links past, present and future. Margrit Shildrick offers a wonderful rendition of 'becoming-maternal', by thinking the maternal through Deleuze. Once 'life' is thought of as an 'energetic and proliferative force', this releases the individual mother from being the centre of a specific ethical encounter, and becoming-maternal 'encompasses all those linked together in the connective tissue that constitutes a more extensive and substantive version of the flesh of the world'. Renata Salecl explores the affective encounters produced by the dilemmas of reproductive choice in a contemporary world obsessed by limitless choice, and Paula McCloskey presents thoughts on maternity, experience, subjectivity and 'art-encounter' that emerged from her personal experience of motherhood and her encounter with the work of Louise Bourgeois.

'Troubling Mothers' is a cluster of papers introduced by Imogen Tyler who chaired this panel at the conference. It includes work on classed figurations of the maternal by Caroline Bainbridge, Tracey Jensen and Lena Simic. Tyler has long argued that the maternal is a recurrent site for social abjection, and that tropes such as 'pramface', 'the infertile woman', the 'chav mum' and celebrity pregnancy organise maternal experience along classed and raced lines that give rise to socially desirable and socially denigrated forms of maternity. In her introduction, Tyler suggests that the papers presented here have 'forced recognition of the class politics of motherhood, and addressed some of the ways in which new hegemonies of the maternal are being mediated and bodied forth'.

In 'Theorising the Maternal' we have drawn together a rich array of work by Elisabetta Bertolino, Amber Jacobs, Fanny Söderbäck, Alison Stone and Joan Raphael-Leff. These authors engage with some of the key figures in psychoanalytic feminist work, including Judith Butler, Adriana Cavarero, Bracha Ettinger, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, sustaining and extending an ongoing critical and theoretical dialogue with both clinical psychoanalysis and feminist theory. Building on earlier articulations of the maternal-feminine in relation to a heterogeneous and multiple symbolic field these authors significantly extend our understandings of the maternal as a structuring and yet nonunifying principle in psychic and social life. From a clinical perspective, Joan Raphael-Leff offers a glimpse into the under-researched painful maternal experiences of resentment, persecution and hatred, advocating what she terms 'healthy' maternal ambivalence as an integral feature of maternal subjectivity.

Our final selection of papers discusses the maternal in relation to a range of literary figures: Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Dimitra Kolliakou, Amanda Michalopoulou and Rhea Galanaki. Maggie Humm's paper draws on Ettinger's notion of the matrixial to think about the impact of the death of Woolf's mother on Woolf's development of a 'visual blueprint', and both her own, and her sister Vanessa Bell's capacities to revivify this missing maternal presence through their artistic practices. Patricia Moran explores the late memoir writing of Woolf and Rhys through Christopher Bollas' articulation of the relation between the maternal and the 'first human aesthetic'. Angie Voela, in 'Locating the M(O)ther' gives a fascinating reading of the contemporary Greek authors Kolliakou, Michalopoulou and Galanaki from the perspective that these 'real/poetic fabulations/midifictions' reveal contemporary heterotopias which have strong maternal characteristics. She writes, 'They are both actual places in which women contemplate the complexities of their maternal attachments, and literary places with which women express the shifts and changes in the maternal iconography and the representation of femininity'.

Finally we are delighted to include a review by Tracey Jensen of Lesbian Motherhood: Gender, Families and Sexual Citizenship by Róisín Ryan-Flood, that was launched at the M(O)ther Trouble conference.

This special double issue then, traces the influence of psychoanalytic and feminist thinking on the maternal and how thinking maternalities has conversely opened up the scope of these modes of thought and practice. In part it charts significant changes in psychoanalytic feminist work since 1968, and their current contributions to our understandings of motherhood and the maternal. Overall, it seems to capture the emergence of maternal studies, of the potential for speaking maternal subjectivities as a juxtaposition of these two movements.


i Bauman, Z., (2006) Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity.
ii Edelman, L., (2004) No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
iii Cavarero, A., Inclining the subject. In: Attridge, D. and Elliott, J., eds. Theory After 'Theory'. Routledge: Forthcoming February, 2011.

Lisa Baraitser, Griselda Pollock, Sigal Spigel

Studies in the Maternal, 2 (1) 2010, www.mamsie.bbk.ac.uk



Lisa Baraitser
Griselda Pollock
Sigal Spigel



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