Motherhood: A Site of Repression or Liberation? Kristeva and Butler on the Maternal Body
Fanny Söderbäck recently finished her dissertationTime for Change: On Time and Difference in the Work of Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray at The New School for Social Research (USA). She received an MA in Comparative Literature at Södertörn University (Sweden) in 2003. In 2010-11 she will be holding a position as Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Siena College (USA). She is the editor of Feminist Readings of Antigone (forthcoming with SUNY Press in 2010).
In her reading of Julia Kristeva in Gender Trouble, Judith Butler speaks of a ‘compulsory obligation on women’s bodies to reproduce.’ She raises what I see as two major concerns: first, she is skeptical of the subversive potential and emancipatory status of the semiotic as articulated by Kristeva; and second, she worries that Kristeva’s alleged attempts to delimit “maternity as an essentially precultural reality” will lead to a reification of motherhood that precludes “an analysis of its cultural construction and variability.” While I think Butler’s worries are important ones, I argue that she misses the target due to some fundamental misconceptions of Kristeva’s thoughts that run through her analysis. This paper argues that Kristeva – who has been criticised by feminists for her consistent emphasis on the maternal – by no means reduces woman to the biological function of motherhood but that, rather, she returns to the maternal body partially to free women from this very reduction. The maternal body to which Kristeva urges us to return must, I argue, be understoodqua temporalisation: that to which we return is temporal, moving, displacing, renewing. The return, as I see it, is neither nostalgic nor aimed at preserving some essential notion of motherhood – it is one that makes possible new beginnings, allowing for a future pregnant with change and transformation.