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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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II. A Conception of Childbirth


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1. The Paradigm: Hannah Arendt’s Philosophy of Natality

Hannah Arendt is most probably the only philosopher who has introduced birthgiving as a central category of philosophical and political thought.18 Although scattered in her work, her conception of natality is omnipresent in her thinking. This is why Hannah Arendt’s work is an ideal point of departure for any investigation into birthgiving/procreation. An excellent study by Patricia Bowen-Moore on Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of natality19 has allowed Arendt’s reflections on the topic to be systematized and thus to be evidenced as an underlying principle of her thought. According to Bowen-Moore, by natality Arendt describes three human experiences: “Factual natality – birth into the world; political natality – birth into the realm of action; and theoretical natality – birth into the timelessness of thought.”20

Hannah Arendt’s importance to the symbolic patterns of childbirth lies in her having placed primary natality among political and theoretical natality, all three being different ways of accessing a beginning. Her reflections can be connected to all four symbolic patterns of childbirth to be presented here but are particularly helpful for understanding “Theoretical, Spiritual and Political Natality versus Childbirth.” ← 25 | 26 →

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