The Theorist’s Motherby: Andrew Parker
Having invited Elissa Marder and Andrew Parker to review each other’s books about mothers in critical theory, the editors of The Los Angeles Review of Books learned that the authors had become good friends since they discovered their common maternal interest. Since friends, as a rule, do not review each other’s work, they offered instead to experiment with a collaborative hybrid form — part analysis and part dialogue — as told to, and through, the editors. What follows is the result.
IT WAS NEW YEAR'S EVE in New York City. After what had been years (if not decades) of gestation, Elissa Marder’s book The Mother in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Psychoanalysis, Photography, Deconstruction was finally ready to go to press. Sometime around midnight at a party densely populated by theoretically inclined academics, Elissa bumped into Andrew Parker (whom she had known by reputation but had never met) and they struck up a conversation. They began talking, as one does on such occasions, about their recent work. Elissa doesn't remember who was first to utter the word “mother,” but she soon learned that Andy had also just completed a new book about mothers and theory entitled The Theorist's Mother. They soon discovered that their two mother books were in the exact same state of completion and were due to be published within weeks of one another. Their mothers had been, as it were, separated at birth. So, as the new year settled in, Elissa and Andy began a conversation — about mothers, about books, and about theory — that has continued ever since.
After the initial shock (“but that's my mother book you’re talking about!”) wore off, the two resolved to read each other's books. When they did, they were both struck by the following two thoughts: first, although they share many theoretical premises drawn from deconstruction, feminism and psychoanalysis, their books are also very different from one another; and second, the very fact that both of them wrote books devoted to thinking about the place of the mother within critical theory, at the very same time, must also say something about the timeliness of the topic itself. One of the main threads running through Andy’s book is the notion, inspired in part by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, that because the very category of “mother” is irreducibly plural (who can say for sure who a mother is, or what a mother does?), there is, as he puts it, always “more than one mother.” Given that there is always “more than one mother,” why not have more than one mother book with which to engage that irreducible plurality?
The fact that both Elissa and Andy had just completed theoretical books about mothers wasn’t coincidence enough. No, they also chose sculptures by the artist Louise Bourgeois for the covers of their books. Andy selected Blind Man’s Buff (1984), a highly tactile marble sculpture whose impossibly numerous breast-like protuberances mounted on a headless, phallic torso seemed, he thought, a wry if unsettling take on what theorists want from their mothers. Elissa picked a photograph of Cell (Eyes and Mirrors), part of a series of installations that Bourgeois worked on from 1989-1993. A wire-mesh cube with partially glassed-in walls, Cell puts on display a number of mirrors of different shapes and sizes, wit...read more