The implicit relation between motherhood and time that has featured sporadically in past issues of the journal runs through this Open Issue of Studies in the Maternal. The five substantive papers by Rachel Robertson, Gal Ventura, Pamela Turton-Turner, Matthew Geary and Hannah Proctor are historical, theoretical, literary, cultural and visual in turn. Yet they are all preoccupied in some way with modes of time that fail to unfold or move on, or with some version of an elongated present, whether figured as an integral part of the structure of the psyche, or lived as a phenomenological experience, or as a feature of the odd contradictory temporalities that follow huge social change. And crucially, this elongated present is specifically linked with the maternal as a psychic object, or with motherhood as a lived and embodied practice.
The preoccupation with time is most explicit in Rachel Robertson's important and moving meditation on what happens to time for women who mother disabled children (Out of Time: Maternal Time and Disability). Building on recent work on maternity and interruption, Robertson theorizes a parallel between maternal and disabled subjectivities, showing the particular ways they both problematize time. Working within a feminist disability studies perspective she makes an inventive link between between futurity, maternal subjectivity and disability, supplementing theories of subjectivity in both maternal and disability studies through her focus on time.
Gal Ventura's paper, The Dead Mother, the Uncanny and the Holy Ghost couples a detailed account of the emergence of realist images of death, hunger and the family in French painting between 1800 and 1850, with a psychoanalytic understanding of the double relation of 'homeliness' and dread that is embodied by the dead mother in the paintings of Jules Breton (1927-1906). Here the retention of an attachment to a 'dead' mother in psychic life leads to a form of 'white mourning', as André Green described it, in which the mother doesn't actually die but is retained as an 'ongoingly' dead object with whom the child is melancholically identified. Time, in other words, refuses to pass but is frozen in a perpetual presentness, and art is understood as an attempt to grapple with the 'loss of the comforting fantasy of homeliness, by means of the depiction of the terror of maternal death' (Ventura, 2014: 27). Working with Bracha Ettinger's notion of the matrixial to counter the phallic phantasy of the dead mother, Ventura argues that Breton's paintings represent an attempt, on the edge of modernity, to convert white mourning into black, allowing the mother-who-refuses-to-die to be symbolically murdered, in order that mourning can occur.
Pamela Turton-Turner, in Encoding the Maternal: Female Benevolence in Naked Charity Calendars, offers a fascinating art-historical analysis of contemporary nude fund-raising calendars, showing in particular how they reinforce historical ideals of benevolence and charity that are both domestic and asexually maternal. She demonstrates how these contemporary calendars that are produced to raise money for charitable causes ride on images of a sexually tame, domesticated female figure that recalls historical visualisations of iconic allegorical mother figures depicted in the history of Western painting, in which maternity signals female benevolence. Despite the overt attempt to reconceptualise maternity as overtly sexual and glamorous in these nude calendars, Turton-Turner argues that in fact they reproduce a deeply anachronistic image of benevolent femininity. Here the temporality of maternity hinges around the contemporary return of a deeply embedded historical connection between charity and maternity.
Matthew Geary, in his beautifully written and perceptive paper 'Unkind and cruel, to deceive your Son | In borrow'd Shapes, and his Embrace to shun': Mother-Son Love in T. S. Eliot's 'La Figlia Che Piange', revisits T.S. Eliot's much discussed 1916 love poem. He argues that critical readings that have focused on Eliot's relation to the feminine, have missed a more distraught and hidden maternal aspect of the poem in which Eliot's two lovers provide a screen for working through unconscious ambivalent feelings between mother and son. Using concepts drawn from Lacanian psychoanalysis, Geary reads the poem as a defensive response to castration anxiety, and a failed attempt to traverse the 'fundamental fantasy' that structures unconscious life, allowing us to glimpse the relation between the male speaker of the poem and his desire. The fundamental fantasy, in Lacan's terms, is always already related to the lost mother/Other, and repetitive attempts to traverse it are the permanent aspect of desiring subjects. Through this reading Geary contributes a more nuanced understanding of the maternal-feminine in Eliot's work, bringing the overlooked relation to the mother to the fore, and continues the important theorizing of maternal ambivalence in psychoanalytically inspired maternal studies.
