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Cristina M a z z o n i
222
PREGNANT BODIES OF KNOWLEDGE:
ITALIAN NARRATIVES OF FETAL M O V E M E N T
(1880's-1920's)
P
aolo Mantegazza, the most popular medical intellectual of turn-ofthe-century Italy, begins the chapter on m o t h e r h o o d of his
successful manual Fisiologia della donna (1893) with a narrative
of fetal m o v e m e n t imbued with the bourgeois stereotype of maternal
w o m a n h o o d . W i t h his characteristic rhetoric, he exclaims: " Q u a n d o la
donna, arrossendo di gioia e di pudore, prende la m a n o del marito e
appoggiandola al proprio seno gli dice: non senti? essa p r o v a u n a delle
più profonde emozioni della vita e nella più parte dei casi
(fortunatamente) u n a delle maggiori g i o i e " (2: 53). M a n t e g a z z a ' s
idealized w o m a n blushes with j o y but also, significantly, with s h a m e at
her o w n pregnancy: " p u d o r e " is, not coincidentally, described by
medical anthropologist Cesare L o m b r o s o ( M a n t e g a z z a ' s friend and later
foe) as "il più forte sentimento femminile, dopo la m a t e r n i t à " (La donna
delinquente, la prostituta e la donna normale, p. 588). This w o m a n is
a s h a m e d presumably because a pregnant belly is, short of a miraculous
conception, an unmistakable sign of sexual activity (hence the w o m a n ' s
w o m b is, euphemistically referred to by Mantegazza with the m e t o n y m y
" s e n o " ) . A n d she could b e a s h a m e d because her " p r o f o n d a e m o z i o n e "
and " m a g g i o r e g i o i a " m u s t proceed not so m u c h from the p r e g n a n c y
itself but rather from its impact on her husband, though her attempt to
share its physical k n o w l e d g e is b o u n d to fail: "non senti?" is w h a t the
w o m a n asks him, using the negative form, "non". For in fact her
h u s b a n d does not, cannot feel w h a t she feels. T h e b u m p , the kick he can
perhaps detect on the surface of his w i f e ' s belly is a perception w h o l l y
external to his body, and he is ultimately unable to experience that
1
1
The euphemism of "seno" for "ventre" is common and has given rise in
Italian to two interchangeable versions of the "Hail Mary": "benedetto il frutto
del ventre/ seno tuo, Gesù".
Italian N a r r a t i v e s o f Fetal M o v e m e n t
223
m o v e m e n t w h i c h is at once within herself and
continuous with and different from her o w n body.
not herself,
both
W h e n Italian w o m e n writers from the late nineteenth and the early
twentieth centuries figure the pregnant w o m a n ' s first feeling of fetal
m o v e m e n t (a description that takes place m o r e often than one m i g h t
imagine), the scene and its interpretation are quite at o d d s with, t h o u g h
culturally
complementary
to,
Mantegazza's
procreative
fantasy.
Otherness is e m b o d i e d in the fetus and not the husband, and the w o m a n ' s
experience (often not even recognized, at least at first, as fetal
m o v e m e n t ) , although certainly an emotional one, is far from b e i n g
univocally identified with life's greatest j o y . Rather, the visceral
perception of fetal m o v e m e n t is the source of a puzzling, frightening
k n o w l e d g e : of the self, of the other, and of the continuity and at the s a m e
time the increasing differentiation b e t w e e n the t w o . T h e s e literary texts
confirm philosopher Iris Y o u n g ' s theory, inspired by Julia K r i s t e v a ' s
psychoanalytic work, on the m e s s y , boundary-defying subjectivity of the
pregnant w o m a n : " T h e first m o v e m e n t s of the foetus p r o d u c e this sense
of the splitting subject," because, as Y o u n g argues, " p r e g n a n c y
challenges the integration of my bodily experience by rendering fluid the
b o u n d a r y b e t w e e n w h a t is within, myself, and w h a t is outside, separate. I
experience my insides as the space of another, yet my o w n b o d y " (pp.
