Welcome to the fifth issue of Studies in the Maternal. This is an open issue, drawing together a collection of writings that reflect current engagements with the maternal including scholarly articles, creative writing, visual essays and work in progress. While there is no one theme uniting these contributions, the personal as a point of departure for exploring the maternal seems to form a thread between the works. Contributors shift between reflecting on their own maternal experience and articulating diverse maternal voices and representations. Both positions mirror and enrich one another. Research, whether in the form of academic writing or creative work, becomes then a site that enables the researcher to 'notice herself', to use Heather Elliott's words, in her paper Interviewing mothers: reflections on closeness and reflexivity in research encounters, published here. Noticing one's own maternal experience is entangled, yet again, with noticing that of an other, often a child but as this collection reveals, noticing the experience of other mothers, other artists, other colleagues, communities, carers and citizens too. The project of untangling one's own experiences from those of an other – which we might claim as maternal work in its own right – whilst remaining compassionate to that other, keeping in tension both sameness and difference, proves necessary for situating one's own subjectivity. The papers in this collection bring a variety of moving accounts that do precisely this work.
Heather Elliott narrates the process of carrying out a complex and layered psychosocial study of first time mothers that brings a reflexive account of the influence and contribution that the researcher's subjectivity makes; how being engaged in the daily practices of motherhood in the same geographical location as those of her interviewees impacted her understanding of herself and her own mothering, and how she could listen to and make sense of her interviewees, whereby her own position was also altered. Elliott introduces research practice as a densely relational engagement, and treats autobiographical material and reflexivity as 'data and a resource for interpretation'. Her paper raises fascinating methodological questions about the place of the personal in research practice while simultaneously offering us a moving account of maternal experience.
Natasha Distiller explores the category of lesbian motherhood in the context of post-apartheid South Africa. Throughout the paper Distiller reflects on sameness and difference, inclusion and exclusion, as they appear through the lens of motherhood and the maternal. Situating herself as a lesbian mother, Distiller reflects on the possibilities and constraints that this position brings about. Tempted to follow ideas that assert lesbian identity as a revolutionary position psychologically and politically, that is, a 'qualitatively different kind of femaleness', Distiller finds that as a mother she has similar, and in many ways ordinary experiences, much like those of many white, middle class, heterosexual mothers. This experience illuminates a gap between theoretical articulations and lived experience. Along similar lines, in linguistic and social regimes that lack the appropriate vocabulary for describing the relation between a child to her non-biological mother, lesbian couples who mother may find themselves outside language and also lacking a clear social position within this context. Thus, while sexual minorities are entitled to equal rights in the South African Constitution, Distiller argues, it is not clear whether lesbian motherhood is a viable category at all, either theoretically or in practice. This discussion is further problematised when accounting for the particular political context of South Africa where accepting difference is a constitutional imperative, whilst in reality practices of violent exclusion are constantly at work. Refusing to lose sight of lived experience, Distiller offers us a mapping and negotiation of these contradictions.
In line with both the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary nature of the journal, this collection includes two pieces of creative writing and a new visual essay section. We are delighted to be including an extract from the acclaimed writer, Louise Doughty's novel, Whatever You Love. The book was on this year's Orange Prize for Fiction long-list and was shortlisted for the 2010 Costa Novel Prize. In this short extract, Doughty tells the story of one mother whose maternal labour and mothering experience shifts dramatically from one child to the other. Doughty's main character depicts two very distinct yet highly familiar maternal voices: the smug and the anxious. Her crystal clear and painfully recognizable mother, caught between these conflicting responses to her children, brings the multiplicities of maternal subjectivities to life.
Charting the conflicting emotional currents of maternal experience is further continued in Joanne Limburg's short story Heat. Written in the first person, Heat is a tale of a woman who has just given birth, colliding with early motherhood. Limburg's character is plagued by fears and anxieties regarding her new identity. Each glance from nurse, husband and baby is then turned into a persecuting stare that coincides with her deepest fear that she is already a failure, already a bad mother.
In this issue we have introduced a new section for visual essays that introduce artwork on the maternal and motherhood. The section editor, Rebecca Baillie has curated the first essay, accompanied by a short introduction. Fantasies and Realities of Maternity, features the work of three London based artists, Charlotte Lindsay, Eline van den Boogaard and Baillie herself. From this collection we have chosen Rebecca's striking photograph: Feeding Outside (2010), as our cover image for this issue.
Claudia Lindner Leporda invites readers to a 'matrixial viewing' of Kieslowski's Blue (1993). Her lucid Ettingerian reading of the journey that the female protagonist Julie makes towards becoming an I offers an overview of Ettinger's theory. Leporda suggests that it is through linking to the 'matrixial', that is, to the compassionate and connected, that rescues Julie from the destructive impact of traumatic past events and enables her to move towards the ethical dimension of mothering a non-I. Reconnecting to the matrixial gives way to different aesthetic and ethical relations to others. Ettinger's theory, which was discussed in previous issues of Studies in the Maternal proves again to be offering a powerful articulation of the maternal structure of psychic life and the possibilities it opens up. Through compassionate engagement with Julie's journey, viewers are invited into a similar experience themselves: 'Such is the co-response-ability of artworking and of healing in copoiesis. […] Freeing the potentiality of an other while being transformed by it too is a kind of love – an ethical co-birthing in beauty'.
In her contribution to the new section Work in Progress Rebecca Baillie discusses Tracey Emin's work in relation to melancholy and how it can be reworked via motherhood, fantasy and art. Baillie argues that fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood in Emin's work compensates for the original loss of the maternal body and its derivatives (any loss that may evoke similar sentiments) later in life. Furthermore, Emin's active resistance, by having two abortions, to become a mother, is articulated by Baillie as a maternal position in its own right. Opening up this less spoken about aspect of the maternal expands our understandings of maternal subjectivities. We hope that the Work in Progress section will prompt other authors to send us short pieces of explorative work to stimulate further discussion.
In the reviews section Natallie Morello reads Gill Rye's new book Narratives of Mothering: Women's Writing in Contemporary France, and Adriana Cerne visits a retrospective of the work of film-maker Sarah Pucill in London.
This open issue performs a kind of 'noticing' that Elliott alerts us to in her paper: the ways that noticing rebounds in maternal practice, so that noticing oneself becomes a mode of noticing others, and is in its turn what prompts that self-noticing as we acknowledge the ways we are constituted by others, including the other in the figure of a child. In part, what we repeatedly notice when we invite open submissions is the very heterogeneity of the field we are calling 'maternal studies' and the work of holding together these disparate elements without entanglement. The contributors to this issue are situated, then, in a rather matrixial position, as Claudia Leporda articulates it here: a position that endorses 'taking distance-in-proximity and difference-in-co-emergence', which may, in its turn, provide an alternative articulation of 'maternal thinking'.
Bracha Ettinger, "Copoiesis" in Ephemera, 5(X): 703-713 (2005), www.ephemeraweb.org, p.708.