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shocked (Rachel Cusk) and enthralled (Elena Ferrante) readers simply by forcing the spotlight onto the work and complexities of mothering. But mother-writers also bring with them a fresh quality of attention. In her unprecedented exploration of maternal subjectivity, Maternal Encounters, Lisa Baraitser describes the particular sensibility of motherhood as characterised ‘not by fluidity, hybridity or flow, but by physical viscosity, heightened sentience, a renewed awareness of objects, of one’s own emotional range and emotional points of weakness, an engagement with the built environment and street furniture, a renewed temporal awareness where the present is elongated and the past and future no longer felt to be so tangible’ and, critically, ‘a renewed sense of oneself as a speaking subject.’ Upon finding herself in a new body, in a newly-configured world, the mother speaks and her voice emerges raw and strange, even and especially to herself.
By Megan Cheong
Megan is a writer, critic and teacher whose work has appeared in the Sydney Review of Books, Meanjin and Kill Your Darlings.
Yet while most definitions of creativity centre on a person’s ability to generate ideas that are both novel and useful, ideas that solve problems, my favourite conceptualisation of creativity–probably because of its pertinence to mother-artists–was developed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:
Creativity is any act, idea or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one…What counts is whether the novelty he or she produces is accepted for inclusion in the domain.
Creative work does not take place in a vacuum, and the conditions under which an idea is or isn’t realised are of equal importance to the ability to originate the idea in the first place.
The current ubiquity of books about motherhood signals a welcome shift in the ‘acceptability’ of and interest in motherhood narratives. Newly admitted into the domain of literature, mother-writers have by turns
Beneath the tired notion that women must choose between art and motherhood lies the far more exhilarating question of how a woman’s creativity might explode in motherhood. Neuropsychologist Rex Jung, who believes creativity is a survival mechanism we have developed over the millennia, hypothesises that the demands of caring for a baby kicks the brain into a kind of problem-solving overdrive. ‘In periods of extreme pressure,’ Jung theorises, ‘when mothers are going through massive changes in their bodies, diets and hormones, that is when creativity should emerge as a highly adaptive reasoning process.’
Mother-artists or artist-mothers do indeed innovate of necessity. No longer able to ‘think in any sustained way’ after becoming a mother, Jenny Offill crafted Dept. of Speculationout of the fragmented thoughts she was able to get down, producing a novel form that so profoundly reflects the ‘fractured consciousness’ of motherhood that fragmentation has become something of a convention in the genre of motherhood writing.