Ursula Del Aguila — The Maternal Body of Philosophy’s original matricide

The History of Philosophy is the exemplary scene of representation regarding Sameness. Women have entered that scene in a truncated way: their bodies were defining themselves entirely whereas the masculine subject was showing off his splendor and integrity through the Father, the Logos of the Western Reason, the spiritual power extraneous to embodied humanity. This scene is the scene of one gender only, not of the two. “I believe that a lack of respect for the identity or subjectivity of each one is the most important fault since this amounts to a kind of murder: a spiritual murder, the most serious murder and also the most serious suicide” (See Luce Irigaray, ‘Towards Divine in the Feminine’, in Women and the Divine, ed. Gillian Howie, Palgrave, 2009, p. 15).

Philosophy has destroyed the maternal genealogy — in its truly philosophical and loving meaning. Luce Irigaray has described such mechanism by arguing that this destruction of maternal ascendance amounts to the “appropriation of the relationship to the origins, to the desire for origins”. Isn’t this the definition of philosophy — the desire for origin? The Desire at the origin of everything, of Everything? This “origins” for Luce Irigaray is the meeting between the two genders: “They represent the two parts of the human species who have to enter into relation while respecting their difference, which allows them to pass from simple naturality to spirituality” (see Irigaray, Miles and Harrington, A Feminine Figure in Christianity, in Luce Irigaray, Conversations, Continuum, New York, 2008, p. 89). According to Luce Irigaray, the “origins” could be found in the meeting between two genders, but in order to understand the mystery of such an encounter, we shall embrace the path of the sameness again by revisiting the male Western philosophical tradition – what we can just announce here to go directly to our goal. According to us, these “origins” rest on the hidden and recovered maternal body. Thus, the specificity of the maternal body makes men completely dependent on women. “A woman is born of a woman, of someone of her gender, whereas a man is born of someone of another gender than himself; a woman can engender in herself like her mother, whereas a man engenders outside of himself; a woman can nourish with her body, whereas a man nourishes only thanks to his work; a woman can engender in herself the masculine and the feminine, whereas a man, in fact, intervenes as man above all by engendering the masculine” (see Luce Irigaray, ‘Towards Divine in the Feminine’, p. 14).

Mankind can perpetuate itself thanks to the female womb, although nowadays if men could have an artificial womb, they would easily free themselves from the subordination to the female body.

Traditional philosophy has therefore been the theater of the fantastical womb, that is to say, the place for the reproduction between male subjects through the conceptual power of the spirit (a substitute for the womb according to Giulia Sissa in The Soul is a female body (see Giulia Sissa, L’âme est un corps de femme, Odile Jacob, 2000)). This could be a definition of the “maïeutics” (the art of midwifery) between Socrates and his disciples. This process of transferring and emptying the real womb to create a symbolic spiritual womb is particularly visible in Plato’s idea about the “Chora” in the Timaeus (see Platon, Timée, Les Belles Lettres, 2002). For Plato’s, the Chora is the universal nurse, the one who receives the living being primar to God. It is there first to explain life. Is there a more obvious and yet metaphorical way of describing the physical and natural female womb? With the Chora Plato positions the womb in an idealized way.

It is therefore in Western philosophy that the maternal body has been disembodied by erasing its physical reality in order to give it a purely abstract meaning. As another example: the matricide is also found in the transformation of the Greek Goddess of the habitat “Hestia”, of the hearth (fireplace) spatially situated into the Ousia, an essence, a pure idea. The Greek Goddess has lost her fireplace meanwhile she lost her body and physical reality. The idea of Ousia has taken the real two dimensions of the being, the spiritual and the natural. Ousia is the philosophical idea of the Being of things.

Nowadays, we are witnessing the continuation of the logic which leads to the gradual disappearance of the maternal body and, more globally, of sexuate difference. There is a becoming-man as becoming neutral from the metaphysics to the actual biotechnologies. It also happens through the queer theories that claim the “multiple” essence of the subject, which is another name to express Oneness. Aristotle recognizes the role and function of the womb in the begetting process, in On the Generation of Animals, but he depreciates it, opening the long tradition of depreciation of the feminine. The Christian theology has really invented a new concrete place for motherhood and the maternal body through the virginal body of Mary. The philosophy of Sade, for its part, has opened a new time of profanation of the maternal body while the century of Lights and its industrialization have started to transform the human body into a sexual (and not sexuate) machine.

We therefore need to exhume the materiality of the sexed body, so that the real being-two of humanity can finally exist. If not, today’s biotechnologies risk to achieve the process of disappearance that is now increasing with the research on the artificial womb.

The only possibility for creating a new world and a new philosophy is to let feminine subjectivity take its place in philosophical thought with its specificity in both senses: the physical and the spiritual aspects of the feminine subject. This feminine subject has always been defined in relation to “being-with” Otherness in a dependent and emphatic bond. The feminine subject should start thinking from her inner self and give values, judge and evaluate things from a divine point of view because her true self has been cut off from spirituality for centuries which means also the capability of rejoining herself through her self-affection to avoid asphyxia and mental dependency on the mother.