Against Matricide: Rethinking Subjectivity and the Maternal Body

Hypatia 27 (1):118-138 (2012)
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Abstract
In this article I critically re-examine Julia Kristeva's view that becoming a speaking subject requires psychical matricide: violent separation from the maternal body. I propose an alternative, non-matricidal conception of subjectivity, in part by drawing out anti-matricidal strands in Kristeva's own thought, including her view that early mother–child relations are triangular. Whereas she understands this triangle in terms of a first imaginary father, I re-interpret this triangle using Donald Winnicott's idea of potential space and Jessica Benjamin's idea of an intersubjective space of thirdness. I argue that this space provides a maternal third term: a relation of connection and difference between two, a relation that inherits the affective, mobile, generative qualities of the maternal body as the infant (according to Kristeva) imagines it. This connecting space allows both mothers and children to emerge as subjects in their own right. I then suggest that potential-maternal space expands into language, so that language intrinsically allows the possibility of a speaking position of connection with the mother. Entrance into language need not entail separation or matricide: the problem is not language as such but the particular way that speech and logos have been defined historically
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