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Mother Trouble


Griselda Pollock

About Griselda
Griselda Pollock is Professor of Social and Critical Histories of Art and Director of the Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory and History at the University of Leeds. A veteran feminist theorist, art historian and cultural analyst, author of over twenty books and more than a hundred chapters and articles on the relations between sexual difference and aesthetics, cultural practices and gender, and the social and psychic formations of meanings and affects, her recent publications include edited collections: Psychoanalysis and the Image (Routledge, 2006), Encountering Eva Hesse (Prestel, 2006, co-edited with Vanessa Corby), Conceptual Odysseys (2007 I B Tauris), The Sacred and the the Feminine: Îmagination and Sexual Difference (2007, co-edited with Victoria Turvey Sauron) Bluebeard's Legacy: Death and Secrets from Bartók to Hitchcock ( 2008,I B Tauris, co-edited with Victoria Anderson) and her monograph Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum: Time, Space and the Archive (Routlege, 2007).  Forthcoming is Theatre of Memory: Contemplating the Deaths of Others in Charlotte Salomon's Life? or Theatre? (Yale University Press)  an Reading Van Gogh: Memory and Place in Modern Times (Thames and Hudson) and After-images /After-affects Trauma and Aesthetic Inscription and Encryption in the Virtual Feminist Museum (The Slade Lcctures at Cambridge, 2007-8).
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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), pp.1–31. DOI:
Published on 01 Jan 2009.
Peer Reviewed


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