ABSTRACT

In an essay on the maternal metaphor in the work of Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva,1 I proposed that “the maternal” be displaced from metaphor to metonymy, which I assimilated to synecdoche. I argued that this move would promote a shift from the obsessive preoccupation with “difference from” the paternal-masculine, which underlies the counter-valorization of the maternal-feminine, to plural “differences within” a woman and among women, many of whom might reject motherhood. Moreover, since metonymy, in Lacan’s formulation, and in contrast to metaphor, evokes lack of essence and thus the more numerous elements that are missing from being; and since it further figures the displacement of the subject’s desire along an indefinite chain of signifiers, this trope favors historical explorations of other desirable known and unknown female functions, beyond the preoedipal, giving, lovingly nurturing, amniotically fluid, unbounded mother in Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva, and in some American feminists, such as Rich, Chodorow and Ruddick. Finally, I suggested that because of metonymy’s association with contiguity and contexture, a focus on its processes would favor more concrete or, as Jakobson would have it, more “realistic” inscriptions of the maternal.2 These would be grounded in shifting socio-historical discourses, permeated by the dynamics of dominant and counter-dominant norms, in contrast to the untainted origin, isolated in a virgin black continent, the unbounded force of subversion that the maternal female has symbolized on both sides of the Franco-American disconnection.3