The Name of the Mother: Writing Illegitimacy

The Name of the Mother: Writing Illegitimacy

The Name of the Mother: Writing Illegitimacy

The Name of the Mother: Writing Illegitimacy

Synopsis

In this original and highly accomplished study, Marie Maclean studies the writings of social rebels and explores the relationship between their personal narratives and illegitimacy. The case studies which Maclean examines fall into four different groups which: * stress alternative family structures and `female genealogies' * pair female illegitimacy and revolution * question the deliberate refusal of the name of the father by the legitimate * study the revenge of genius on the society which excludes it. Skilfully interweaving feminist theory, French literary criticism, social and cultural history, deconstruction and psychoanalytic theory, Maclean traces the place of these personal narratives of illegitimacy in history and theory, from Elizabeth I to Freud, Sartre and Derrida.

Excerpt

Writers generalise from personal experience, but they also need to mythologise that experience in order to give it meaning. This mythologisation is one of the ways of justifying both existential necessity and existential choice. In writing this work, I am just as much a prey to this phenomenon as are Christiane Olivier and Dorothy Dinnerstein in their totally different readings of mother-child relationships. We each speak from our own lived context and our particular, and widely different, geographical and historical dilemmas.

I have come to distrust generalisations, and particularly those based on the assumption of the ‘naturalness’ of the so-called nuclear family, because I came from a radically different background. Born by the loving choice of a determinedly single mother in a period when this was generally not considered an option, I have found, particularly as my age and experience increased, that other people’s reactions and assumptions were simply not mine, that discourse which appeared inevitable to those raised in a nuclear family was a matter of debate to me, and that, while some of my gendered positions were the same as those of other women, others were radically different.

It seemed to me worthwhile to examine the writing, the discourses and particularly the rebirth into the symbolic which occurs in the autobiographical or para-autobiographical texts of those to whom illegitimacy, real or assumed, becomes not a negative but a positive experience, not a disabling but an enabling context. My hypothesis was that there existed forms of ‘minority-becoming’ which could be traced in the personal writings of those who assumed the name of the mother, not as a burden but as a challenge.

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