Saturday, August 30, 2008

My Relational Process

I left academia because I worked myself silly, researched myself nearly into the ground. I slept for four hours per night. I was exhausted and not sure how our family would be able to sustain two academics.

But I didn’t leave academia because I didn’t like literary theory. I actually quite liked it. It was one of my focus areas for my M.A. exam.

Lately, while searching for places to submit my writing, I’ve stumbled upon some calls for papers in an area that wasn’t on my radar back when I was getting my Master’s in English: academic writing about mothering. And I’ve got to say, it’ s pretty interesting. But having gained eight years and two kids worth of perspective since I abandoned the proverbial ivory tower, the word play and jargon in this description made me laugh:

While much of Western thought has celebrated the splitting of women’s identity into “mother” or “other”—the perception that women cannot be both—re-thinking mothering from the perspective of “performativity” recognizes the relationality between mother and other. When mothering is conceived of as performative it becomes an active practice de-centering the notion that motherhood is passive and static. Performativity shifts our attention from motherhood as biological, selfless, and existing prior to culture, to a practice that is always incomplete, indeterminable, and vulnerable. A relational understanding of m/othering opens up the possibility of an ethical form of exchange between self and other and allows us to understand the maternal subject as engaged in a relational process which is never complete and which demands reiteration. M/othering as performance contains the potential for a disruption of dominant discourses on maternity and thereby makes room for maternal agency. This re-conceptualization of m/othering refuses to be split, while also remaining ambivalent.

Now that I’ve read it about four times, though—I’ve gotten slower with my advancing age and kid-riled brain—I’m starting to get pulled back in. Really, who can resist such a playful idea: the m/other. I might even submit something. Of course, there’s the little problem of my curriculum vitae. It isn’t exactly impressive. But hey, I’ve been busy. I’ve been engaged in a relational process which is never complete and which demands reiteration. Darn laundry.


Nancy said...

The language here reminds me of Mary Daly in Gyn/Ecology (which has little to do with gynecology). You might also be interested in this book - one of my "working mom" friends is the first editor:

I think, if you go into this field, that having left academia for a bit might be all to the good. I get the impression it is a field with a lot of internal squabbling. Maybe all those children are a bad influence! :)

Cary Milkweed said...

That description stirs up a weird mix of feelings for me, not the least of which is dismay at how I need to read it over again, too! I love the term "m/other"-- God Bless you, literary theorists-- and Ser, I think you should go for it, if you're feeling called towards that kind of writing!

I'm afraid my days in academia are long gone, though. The lack of hands-on practicality drove me mad and, eventually, out. (Well, that plus other things.) I can't theorize about poverty and otherness without eventually wanting to DO something to help. It's the "doing something" I envision as a future career after my diaper days.

so yung wilson said...

There has to be a better way of describing what they're trying to say ... or let me clarify, what I think they're trying to say. Maybe the feminists movement has been good in that some women who can make the choice to be "full-time" mothers, conscientiously do so and come at mothering as an occupation, a career, instead of as a default biological role. And maybe parenting in general has become more conscientious as they suggest ... just as cooking, home-keeping, gardening, interior decorating have become a choice amongst us lay folks thanks to Julia, Martha, Food Network, and HGTV. Maybe we've just elevated these former givens to idols because we have the time, money, inclination, and TV to show us how to worship. M/othering as the new idol of our time? I don't know but hey, why not heap one more thing on the consciences of American mothers?

Will love to read your new papers when they're published even if it takes me a minimum of a dozen reads and 56 days to minimally comprehend the treatise!

Here's to academia!

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