restricted access Introduction: Maternal Literatures in Text and Tradition: Daughter-Centric, Matrilineal, and Matrifocal Perspectives
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1 Maternal Literatures in Text and Tradition: Daughter-Centric, Matrilineal, and Matrifocal Perspectives | by elizabeth podnieks and andrea o’reilly It is hard to speak precisely about mothering. Overwhelmed with greeting card sentiment, we have no realistic language in which to capture the ordinary/ extraordinary pleasures and pains of maternal work. —Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking, 29 In her introduction to The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism (1989), Marianne Hirsch queries why, in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, the voice of Jocasta, Oedipus’s mother, is missing, and she connects this narrative silence to a larger literary lacunae: “in asking where the story of Jocasta is in the story of Oedipus, I am asking not only where the stories of women are in men’s plots, but where the stories of mothers are in the plots of sons and daughters” (4). She concludes that in order “to know Jocasta’s maternal story … we would have to begin with the mother” (5). Textual Mothers / Maternal Texts begins with the mother, foregrounding how she is represented in diverse literary traditions. Our collection focuses on mother subjects and mother writers, on women who produce auto/biography, fiction , and poetry about mothering, motherhood, and being mothered, who thus engage in the process or act of textual mothering and who produce what we call, in the broadest terms, maternal texts. Textual Mothers / Maternal Texts examines how authors use textual spaces to accept, embrace, negotiate , reconcile, resist, and challenge traditional conceptions of mothering Introduction 2 elizabeth podnieks and andrea o’reilly and maternal roles, and how they offer alternative practices and visions for mothers in the present and future. In considering, further, the connections between a text and life itself, the collection examines how textual representations reflect and help to define or (re)shape the realities of women and families, and how mothering and being a mother are political, personal, and creative narratives unfolding within both the pages of a book and the spaces of a life. It illuminates how the authors and their respective protagonists “read” their own maternal identities as well as the maternal scripts of their families, cultures, and nations in their quest for self-knowledge, understanding, agency, and artistic expression. The overarching goal of Textual Mothers / Maternal Texts is to map shifts from the daughter-centric stories (those which privilege the daughter’s voice) that have, to be sure, dominated maternal traditions, to the matrilineal and matrifocal perspectives that have emerged over the last few decades as the mother’s voice—in all its rhythms and ranges—has moved slowly, as Hirsch describes, from silence to speech (16). Chapters by and about subjects from English and French Canada, the United States, Central America, Britain, Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, and Australia underscore that the collection is a timely one, bringing together a wide range of maternal scholarship in order to show how both academic and popular literary conceptions of the maternal have developed; to showcase the present status of maternal aesthetics; and to comment on the future of motherhood studies as it intersects with literature, in terms of what work is being and still needs to be done regarding maternal subjectivity. Drawing on Hirsch’s assertion that to know the mother “we would have to begin with” her story (5), Brenda O. Daly and Maureen T. Reddy emphasize, in Narrating Mothers: Theorizing Maternal Subjectivities (1991), that even of the limited number of fictional or theoretical texts that do “begin with the mother in her own right, from her own perspective,” few “seldom hold fast to a maternal perspective; further when texts do maintain this perspective, readers and critics tend to suppress the centrality of mothering” (2–3). Daly and Reddy coined the term “daughter-centricity” to describe the fact that “we learn less about what it is like to mother than about what it is like to be mothered, even when the author has had both experiences” (2). Within the last four decades, as motherhood studies has emerged as a distinct and established academic discipline, this daughter-centricity has been countered and corrected in both fiction and theory. Indeed, a central if not defining aim of motherhood studies has been to articulate and theorize “the voice of the mother”:1 toanalyze,inotherwords,becomingandbeingamotherfrom 3 introduction the perspective and subjectivity of mothers themselves. However, this task requires that we first, as Susan Maushart urges, “unmask motherhood.” To be masked in motherhood, Maushart explains, “is to deny and repress what we experience, to misrepresent it, even to...