Friday, October 28, 2011

The call of the mother: Towards a feminist Christology (part 1)

The fetal awakening “During the course of things one comes to self-awareness. Like a sleepwalker wakes up during his walk as he bumps up against something...” (See my first post.) That’s obviously an exaggeration. In reality, man’s coming to self-awareness is a gradual process that begins in the womb and only peaks in late adulthood (to fizzle out and die in the latter part of life, at least for most people). Likewise, language – as the milieu in which consciousness is rootedis something you slowly grow into. As I said, it starts in the womb. Hearing and responding to the mother’s voice is one of the first steps towards subjectivity in the fetus, to intentionality, the subjective focus on something. As Peter Sloterdijk writes: “In listening [to the mother’s voice, PS] the ear accomplishes the primal act of the self: All later acts of I can, I want, I come necessarily hook up with this first movement of spontaneous life… This going-outside-itself is the first gesture of the subject… It accomplishes the birth of intentionality from the spirit of listening…” (Sphären I, pp.513-515) There is also an imprinting of the mother’s voice in the fetal brain, enabling the child after birth to recognize the mother’s voice and thereby laying the basis for vocal interaction with the mother and thus for linguistic competence as such (in this context Sloterdijk speaks strikingly of “acquired acoustic universals” and “Platonic ideas of hearing”Sphären I, p.518).

The good Matrix In this sense one can say that the mother’s voice calls the fetal subject into being. Should we not say then that God as the one who calls man into being is primarily a woman? From a psycho-genetic perspective, that seems a lot more obvious than the Judeo-Christian identification of God as man, as father and lord. The born child recognizes in the voice of its mother the voice that revived it in the womb. The voice of the mother evokes in the child – in a quasi-Platonic anamnesis (compare Sloterdijk on the Platonic ideas of hearing) the memory of its original milieu, the womb, the swaying warm darkness where it came into being and grew until it was ready to come into the world. This arch-memory is reinforced by drinking at the breast. The sucking child feels the warmth of its mother’s body and hears again her heartbeat, the reassuring basso continuo that accompanied the maternal soprano, singing the child awake in the womb. And while the mother’s milk satisfies the child and lures it into sleep, the child feels again always too short that oceanic” arch-feeling (Freud), that being one with the nurturing milieu from which it emerged. Isn’t then the uterus the real “divine milieu” (Teilhard de Jardin)? If man has a natural conception of God or perhaps better: an intuition, a pre-linguistic sense of God must this natural God not be a woman, the Great Mother, the Matrix? The early 19th century theologian and philosopher Schleiermacher saw the “feeling of absolute dependence” as the experiential basis of all religion. But isn’t this feeling first and foremost the oceanic feeling of the fetus in the caring milieu of the mother, whose voice calls the fetal subject into being?

The palimpsest of Genesis How strange how nightmarish is it in this regard to read Genesis, the original text of the Jewish and by extension the Christian tradition? The voice that calls man and all of creation into being (“And God said, Let there be light ...”) is here not a melodious female voice, but a heavy, menacing male voice, the voice of the Father and the Lord, the jealous God of vengeance. In light of the natural conception of God as female, reading Genesis is like looking at a beautiful woman who, when she opens her lovely mouth to speak, suddenly produces a man’s voice! Monstrous, grotesque! (Later on she even appears to have a beard ...

Thus Genesis reads like a palimpsest, a text written over on an older text, which is now hidden, erased. But scratch the top layer of ink away and you find the remains of the original text . This also holds for Genesis: Scratch the voice of God the Father away and you can again vaguely hear the voice of the Great Mother. “Adam, where are you?” God asked. And Adam replied: “Here I am.” (Genesis 3:9) Jewish philosophers like Buber and Levinas explain this passage as the founding text of the typically Jewish dialogical relationship between God and man: God calls human beings into existence, and man answers, man is the answer. Human existence is and remains answering to the original call of God. Thus it is throughout the Old Testament. Throughout the history of Israel, God intervenes and participates in the “conversation which is man” (Hölderlin). But isn’t this history based on a falsification of the beginning? The voice that calls the human being into existence is primarily not the voice of man but of woman, the mother, the original milieu of the fetus. It is the mother’s voice to which the fetus originally directs itself. That voice and the fetal response form the original text, the arch-dialogoue behind the palimpsest:Adam, where are you? Here I am.”

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