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  • Mother Trouble
  • David Greven (bio)
Review of Andrew Parker, The Theorist's Mother, Durham: Duke UP, 2012. 200 pp.

The figure of the mother—her theoretical importance, even simply her human presence—has historically been suppressed in the fields of philosophy and psychoanalysis. As a characteristic example, Lacan's entire theory of our formation into individual subjects depends upon the rejection of the mother as we enter the "Father's" Symbolic domain of language and law. Inhabiting a pre-verbal realm of bodies and sensations, the mother is rendered a materiality that must be transcended in order to acquire patriarchal personhood, a narrative repeated in psychoanalytic literature ranging from Freud to Lacan to Kristeva. For the most part, conscientious engagement with the role and the theoretical possibilities of the figure of the mother have occurred in feminist theory, amplifying the silences about mothering in male intellectual endeavor. Andrew Parker's bracing, engaging, lucid, often thrilling study The Theorist's Mother redresses this theoretical, cultural, gendered, and emotional imbalance, putting the significance of the mother in the making of thought essential. His effort, as I will show, is valuable even though not fully successful; there is a way in which the mother gets lost even in Parker's attempt to restore or at least illuminate her presence. But this book, a bold intellectual adventure, will be required reading for anyone interested in the vagaries of the gender politics of psychoanalytic and philosophical thinking.

Discussing Simon Critchley's lack of "reflection on maternity from his discussion of the 'created character of human experience,'" Parker notes that it has the "effect of suggesting that motherhood is a kind of in human experience, alien to the forms of conceptual generality to which philosophy aspires" (3). As with Critchley, so with the other philosophers discussed here. Focusing mainly on Marx, Freud, Lukács, Lacan, and Derrida, and touching on figures such as Heidegger, Barthes, Levinas, Foucault, and Badiou, Parker does a marvellous job of evoking each thinker's work in its context and then using this evocation as the basis from which to consider [End Page 435] the shaping power of their failure to consider the mother as an autonomous being with a reality of her own, or the role that a mother who was not simply framed and then conceptually discarded as a reproductive body might play in intellectual inquiry. Even Derrida, so sensitively attuned to language and its biases, falters rather pitifully when asked about the mother's significance to philosophy, or, more specifically, "what philosopher would you have liked to be your mother?" (5).

The Introduction, "Philosophy's Mother Trouble," lays the groundwork effectively and provocatively. The tour Parker provides here of lapses in philosophical thinking on the mother, such as Derrida's, exposes some key blind spots: the emphasis on thinking of the mother as "One": one person, one figure, one experience, in a word, monolithic; the tendency to view the mother as being exactly as one perceives her to be, and not an assumption or a projection; the failure to understand that "multiple from the outset, the mother exceeds her traditionally derogated role as the father's counterpart, unsettling the binary logic modeled on their relationship" (17). Because of these biases, mother trouble abounds.

The Introduction also provides incisive snapshots of feminist theory, which has some lapses of its own, such as Julia Kristeva's pronouncement that she will speak for the Mother, as if there were only one. A definite weakness of the book is that this well-informed dialogue with feminist theory is not sustained; one longs for a discrete chapter in which Parker works through the equally conflicted and various accounts of the mother in feminist thought.

Chapter 1, "Reading, Teaching, and 'Maternal Divination,'" focuses on Lacan. Parker considers, for example, Lacan's cryptic reference to "maternal divination" in his reading of the famous fort/da moment from Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle in which the child throws and retrieves a spool out of his (or her) crib in order to manage the experience of the mother's absence and return. "I, too, have seen with my own eyes," writes Lacan, "opened by maternal divination [la...


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pp. 435-438
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