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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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III. Symbolic Patterns of Childbirth


III. Symbolic Patterns of Childbirth Childbirth can acquire manifold meanings in myths, philosophy, literature and religion some of which here will be grouped together and explored as symbolic patterns. Four of these symbolic patterns have been chosen for analysis and can be traced through space and time: 1. The supremacy of the male 2. Theoretical, spiritual and political natality versus childbirth 3. The supremacy of the female 4. Harmony between spiritual/theoretical natality and childbirth These four ways of accessing giving birth through different registers are not randomly grouped together, but are assumed to be linked by an inter- nal logic based on the conception of childbirth outlined in the previous chapter. On the grounds of Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of natality it was possible to place childbirth (primary natality) on one line with the think- ing activity of the mind, the performance of great deeds and a spiritual rebirth due to religious experiences. All these realms are ways of access- ing a beginning and a mortal immortality. The link between primary natality and “mortal immortality” may explain one peculiar phenomenon in the history of thought regarding our topic, namely the symbolic exclusion or devaluation either of the role of the male or of the role of the female sex in relation to the birth of chil- dren (symbolic patterns 1 and 3). Such a way of symbolically attributing childbirth more to the man, or more to the woman, may be considered an endless symbolic contention over the question of which body...

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