Kriteva on Motherhood and the Maternal Body

Starting Questions:

1. Stanton, Domna claims that "in their maternal metaphorizations, Irigaray, Cixous and Kristeva countervalorize the traditional antithesis that identifies man with culture and confines woman to instinctual nature, "always childlike, always savage" (Cixous 57). And they reproduce the dichotomy between male rationality and female materiality, corporeality, and sexuality. . ." Do you agree?

A. Kristeva's Key Concepts:
(From Revolution in Poetic Language)

The chora --

"Neither model nor copy, the chora precedes and underlies figuration and thus specularization, and is analogous only to vocal or kinetic rhythm. . . . Plato . . . calls this receptacle or chora nourishing and maternal. . . the place where the suject is both generated and negated, . . . We shall call this process of charges and stases a negativity. . ." (94-95)

The semiotic:
"a psychosomatic modality of the signifying process; . . . one articulating . . . a continuum: the connections between the (glottal and anal) sphincters in (rhythmic and intonational) vocal modulations, (96)

The Symbolic:
"a social effect of the relation to the other, established through the objective constraints of biological (including sexual) differences and concrete, historical family structures. " (97)

The thetic:
"All enunciation, whether of a word or of a sentence, is thetic. It requires an identification; in other words, the subject must separate from and through his image, from and through his objects." (98)

B. "Motherhood According to Bellini" in Desire in Language
(Ref. "Bellini's Madonna and Child)

image source

Bellini's work a changing relationship to the image of the mother revealed in depictions that emphasize the Madonna as "coldly distant and impassive" (253), possessive and seductive, and finally hostile. For Kristeva, the fascination with the mother-figure revolves around her investment as a "privileged space and living area" (264), the point of contact with a certain jouissance by virtue of her unique experience of connection with an other (that is, through pregnancy and childbirth), and her status as a "nature/culture threshold" (242). Such paintings are thus an effort to grasp, impossibly, "ineffable jouissance, beyond discourse, beyond narrative, beyond psychology, beyond lived experience and biography - in short, beyond figuration" (247). (source)
  1. the maternal body
    -- in two discourses -- medical and Christian theology --> the image of the mother as tenderness, love and seat of social conservation. p. 303
  • the maternal body --
  1. p. 304 always splitting
    1) unsymbolized instinctual drives vs. the mamma that 'warrants that everything is' --> symbolic coherence;
    2) a place of a splitting, a filter and a threshhold between nature and culture

    3) the heterosexual paternal facet--> to bear a child of the father (who, as devalorized man, serves to originate and justify reporductive desire)
    4)the homosexual-maternal facet of motherhood. -->p. 305 -- mother as the reunion of a woman-mother with the body of her mother.
    "The homosexual-maternal facet is a whirl of words, a complete absence of meaning and seeing; it is feeling, displacement, rhythm, sound, flashes, and fantasied clinging to the maternal body as a screen against the plunge."
    5 ) a subject in process--she is within an enceinte separating her from the world of everyone else. A tendency toward "equalization" which does not reduce "differentiations." Jouissance, an ultimate danger for identity, but also supreme power of symbolic instance thur retrning to matters of its concern. Sublimiation here is both eroticizing without residue and a disaapearance of eroticism as it returns to its source.

  2. p. 307 the Mother . . . is presumed to exist at the very place where (social and biological) identity recedes. p. 308 any negation of this utilitarian, social and symbolic aspect of motherhood plunges into regression--but a particular regression whose currently recognized manifestations lead to the . . .negation of symbolic position, and to a justification of this regression under the aegis of the same Phallic mother-screen.
  3. The language of art . . . follows (but differently and more closely) the other aspect of maternal jouissance, the sublimation taking place at the very moment of primal repression within the mother's body, arising perhaps unwittingly out of her marginal position. . . . The artist speaks from a place where she is not, where she knows not. He delineates what, in her, is a body rejoicing.
  4. the maternal function: to some extent anyone can fulfill the maternal function, men or women.

C. "Stabat Mater" from Tales of Love

1. writes of her own experience of childbirth

(p. 319) --a flow of sensations, connectedness of the child to her and its separation and her sense of emptiness.
Nights of wakefulness, scattered sleep, sweetness of the child, warm mercury in my arms, cajolery, affection, defenceless body, his or mine, sheltered, protected. A wave swells again, when he goes to sleep, under my skin - tummy, thighs, legs: sleep of the muscles, not of the brain, sleep of the flesh. The wakeful tongue quietly remembers another withdrawal, mine: a blossoming heaviness in the middle of the bed, of a hollow, of the sea...

--remembering her own mother and her hatred. (p. 325)

p. 321
"I yearn for the Law. And since it is not made for me alone, I venture to desire outside the law."

2. mythologization of Mary in three directions (pp. 313-)

1) from depriving her of sin to depriving her of death; (--> Neither Sex nor Death)
2) she needs political power (as a Queen--> Image of Power)
3) prototype of a lover relation in Western culture (in child love and courtly love).

consequences of the "virginal maternal" --

"feminine masochism," "feminine paranoia," "feminine perversion."

(pp. 328-29)
1. The Virgin assumes her feminine denial of the other sex (of man) but overcomes him by setting up a third person: I do not conceive with you but with Him. The result is an immaculate conception (therefore with neither man nor sex), conception of a God with whose existence a woman has indeed something to do, on condition that she acknowledge being subjected to it.

2. The Virgin assumes the paranoid lust for power by changing a woman into a Queen in heaven and a Mother of the earthly institutions (of the Chruch). But she succeeds in stifling that megalomania by putting it on its knees before the child-god.

3. The Virgin obstructs the desire for murder or devouring by means of a strong oral cathexis (the breast), valorization of pain (the sob) and incitement to replace the sexed body with the ear of understanding.

4. The Virgin assumes the paranoid fantasy of being excluded from time and death through the very flattering representation of Dormition or Assumption.

5. The Virgin especialy agrees with the repudiation of the other woman (which doubtless amounts basically to a repudiation of the woman's mother) by suggesting the image a A Unique Woman: alone among women, alone among mothers, alone among humans since she is without sin. But the acknowledgement of a longing for uniqueness is immediately checked by the postulate according to which uniqueness is attained only through an exacerbated masochism: a concrete woman, worthy of the feminine ideal embodied by the Virgin as an inaccessable goal, could only be a nun, a martyr or, if she is married, one who leads a life that would remove her from the 'earthly' condition and dedicate her to the highest sublimation alien to her body...

--> silence; feminine perversion.p. 330
--> left out: mother-daughter conflicts; the other sex

--> the undefinable maternal body pp. 324 -
1) separation;
2) A mother is a continuous separation, a division of the very flesh. And consequently a division of the language.
3) the abyss betewen the mother and the child. . . The child, irremediably an other.
4) Women doubtless reproduce among themselves the strange gamut of forgotten body relations with their mothers. p. 325
5) relations with the other woman. p. 326

p. 326 "Within this strange feminine see-saw that makes 'me' swing from the unnameable community of women over to the war of individual singularities, it is unsettling to say 'I' The languages of the great formerly matriarchal civilizations must avoid, do avoid, personal pronouns: they leave to the context the burden of distinguishing protagonists and take refuge in tones to recover an underwater, trans-verbal communication between bodies. It is a music from which so-called oriental civility tears away suddenly through violence, murder, blood baths. A woman's discourse, would that be it? Did not Christianity attempt, among other things, to freeze that see-saw? To stop it, tear women away from its rhythm, settle them permanent in the spirit? Too permanently . . .")

Oliver, Kelly, ed. The Portable Kristeva (updated edition). New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.