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Symbolic Patterns of Childbirth

Anja Hänsch

This study investigates long-lasting cultural constructions of childbirth. Four symbolic patterns of childbirth emerge from the analysis of a variety of texts ranging from myths, philosophy, literature and religion to ethics of modern medicine. On a symbolic level «The Supremacy of the Male» attributes the coming into existence of a child primarily to male «pro-creation.» «The Supremacy of the Female», contrarily, relates childbirth to conception, pregnancy and giving birth on part of the woman. «Theoretical, Spiritual and Political Natality versus Childbirth» pictures childbirth as lower in value as the realms of ideas, religion, the political or the arts. In contrast to this, «Harmony between Spiritual/Theoretical Natality and Childbirth» shows that spiritual birth and childbirth can also be intertwined. It is argued that different symbolic patterns of childbirth may imply different gender relations and different views on «life» in general. The theoretical part of the book is based on Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of natality and on Martin Heidegger whose ideas on death are used for a philosophical conception of the woman giving birth.

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Preface..................................................................................................... 13 Acknowledgements ................................................................................. 15 I. Childbirth as Symbolic Patterns, Experience and Performance ....................................................................... 19 II. A Conception of Childbirth ...................................................25 1. The Paradigm: Hannah Arendt’s Philosophy of Natality ..... 25 1.1 Primary, Political, Theoretical and Spiritual Natality: Four Ways of Accessing a Beginning ...... 26 1.2 Natalities and Immortalities ................................... 30 2. Childbirth, Sex and Gender ................................................. 34 3. Conceiving of the Birthgiving Woman ................................ 37 3.1 From an Existential Definition of Death to an Existential Definition of Giving Birth ............... 37 3.2 Thrownness and Anxiety .......................................41 3.3 Pain as Disclosing Mystery, Standstill and Non-Relationality............................................. 43 III. Symbolic Patterns of Childbirth ............................................ 47 III.1 The Supremacy of the Male ..................................................... 49 1.1 Creation as Procreation in Egyptian Cosmogony ................ 50 1.2 The Twelfth Tablet of the Gilgamesh-Epic .......................... 53 1.3 Hesiod: On Anadyomène ..................................................... 56 1.4 Genesis: Woman of Man Born ............................................ 57 1.5 The Genealogies of the Old Testament and of Prophet Muhammad ................................................. 58 1.6 Mimesis: The Births of Athena and Dionysos ..................... 60 10 1.7 The Semen and the Stars: Aristotle’s De Generatione Animalium and the Gender of Pneuma ..... 64 1.8 Foundations for a “Dubious” Supremacy of the Male: Tertullian and Augustine on the Transmission of Original Sin ......................................................................... 73 1.9 On the Heels of Aristotle: The Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas ....................... 79 1.9.1 From “Semen and the Stars” to “Semen and Sin” ..... 79 1.9.2 The Agency of the Holy Ghost .................................. 83 1.9.3 Reflections on Male Divinities Intervening into Women’s Wombs ....................................................... 85 1.10 The Divine in the Prophet: The Procreation of Muhammad in the Sirat of Ibn Hisham........................... 87...

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