Objects of Desire: The Child as Prosthetic Enhancement for Maternal Identity

Sallie Greenwood
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Freudian psychoanalysis understands the human relation to objects as a “relation of extension…amplifying his bodily capacities but, above all extending and cathecting the ego’s libidinal reach: in making himself more than himself”. While prosthetics are generally discussed in terms of human extension through technology, in this paper I use Freud’s and Bergson’s ideas to argue that a child is a cultural and psychic prosthetic, particularly for female subjects. Bergson (1944) differentiated between internal and external prosthetics, internal referring to instincts; animal nature. A prosthetic may also inhabit the body’s inside such as a donor organ, electrical wiring to maintain the heart’s rhythm or an artificial limb connected to the nervous system. Another living being, growing within a woman’s body might be thought of as a prosthetic if we understand prostheses as additions that augment and extend the human host. External prosthetics are those we have to learn, develop, acquire; the cultural adaptations we make to enhance animal nature. Maternal subjects undertake the work of turning themselves into ‘mothers’, a construction that varies considerably across time and place. The reward for undertaking such work is the confirmation of a sexual identity and cultural status, and simultaneously the generation of possibilities for new identity configurations. However, the work undertaken to construct oneself as ‘mother’ is hollow without the presence of a child to reflect her authenticity and in this way the child is a prosthetic object for her identity.

Keywords: Prosthesis, Maternal Subjectivity, Desire
Stream: Sexuality, Gender, Families
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: , Objects of Desire

Sallie Greenwood

Senior Lecturer, School of Health, Waikato Institute of Technology
Hamilton, New Zealand

My disciplinary location is in Critical Psychology and my professional training in Community Psychology. Currently I am teaching in undergraduate and postgraduate nursing programmes, predominantly utilising postcolonial and psychoanalytic perspectives. My research interests are varied and include a narrative exploration of the experience of attempted suicide in young women, evaluation of health services, and participatory action research. My PhD work is a poststructural exploration of maternal subjectivity through the lens of maternal doubles. I bring theory from a number locations to bare on the inquiry taking the view that the imaginary and the material intersect with each other in complex ways.

Ref: H07P0705