We are all born. Hannah Arendt suggests that the absence of this primary fact from histories of thought represents a significant lacuna in political and philosophical traditions. For Arendt natality, the capacity to begin, is the foundational fact of all thought, all politics and all action. Without some fundmental understanding of the place of birth, there can, she suggests, be no social change, no human future. Arendt’s insistence on thinking birth as the basis for politics is radical in the context of a European tradition so overwhelmingly preoccupied with death, terror and mourning. Perhaps in Arendt’s natal thinking lie the seeds of an alternative, future-orientated politics that might challenge the predominant neo-liberalism – an ideology that Lauren Berlant eloquently describes as ‘the capitalist destruction of life in the project of making value’ (2007: 282). [...] This special issue emerged out of a workshop, Maternal Bodies (2005) and a conference Birth (2007), organized by Caroline Gatrell and myself at Lancaster University. The articles and shorter papers introduce a selection of current feminist work on the maternal and birth. Important and established scholars, such as the art theorist Rosemary Betterton and geographer Robyn Longhurst, appear alongside early career scholars and artists. All of the contributions in this issue are concerned, in different ways, with the representation of birth and questions of maternal agency. How can birth be thought and visualized differently? As the (problematic) cyclical stucture of feminist work in this field might suggest, these questions have been explored in some depth in feminist theory and art practices from the 1970s onwards. However, I want to imagine that a shift is taking place; a movement from an abject aesthetics towards the creation of a ‘life-full’ natal aesthetics that cannot be subsumed back within deathly abject paradigms (see Tyler, 2009)
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