A series of personal difficulties has made it all but impossible to write as of late, so this tentative provisional series of reviews is a way to force myself to write again. Currently unable to write on the topics and in the style of my past writing, I’m trying to tether myself to that world by posting on a book that I believe is both intensely interesting as well as vitally important to culture generally and Mormon culture specifically. The book is Coming to Life: Philosophies of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mothering. It’s a compilation of essays by various authors (all women) and edited by Sarah LaChance Adams and Caroline R. Lundquist. From the Amazon summary:
Coming to Life does what too few scholarly works have dared to attempt: It takes seriously the philosophical significance of women’s lived experience. Every woman, regardless of her own reproductive story, is touched by the beliefs and norms governing discourses about pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering.The volume’s contributors engage in sustained reflection on women’s experiences and on the beliefs, customs, and political institutions by which they are informed. They think beyond the traditional pro-choice/pro-life dichotomy, speak to the manifold nature of mothering by considering the experiences of adoptive mothers and birthmothers, and upend the belief that childrearing practices must be uniform, despite psychosexual differences in children. Many chapters reveal the radical shortcomings of conventional philosophical wisdom by placing trenchant assumptions about subjectivity, gender, power and virtue in dialogue with women’s experience.
As far as Mormon culture is concerned, I think this book provides a fresh and useful framework for considering contemporary ideas we have regarding the three concepts in the title. Mormon feminism has become more relevant than ever, as much for the recent explosion of various ways to creatively articulate it as how much it is becoming increasingly vital in the individual lives of women and men throughout the culture. Even so, attempts to think philosophically and with other traditions about these concepts we think we thoroughly understand are few and far in between. In fact, if anyone should have philosophers at the forefront of thinking seriously about pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering, it is the Mormons, and as of yet (and probably unsurprisingly) no one has theorized a rigorous Mormon philosophy of maternity (not to mention philosophies of nearly everything else). That being said, this book is a complex philosophical examination of maternity, one that follows other sophisticated philosophical studies on these themes (see, e.g.,here and here). Of course you should read the book if you can, but at minimum I’m hoping that offering these posts (1 per chapter, 14 chapters in all) can serve as a starting point for discussion in other forums, particularly for serious-thinking people concerned with thinking more deeply about these issues. My other reason for doing so is that these essays are densely philosophical, and for the most part presume a familiarity with continental philosophy. I’ll chime in here and there with a little explanation, links, and some of my own thoughts, but mostly these posts will consist of accessible summaries of the chapters in the book. I am not, after all, an expert in feminist philosophies and also a man to boot, so I don’t want to over-interpret, mis-interpret, or under-interpret more than is absolutely necessary. Continue reading