The ontology of the maternal: A response to Adriana Cavarero
Alison Stone is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Lancaster University and is the author of Petrified Intelligence: Nature in Hegel's Philosophy (SUNY Press, 2004), Luce Irigaray and the Philosophy of Sexual Difference (Cambridge University Press, 2006) and An Introduction to Feminist Philosophy (Polity Press, 2007). She is currently working on a book called Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and Maternal Subjectivity, which is forthcoming with Routledge.
In this article I engage critically with the approach to mothering and the maternal adopted by the Italian feminist philosopher Adriana Cavarero in her recent work. Cavarero considers the maternal in relation to the human condition understood as a condition of natality and relationality. I suggest that this is an original and helpful approach, but I raise some critical questions. Asking how far Cavarero is faithful to Hannah Arendt, I suggest that her reading of Arendt is transformative. I then question Cavarero's apparent focus on the mothering of sons, rather than daughters. I ask whether, in seeking to re-value and re-interpret the maternal, Cavarero inadvertently reinforces the gender division of labour under which women generally remain the primary child-carers. Finally, I explore Cavarero's view that ambivalence is integral to mothering, as rooted in the human condition. Ultimately, Cavarero treats ambivalence as a possibility inherent in mothering, but one that the good mother does not allow herself to realise. Referring to Euripides' Medea, I appraise maternal ambivalence more positively.