O F G E N E R AT I O N : So many works in so many art forms could take this as their titles, and so many more works engage discourses and verbal traditions dealing with generation. Yet we hardly know what to do these days with works unabashedly about fecundity, Dame Nature, or procreation once we have exposed the benighted ideologies that could give rise to their intertwined appropriations, idealizings, and defenses against the maternal. This critique has been carried out brilliantly and at length in feminist theory and ethics—not least by Luce Irigaray, who has everywhere enkindled my thinking—and poetry needs to engage the critique. I take on part of this task by arguing that certain writers of antiquity, the English Middle Ages, and the English Renaissance propose vigorous alternatives to the insistent nostalgia for the maternal pervading their cultures. Since nostalgia for the lost archaic mother dominates so much recent literary-historical work through the influences of psychoanalysis and philosophy, the old poems may have something to say to us as well as to their contemporary audiences. 1.
The strongest accounts abroad today concerning maternity and ambivalence toward mothers rely upon the premise of a moment when the infant undergoes alienation from an archaic mother, or of the subject's post-oedipal fantasizing of such a moment. No matter how and when this event occurs, the loss of merger with a provident, nurturing mother is thought to haunt us, to shape our desire, to fuel our actions. From the necessary loss of mother, so this account goes, we live permanently with desire for her and dread of her mighty, procreative, and engulfing powers. The passage itself is inevitable yet always precarious, imperfectly achieved, fraught with ambivalence, subject to all kinds of fantasy elaboration. It is the sacrifice that creates culture. As psychoanalytic theorists frequently point out, the notion of merger with the mother____________________