COWAP Revisiting the Maternal: The Maternal Death Drive
with Lisa Baraitser
This “conversation” will focus on Lisa Baraitser’s understanding of a ‘maternal death drive’. This supplements Freud’s death drive by accounting for the temporality of repetition that retains a relation to the future but remains distinct from a life drive. Maternity, and many other forms of care work that are traditionally assigned to women, fails to be indifferent to the specificity of its labor, and implies a willingness to return, again and again, to a scene that matters, a kind of repetition that is not quite captured by the death drive as excessive access to jouissance, nor to the death drive as a deviation towards a unique form of death. Rather, the maternal death drive has to do with repetition in the name of generativity, not of the self, but of the other. The return to a scene that matters is not a kind of flowing time (anyone who has spent time with small children will know this), nor the stultifying time of indifferent labor, but requires living in a suspended or crystalline time, which is the time it takes for love and hate to have a relation to one another based on guilt, and for mattering to take place. The temporal form of this ‘life in death’ is that of ‘dynamic chronicity’, analogous to late modern narratives that describe the present as ‘thin’ and the time of human futurity as running out. I argue that the urgency to act on the present in the name of the future is simultaneously ‘suspended’ by the repetitions of late capitalism, leading to a temporal hiatus that must be embraced rather than simply lamented. The maternal (death drive) alerts us to alternative ways of ‘going on’ in the suspended ‘grey time’ of an uncertain future.