Our first meet is coming up
23 Feb 23!
Our first reading group meeting is coming soon, 23 February 23 at 8pm EST. For those in Montreal, if you have a suggestion where we could meet if you’d like to meet in person, let me know. Unfortunately, my place is not yet set up for lively chats after children are asleep. I’ll send the ZOOM link in a separate email.
Have you had a chance to pick up the book? If you need an e-copy, let me know. Have you seen the different covers of the different editions? The first English edition (2014) was a plain orange cover with the book title and author name, whereas the others include images. I am curious about the process of how and why the covers differ, and what they come to mean in their different contexts.
Some things I have been thinking about in my sleep-deprived state (but not at all what I wish to dominate our discussion):
Unlike some other memoirs of motherhood, I get to know Galchen but I don’t really know her by the end, I get to know her baby but not at all. Similarly to how Galchen finds herself, or how a new parent finds themselves: in an abyss of mystery, in an environment that everyone else seems to have an opinion on and advice about, yet can be wholly alienating from the self and the world. In this way, this book is not only about motherhood but about being a person in a world that doesn’t make sense.
In “Notes on some Twentieth-Century Writers” she has an annotated list of writers who had or didn’t have children. What do these examples serve for her? For us?
Galchen writes that the The Pillow Book, an influence on Little Labours, is “small as opposed to minor.” What would a ‘small literature’ in relation/or not to ‘minor literature’ look like?
The use of small and little (and the book is also tiny! fits into most pockets!) in contrast to her nickname for her baby, puma, which Wikipedia tells me is a “large, secretive cat,” that is “the most adaptable feline in the Americas.”
Galchen creates permeable/leaky boundaries around the episodes she recounts/reveals. Undergirding the vignettes and her considerations of being a mother and a writer, being a writer that has become a mother, or in some cases, being a mother who has become a writer—is how mothers are seen by others in relation to how their babies are seen. How does society change in how they understand a person with a baby? In turn, how does a mother understand society and their place once they have had a baby? Galchen’s tension in making sense of something so banal and ubiqitous (“Things that one was misleadingly told were a big part of having a baby”) yet magical and tortorous (“When the Baby Came Home”), and not at all experienced with how it is represented, is palatable at the conceptual and sentence level. For example, I’m thinking of her encounters with the elevator woman and the homeless man. They are ends to the same means.
In the most recent issue of esse, I wrote about the absurdity, joy and entaglement of Madeline Donahue’s work, that has some useful prompts in thinking about the representation of motherhood. You can read “The Mother as Anchor for Play” here. I’ve included an excerpt below:
These works depict mothering as a series of playful performative encounters that address the porous boundaries between children and their mothers. Crucially, the mother remains the central subject, often centred in the frame. However, she is immobile or still while life moves around her. She is the anchor around which childhood happens. Although this could be read as the banal trope of the invisible mother subsumed by her children, the often-abstract positioning of the children or their body parts in the frame creates a shifting perspective.
What’s captivating about these contemporary works is precisely how they reorient perspective to acknowledge and highlight the oft-cited invisibility as a reality that isn’t rooted solely in melancholy or lack.
In time for Donahue’s highly anticipated solo show, Strange Magic (2022), at Hesse Flatow in New York, the author Amil Niazi writes a love letter to Donahue’s work subtitled “Madeline Donahue captures the ecstasy and agony of being a mom,” and she isn’t alone in her reverence.
Despite the feminist interventions following Mary Kelly’s iconic Post-Partum Document (1973 – 79), when motherhood became more than a niche consideration for artists, distancing from parental obligations as a sign of elegance and seriousness of craft continues. We need more intricate representations of the abundant simultaneity of a mother’s emotions — the agony and ecstasy — of and in their bodies. Judith Butler argues, “One is not simply a body, one does one’s body.”
See you all soon (if you’ve made it this far). I am so excited to think with you! Please come with book/art ideas for the next club (~30 March 2023).