Objects of Desire: The Child as Prosthetic Enhancement for Maternal Identity
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
Senior Lecturer, School of Health, Waikato Institute of Technology