Creature of Theory: Maternity amongst the Ghosts and Strangers

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“Creature of Theory: Maternity amongst the Ghosts and Strangers” uses a personal account of the maternal relation to disrupt conventional narratives of birth. Typically, birth is understood to be a discrete, singular event of origin and genesis that closely binds woman and child. This understanding constrains definitions of maternity and regulates political and philosophical assumptions of belonging. “Creature of Theory” challenges this view, joining personal anecdote and critical theory in a phenomenology of maternity that foregrounds the repetitions and hauntings of birth, undoing the temporalities and identities this act is presumed to produce. Drawing on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s “The Intertwining—The Chiasm” and other highly influential philosophical arguments on touch, this dissertation suggests that moments of skin-to-skin repeat and replace birth as a site of origin, while troubling the body’s material bounds. Along with Merleau-Ponty, it uses Jacques Derrida’s theory of hospitality to emphasize the strangeness of the infant, transforming maternity into an encounter characterized by haunting and strange dwelling. In addition, this dissertation brings together Elissa Marder’s concept of photographic writing and Michel Foucault’s notion of care of the self to describe how the act of writing recreates the effects of birth, complicating its singularity and naturalness. By challenging common understandings of birth, “Creature of Theory” alleviates concerns of essentialism in relation to the subject of maternity and resists its political appropriation. Moreover, the chiasmic modes of subjectivity that “Creature of Theory” describes alter and expand the time and space of ethical encounter. This phenomenology not only challenges dominant ideologies and representations of motherhood, but it also re-frames highly influential theory, showing its place in this intensely close and tactual relation.

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English literature; Birth; Critical Theory; Dwelling; Maternity; Touch; embodiment; Philosophy; Gender studies


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Juffer, Jane A.

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Farred, Grant Aubrey
Hodzic, Saida

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English Language and Literature

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Ph. D., English Language and Literature

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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