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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

Extract

: Kittens and Kids One early June morning, I walked down the stairs of my house to learn that one of our cat’s five-week-old kittens had died. My three-year-old daugh- ter Yasmin came down and for some time looked silently at the dead kitten on the carpet. E adesso che facciamo? (“And what shall we do now?”), she asked me. It was at that moment that I understood the powerful impact of culture on our attitudes and emotions with regard to so-called “natural” phenomena as birth and death. My child wanted to know how to deal with death and only started to cry when I told her that it was a sad thing to lose a kitten, or even people through death, although it belonged to life. Basically, this work tries to explore some answers to the question of how meaning is given not to death but to childbirth. That is to say, in relation to childbirth it deals with my daughter’s question: E adesso che facciamo?

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