We would like to dedicate this open issue of Studies in the Maternal to the memory of Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) who died in March at the age of eighty-two. Poet, theorist, lesbian, activist, feminist; Rich, as Lynne Segal details in an obituary published here, also pioneered maternal writing as we know it today. For many of us, reading her seminal text Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976), was formative in that it offered an example of how to write about motherhood in a way that was at once fiercely personal, and at the same time acutely analytical of the structures of power (what Rich called 'institution') that both condition and produce the personal experience of motherhood. In many ways its combination of raw emotion, intellectual acuity and passionate politics still inspires the exploration and expression of maternal subjectivities, and will continue to do so in the future.
It is perhaps fitting then, that this current issue brings together an incisive collection of works on the maternal by researchers, scholars, novelists and artists who are still, in many respects, working with – and working out the tensions between – experience and institution. The issue includes scholarly work by Alison Stone, Laura Green, Lois Tonkin and Agné Matulaité in addition to extracts from the novels of Véronique Olmi and Naomi Foyle, and art-historical work by Heather Hanna and Pamela Turton-Turner. Our visual section is edited by Rebecca Baillie and presents the artwork of Ingrid Berthon-Moine, Helena Eflerová, Helen Sargeant and Eti Wade and an interview conducted by Paula McCluskey with the renowned artist Mary Kelly. Beyond the tensions between experience and institution, however, the issue seems to be characterised by a very particular tone: the pieces invite us, as readers or viewers, to take up an interior view of the world of the artist-mother, scholar-mother, novelist-mother. It asks us to attempt to inhabit this world with all the possibilities for repetition and reworking that this suggests, while at the same time engaging in a self-reflective explorative process of our own. The movement between these two modes of reception – joining in and wondering (and wandering) alongside – creates a double temporality, shifting between and uniting different sequences of time. This collection then demonstrates the rich possibilities that the exploration of the maternal subject opens up for thinking about subjectivities and temporalities.
Alison Stone's paper is perhaps the most explicitly concerned with maternal subjectivity and temporality, in that she offers her own interpretation of maternal time. In the paper, which is a revised version of a chapter from her new book Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and Maternal Subjectivity (Routledge, 2011), Stone argues that maternal remembering is an example of a unique form of temporality, which is distinctly past-oriented. Stone maintains that unmediated memories of a mother's relations with her own carer in her early years, are re-enacted in the relationship with her child and then recursively colour both her past–memories and her relation to the child. Thus maternal experience creates new – or rather renewed – temporalities, which Stone describes as a 'cyclical form of temporality'. This position enables Stone to contemplate the significance of mother and daughter-mother-to-be relations; where genealogy is already marked by our initial bodily experiences, which themselves are constantly reworked.
Laura Green cultivates Irigaray's undeveloped notion of a primary imaginary' in an attempt to rescue a non-matricidal account of maternal subjectivity where abjection' of the maternal body is not imperative. Green maintains that the maternal subject is already there', embedded in the primordial relation with the maternal body, prior to any psychical operations that aim at reducing her. Further, it is this dimension, rooted in relationality, which allows the initiation of the infant as a human subject, contrary to its formulation within matricidal/Oedipal accounts. Her meticulous paper is in itself an example of how she suggests one can account for the maternal subject. By incorporating previous accounts of maternal subjectivity, Green is able to maintain a maternal genealogy where matricide is not only contested, but seen as incompatible with the relation to a primary maternal psychic structure, that allows one to theorise an alternative account of psychical development beyond Oedipus'.
In a paper describing a long-needed study of non-medical involuntary childlessness, Lois Tonkin discusses the connections that her female interviewees have established with the children they have never conceived. Circumstantial childlessness, as she describes it, is revealed as a crucial dimension of her participants' sense of who they are. The interviewees appear haunted', as Tonkin puts it, by the present-absence of fantasy children and of their own potential maternal subjectivities'. What seems to emerge is a childless-mother-subject-position that has to be negotiated and re-worked against internal unfulfilled wishes and social pressures and expectations to mother a child. For the women interviewed, motherhood, however absent as a lived experience of literally mothering a child, is still central to their sense of self. This childless maternal subjectivity consists, according to Tonkin, not only of a sense of loss and a linkage with a fantasy child, but also of a very early relationship, a vestigial experience of their early relations with their own mothers. Amongst other things, this paper invites us to revisit earlier feminist discussions about the psychical and social meaning of motherhood and the extent to which women still understand themselves through a maternal vein.
Agné Matulaité's paper is also about the formation of maternal subjectivities, focusing on mothers-to-be and their embodied experiences of the baby within. The paper describes the complicated process of the development of maternal subjectivities throughout pregnancy and up to a year after giving birth. Employing Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as a way of making sense of her participant's own sense-making processes, Matulaité provides a phenomenological account her interviewees' experiences of their new maternal identity as materialised through their growing attention to bodily changes.
