Report on ICLO-NLS Open Seminar Psychonalysis & Literature in Dialogue

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Report on ICLO-NLS Open Seminar  

9 November 2013


Saturday 9 November 2013 ICLO-NLS held an open seminar on the theme
Mother … Mother … Mothers’, structured as a dialogue between literature
and psychoanalysis.

opening the event Florencia Shanahan, Chair of ICLO-NLS, referred to
Freud and Lacan and how they both recognised that the artist was
‘ahead’, in touch with the beyond of speech and its effect on human
subjectivity. Florencia envisaged the seminar as not a scholastic
exercise but more as an attempt to create something new, which is what
art is about.

and broadcaster, Niall McMonagle, delivered a wide-ranging and
inspiring talk entitled ‘Her Voided Lap, Her Clapping Hand’ in which he
read many poems on the theme of motherhood and reflected on how these
various writers approached and presented the mother.  Niall
also led us into the visual realm presenting, in particular, a painting
by Alice Maher showing a girl peeping out from the top of a woman’s
dress.  The poetry was wide-ranging and rich, ranging through Evan Boland, Seamus Heaney, Sylvia Plath and many others.  Though
the actual volume of material presented was impressive in itself, many
of us there were moved by the Niall’s actual readings of the poems, and
this was reflected in the comments after the talk.  All manner of mothers were summoned up and brought to life by Niall and the scene was well set for an engagement with them.

Alan Rowan’s paper then looked at the question ‘What is a Mother?’ tracing the topic from Freud to Lacan.  Alan
presented Freud’s conceptualization of the mother (in The Project) as
the one who gives meaning to the cry of the child thus helping the child
to achieve symbolic identity, along with Freud’s penis envy theory
which ultimately posits motherhood as that state which fulfils every
psychical need for a woman.  Because
Lacan situated the mother-child relationship in the Symbolic he
emphasised the dialectic of desire between Mother and child and,
critically, that within this dialectic the baby is recognised as a
desiring subject.  The
paper elaborated the necessity for the mother to desire something
beyond the child and for the child to experience the mother as lacking
in order to be able to use her as a cause of its own desire.

Claire Hawkes then presented a paper on working clinically with mothers with a diagnosis of post natal depression.  Claire
made very clear the connection between the ‘care’ that baby receives
and the field of language, (both symbolic and material), in which it is
situated.  Psychoanalytic therapy with the mother allows her to situate herself, her partner and the baby within the symbolic order.  The
paper ended with a vignette from the work of C. Mathelin where the
analyst speaks directly to a distressed three month old baby, working
within the materiality of language to present the baby with an
alternative path, which allowed her calm down and sleep.

’s paper ‘Mother Ireland … The Myth’ traced the traditional
personification of Ireland as woman and mother noting how the
identification of ‘the land’ as female reinforced the view of woman as
passive and something to be possessed rather than as a speaking subject.  The conflation of ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ continued in the 1937 Irish Constitution.  However,
as Linda’s paper described, women who became mothers outside of the
strict Catholic and social norms were treated harshly and frequently
denied their rights, their babies and a voice.  The paper concluded with the present day example of the untimely death in hospital of Savita Halappanavar and her child;  perhaps her husband, Praveen’s,  desire
for truth is helping us to move from the experience of Mother as object
and allowing the singular, subjective mother to emerge.

second part of the day began with a talk from poet and novelist, Mary
, entitled ‘Mothering and Daughtering: Cryptic, Complex,
Simple’.  Using
the Demeter-Persephone relationship (and a beautiful and witty poem of
her own woven around this motif) Mary reflected on both the powerful
impact of giving birth and the transformative nature of a co-operative
mother-daughter relationship.  The emergence of the grandmother evokes the ‘daughtering’, where the mother is no longer the giver of care.  Mary’s poem ‘Mother, I am Crying’ presented the theme powerfully.  Other aspects of mother were also explored including the crone and the relationship with food (from nurture to eating disorder).  Mary ended with a poem she wrote  from a desire to console.  ‘Return to Clay’ finishes:

Lean in close, feel the strong arms

of old clay – powdered, heavy,

wet, wormed – feel                  

what knew your nature 

before you knew yourself.

spoke of ‘Things to be Born(e)’, the homophony evoking the
unconscious and the impossibility of being at one with one says or means
or is.  Acknowledging
the Freudian notion of the baby as the way in which the mother may
access the phallus the paper shows how Lacan (and Miller) went beyond
this by pointing out how the child divides maternal subject between her
being of mother and her being of woman.  This
division is crucial for if the child is to inscribe himself in
language, the mother, through her relationship with lack must find the
signifier of desire elsewhere.  Poetry
is invoked as one of the ways in which words can be used by us (each a
divided subject) to border the unbearable and, paradoxically, there
perhaps ask ‘who am I?’.

’s paper ‘Leave Her to Heaven’ focussed on a particular aspect of
Lacan’s use of ‘Hamlet’ in the 1958-59 Seminar ‘Desire and Its
Interpretation’.  The
entry into language for the child, while necessary in order for it to
find a place in the world, entails a loss of the mother as a source of
enjoyment and pleasure.  This becoming a mere effect of language and its consequences for the articulation of desire sets up the To be or not … Joanne’s
paper explored the implications for Hamlet of both his father’s death
and Hamlet’s rejection of his own object, Ophelia – leaving Hamlet to
confront the desire of the mother.

final discussion, chaired by Medb Ruane, included contributions from
the artist Jacqueline Nicholson, whose painting ‘Mourning and
Melancholia’ was used as a poster for the seminar and was exhibited in
the seminar room.  The
discussion also touched on Lacanian work with babies, the implications
for fathers and the Name of the Father, the ‘Irish Mammy’ and the
variety of family and parenting structures now in existence. We ended somehow well fed yet hungry for more.

Tom Ryan (ICLO)

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