The topic of our seminars of Summer 2017 is the mother, which we will approach in our consolidated interdisciplinary way from the perspectives of psychoanalysis, feminism, literary criticism, and philosophy.
Producing a straightforward and consistent definition of maternity, motherhood, and mothering is unexpectedly difficult. What is a mother? Who is one’s mother? It is clearly not sufficient to understand her as the “female parent of a child” or “a woman in relation to her child or children”. Does woman become a mother at the moment of conception, gestation, or parturition? Or, conversely, is the mother primarily a product of complex – socially and ideologically – discursive practices that evade any strictly biological concept, or at least structurally supplement it?
Feminism in its various expressions has both contested motherhood, if not rejected it, as an oppressive apparatus of patriarchy, and saluted it as the irresistible cipher of a fundamental sexual difference to be championed. What are the philosophical, political, and aesthetical implications of these contrasting stances? How does the more and more evident decline of paternal authority influence all this?
Lacanian psychoanalysis has insisted on overcoming the alleged dichotomy between the mother as the real locus of a natural drive and the father as the symbolic site of culture and the Law. But then, quite bluntly, why is a mother irreducibly not a father, and vice versa? What is the basic symbolic function of motherhood? In what sense can we talk of a specific maternal desire that is neither masculine nor feminine and rather evokes an overwhelming and quasi-cannibalistic drive?
Like feminism and psychoanalysis, literature has long explored the love and conflicts that accompany the mother-child relationship. Can this ambivalence give rise to a specifically maternal discontent, guilt, shame, and even repulsion? How and when does a parent “fail” to be a mother? And, on the other hand, how and when is a child not “worthy” of a mother’s care? Does the representation of such tensions require particular narrative approaches that inevitably rely on an autobiographical dimension?
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