Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Alienation by the observation of an other (quote from Carrie Pemberton)

"As a woman who had birthed five children, literally under the male obstetric gaze, I had been surveyed, noted, measured, scanned, calibrated and monitored in a hitherto unprecedented manner. My body was both an intimate arena of new conversation between myself and the child who was becoming, and an incubator for a scientific quest which had nothing to do with my relational inter-subjective life with my child. With every injection, urine sample, weight check and pelvic measurement I experienced my bloated body undergoing personal erasure as the scientific gaze scanned me in every detail but lost my subjectivity. I felt objectified, and my sensate intimacy with my child diminished, as s/he withdrew into uterine secrecy. Even though she kicked and swirled inside, my own knowledge of her passed ineluctably from myself, her conceiving and birthing mother, to those who charted units of blood, urine, fats, sugar, hormones. This is modern knowledge. This is what it is to be.

"Irigaray's analysis of the differences between women in their places assigned by men, as mother, whore, virgin, alienated, literally thrust or torn apart by the phallogocratic order in which she abides, resonated deep inside me. I ached with the hole in my persona left behind by the crisis of childbirth, and I was lacerated by cool obstetric observations of my 'incompetence', from the incompetence of uterine contractions, to the difficulties presented by 'inverted' nipples. I was left in no doubt as to the frailty of my female flesh. And yet I had birthed: gloriously, outrageously, divinely. A competence essentially sexed outside of the male domain. Yet I felt displaced.

" 'Woman has not yet become subject. She has not yet taken her place. And this is a result of a historical condition ... for woman is still the place, the whole of a place in which she cannot take possession of herself' [...] 'scattered into x number of places that are never gathered together into anything she knows of herself ... and yet these remain the basis of reproduction in all its forms' (Irigaray 1994:227) [...]

"As I settled into research soon after the birthing of my last child, and read Irigaray for the first time, I realized that my mandate from my supervisor to research, chronicle and abstract theological themes and concerns in the work of certain African women theologians had some disturbing reminiscences of my own recent experience of alienation by the observation of an other. I, the alienated, was in the process of de-subjectifying those whom I was researching [...] I too was in danger of ripping apart, dissecting and scattering whilst the objectified subjects of my enquiry were rendered inert. How was the violation to be averted, and the touching of lips, the jouissance of life, the interplay of subjects to be manifest?" (Pemberton 2005:250-251)
Pemberton, Carrie. 2005. Whose face in the mirror? Personal and post-colonial obstacles in researching Africa's contemporary women's theological voices. In Gender, religion and diversity: Cross-cultural perspectives (eds) Ursula King and Tina Beattie, 250-261. London and New York: Continuum.

Irigaray, Luce. 1994. Speculum of the other woman, trans. Gillian Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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