Hannah Proctor's Women on the Edge of Time: Representations of Revolutionary Motherhood in the Pre-War Soviet Union takes us to a more social and political understanding of motherhood and time. Her paper focuses on the tensions in women's lives after the 1917 Russian revolution. Subsequent radical changes in women's lives included the legalization of divorce and abortion, the uncoupling of marriage from the church, and the decriminalization of same-sex relations, and yet Proctor reminds us of obdurate relation between women and reproduction that couldn't be so easily overturned by the Soviet state during the NEP period. She writes that 'on the one hand the image of woman was re-imagined as a de-libidinalized fellow comrade, but this was combined with a continued emphasis on women's biological role as the privileged carriers of the future generation'. Proctor discusses four artworks that depict revolutionary mothers: Alexandra Kollontai's propagandistic novella Vasilisa Malygina (1923), Abram Room's film Bed and Sofa (1927), Sergei Tret'iakov's modernist play I Want a Baby! (1926) and Fyodor Gladkov's seminal novel Cement (1925). She draws out the ambivalence in these works around desire for maternity, and uses this to argue for the evolutionary mother as a 'dialectical figure' caught in a productive relation to the past that propels her towards a communist future.
As well as the substantive papers in this issue, we are delighted to be showcasing the collaborative work by sociologist Rachel Thomson and filmmaker Susi Arnott, as they create multi-media documents of everyday mothering emerging from the longitudinal Making Modern Mothers research project. The project has entailed following 60 British women who all became mothers for the first time in 2005, in some cases from pregnancy through to the children turning 8 years old. Thomson and her colleagues were concerned to try to capture a 'day in a life' of their participants by following them during an 'ordinary' day, taking photographs and writing detailed reflective fieldnotes afterwards. Looking to both animate and share their research findings with a wide and potentially new audience Thomson enlisted the film-maker Susi Arnott, and her collaborator, the photographer Crispin Hughes, to work together in a small team to create a new interactive digital way of presenting the micro-ethnographies. The results can be seen on the Making Modern Mothers website. Using the navigation tabs we are invited to choose between a visual and aural journey through the day; a photographic and audio conversation with the children about their favorite things; and more conventional written accounts by the researcher of their thoughts and impressions. The day-in-the-life interactive pages work through a visual landscape of hand-drawn maps, photographs, ambient sounds and readings of field notes. As well as inviting us to enter into the dense, layered 'field' created by mother-child-researcher embedded in specific material and discursive worlds, Thomson provides a vital set of navigation tools; a set of reflections on issues to do with the sharing of data, who controls or owns it, how it is reformed and deformed through re-use, the use of documentary aesthetics to help navigate the tensions between archiving and editing, and the uncertainties of producing research outputs for an amorphous anonymous audience.
In doing so, she offers us just the kind of thoughtful, nuanced approach to research ethics that is so necessary in researching the lives of the women and children.
Our creative writing piece for this issue is Rachel Robinson's piece, 1066, which brilliantly puts us right inside the experience of caring for a mother whose memory can no longer be relied on, and whose sense of time is in transition. Sparse to the point of hilarity, Robinson shows how the perpetual present time of dementia both reverses the mother daughter role, in which the daughter holds the mother's past where once the mother held hers, but at the same time returns us to the knots in our relationships with our mothers, and the struggle to work through in the repetitive and disordered time when memory can no longer hold the self in continuity.
In our visual section we are delighted to be publishing a series of images by Ruchika Wason Singh, created between 2002 and 2004, and an accompanying essay, 'On the Making of One's Art'. Here Singh reflects on the central form in her work, a form she derived through her observations of the landscape from the high mountains of the Indian Himalayans, but which she subsequently recognizes as a foetal form. This realization of an 'extended meaning in the form' was coupled with her discovery that she was pregnant.
Finally, we are delighted to include reviews of two edited books published last year by Demeter Press: Petra Bueskens' edited collection Mothering and Psychoanalysis: Clinical, Sociological and Feminist Perspectives reviewed by Kate Briggs; and Intensive Mothering: The Cultural Contradictions of Modern Motherhood edited by Linda Rose Ennis and reviewed by Catherine Bodendorfer Garner.
We hope you enjoy this Open Issue of Studies in the Maternal, and look forwards to hearing your thoughts and views on the MaMSIE blog.