In this issue, we are both delighted and honoured to be including powerful and contrasting extracts from two magnificent contemporary novels. Véronique Olmi is a highly acclaimed French dramatist and author who has published numerous award-winning plays and novels. The extract we are including here is from her debut novel Bord de Mer. First published in French (2001), the novel was immediately translated into fifteen languages across Europe – with the exception of English – and became an international bestseller... It took a brave publisher, Peirene Press, and a talented translator, Adrianna Hunter, for the novel to, recently, find an Anglophone audience. Beside the Sea is a bleak and yet moving tale of a mother who is unable to gain any real perspective on what she believes to be an act of care, love and protection towards her children. Olmi has said that the novel was inspired by a few lines she read in the newspaper describing how a mother killed both her children after taking them to the fair and buying them chips. In Olmi's terms, the mother is neither mentally ill, nor evil, but simply within the tragedy'. The story invites us inside the logic of maternal infanticide, forcing its readers to encounter a mental state beyond ambivalence that is both terrifying and yet also recognizable.
Naomi Foyle's extract Or Daughter is from a science fiction novel-in-progress Astra, which will be published by Jo Fletcher Books in 2014. Foyle writes poetry, fiction and drama. Her first poetry collection, The Night Pavilion, was an Autumn 2008 Poetry Book Society Recommendation. The extract published here belongs to the long-standing genre of feminist science fiction. Traditionally this genre has enabled a sophisticated, imaginative engagement with alternatives to normative social practices, particularly around sexual politics, family, and reproduction more widely. Or Daughter indeed suggests a rethinking of the concept of family ties and the relationship between individual and collective responsibility, where parenting and mothering are rendered intelligible through socially iterated practices.
In the extended visual section we are delighted to present wonderful and disturbing works by four practicing artists – Ingrid Berthon-Moine, Helena Eflerová, Helen Sargeant and Eti Wade. However different from one other in content and form, the four artists attempt to visualize the less tangible aspects of maternal subjectivity such as ambivalence and aggression. In the visual editorial, Rebecca Baillie contextualises the works within the growing tradition of artwork aimed at exploring these unsettling aspects of maternity, often from the perspective of mother-artists who are working with the complexities of using their own bodily and relational experiences as subject matter for their work. Along similar lines, Pamela Turton-Turner explores interventions into Marian art by contemporary artists. Informed by feminism, these artists create representations of maternal desire, ambivalence and aggression that assist in integrating the sacred, caring maternal image with a less composed maternal state. Finally, in a visual essay, Heather Hanna observes the works of two European artists, Annegret Soltau and Chrystl Rijkeboer, who use maternal imagery to explore maternal identities, in particular the tensions raised by the concurrence of desire and reality in the lives of women who mother. While the theme of identity loss is central to the work of both artists, they also reclaim the new possibilities that the maternal generates, namely the haptic experience, which is reflected in both of the artists' work.
The visual work in this issue concludes with an important and timely conversation between the American artist Mary Kelly and the scholar Paula McCluskey. In 2011 we saw a major retrospective of Mary Kelly's work at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester in the UK, and Kelly continues to exhibit worldwide. Her work on the maternal dates back to Antepartum in 1973, followed by her landmark work, Post-Partum Document (1973-79): a painstaking 6-year exploration of her son's mastery of language and her own sense of loss brought on by motherhood. The work is heavily inflected by Lacanian and feminist theory and caused outrage at the time of its first showing, due to Kelly's literal framing of stained nappy liners. Since then, Kelly has continued to work at the intersections between the personal, political, aesthetic and theoretical, in works that encompass themes such as aging, women's time, gender and sexual politics, as well as the legacy and influence of both 1968, and the 1970's Women's Liberation Movement, and more recent work on what Kelly calls 'the political primal scene'. The influence of Kelly's phenomenal output is evident in many of the works presented in this issue.
The book review section covers five recently published titles. Lisa Downing reads Mandy Merck and Stella Sandford's excellent edited collection of essays Further Adventures of 'The Dialectic of Sex': Critical Essays on Shulamith Firestone, (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010). Marjorie Murray discusses Migration and New Media: Transnational Families and Polymedia by Mirca Madianou and Daniel Miller (Routledge, 2011). Sophie Jones offers a critical reading of Sara Dubow's Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America (Oxford University Press, 2010). Whilst Laura Seymour offers her interpretation of the anthologising turn with respect to two literary collections on maternity: Labor Pains And Birth Stories, a collection of essays on pregnancy, childbirth, and becoming a parent edited by Jessica Powers (Catalyst Books, 2010), and Mslexia (Issue 52, 2012), a key women's writing journal.
We would like to thank all the contributors to this fantastic collection and encourage our readers to continue to send us work and post responses on the journal blog. Special thanks go to our dedicated new interns: Melissa Bradshaw, Hélène Draux and Charlotte Knowles for their meticulous work, and to Yvonne Chi, Shaul Bar-Haim, and Nelly Ali for additional support.