4 8 - 4 9 ) . F r o m a literary perspective, w o m e n ' s writings are b o t h
structurally and thematically imbricated in these difference-defying
processes: " l ' a d e r e n z a , la visceralità e nello stesso t e m p o la materialità
quasi onnivora che lega ο c o n t r a p p o n e ogni d o n n a ai suoi testi ο a quelli
delle a l t r e , " writes literary critic B i a n c a m a r i a Frabotta, " s i attorcigliano
in u n a spirale c h e finisce dove c o m i n c i a la sessualità, se non addirittura la
m a t e r n i t à " (p. 141). H o w do these narratives of fetal m o v e m e n t function
to shape reproductive experiences and practices: at a crucial time,
b e t w e e n the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, w h e n childbirth
b e g a n m o v i n g from the female space of the h o m e to the m a l e - d o m i n a t e d
medical field? C a n these pregnant bodies, so frequently silenced or
ventriloquized in scientific treatises such as M a n t e g a z z a ' s , act out a
2
2
Ironically, the one character in whom fetal movement causes extreme
jubilation (to the point that her nurse makes her drink chamomile to calm her
down) is the protagonist of Ada Negri's Confessione d'Ignazia (Oltre,
posthumously published in 1946), a single woman who decides to have a child
without a partner (although this is a much later text than Mantegazza's, Ada
Negri began her copious literary career precisely at the height of Mantegazza's
popularity).
Cristina M a z z o n i
224
language? A n d is such a language resistant to or complicitous with the
homogenizing turn-of-the-century view of w o m a n as maternal carapace?
In the writings of N e e r a (1846-1918), Annie Vivanti (1868-1942),
A d a Negri (1870-1945), Grazia Deledda (1871-1936), and Sibilla
A l e r a m o (1875-1960), narratives of fetal m o v e m e n t insistently and
originally explore the connection between the female body, its k n o w l e d g e
and language. In m a n y of these descriptions, fetal m o v e m e n t represents
the w o m a n ' s first awareness of pregnancy (not an early s y m p t o m , clearly,
yet for a long time the m o s t reliable one available, Gélis, p p . 48-49).
Quite often, it w a s by feeling a kick within her belly that the w o m a n k n e w
she w a s pregnant: hence a m o s t basic symptomatic connection b e t w e e n
fetal m o v e m e n t and female knowledge. Only the w o m a n herself could
detect and publicize her pregnancy - while today fetal m o v e m e n t simply
confirms what the doctor had already verified . It is, for instance, in such
a w a y that Giovanni V e r g a ' s N e d d a (to take one famous m a l e a u t h o r ' s
example), the protagonist of his well-known e p o n y m o u s short story
(1874), realizes her state - w h e n she feels " m u o v e r s i dentro di sé
qualcosa che quel morto le lasciava c o m e un triste ricordo" (Verga 1: 28).
F o r N e d d a fetal m o v e m e n t leads to knowledge of pregnancy as well as
knowledge of the past, a literal " r i - c o r d o " performed through an internal
organ - though the pregnant uterus replaces the etymological heart:
cor/cordis, the heart as the ancient site of m e m o r y (and I will return to
this organic connection). So also in her celebrated novel, La madre
(1920), Nobel prize winner Grazia Deledda vividly describes the m o m e n t
w h e n P a u l o ' s mother first feels her son stir inside her w o m b :
3
Un giorno, mentre tornava su con la farina nel grembiale, le parve che
in mezzo vi si agitasse qualche cosa. Lasciò spaventata le cocche del
grembiale, e la farina le si sparse tutta ai piedi: allora si buttò a sedere
per terra, con un senso di vertigine: le pareva ci fosse il terremoto; tutto
si spaccava, intorno, le casette del paese crollavano e le pietre
rotolavano sul sentiero. Anche lei si avvoltolò sull'erba bianca di farina,
poi si alzò e si mise a correre ridendo, ma anche un po' spaventata: si
accorgeva di essere incinta (p. 406) .
4
3
Barbara Duden discusses this issue in the short chapter: "Quickening and the
King's Mistress", where she asserts that "for women's history, quickening is a
crucial experience that questions the current attachment of the entire field to
the sensibilities of the present" (p. 81).
Fetal movement is indirectly associated with death - a recurring link, as we
will see - because immediately after this description we are told that Paulo's
mother was widowed even before her son could talk (p. 406).
4
Italian Narratives of Fetal M o v e m e n t
225
K n o w l e d g e o f p r e g n a n c y represents, m e t o n y m i c a l l y , k n o w l e d g e o f
o n e ' s b o d y - as these texts repeatedly imply; a p r o b l e m a t i c k n o w l e d g e
w h i c h can only be c o m m u n i c a t e d to those w h o h a v e e x p e r i e n c e d it
t h e m s e l v e s - not h u s b a n d s , then (as for M a n t e g a z z a ) , but other
m o t h e r s , often e m b o d i e d b y a n older, m o r e e x p e r i e n c e d w o m a n w h o
helps the protagonist decipher the nature of her o t h e r w i s e
i n c o m p r e h e n s i b l e feeling . Bodily k n o w l e d g e , p r e g n a n t k n o w l e d g e in
these texts, preverbal and semiotic (in Julia K r i s t e v a ' s sense), is b a s e d
on an internal touch (in p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l t e r m s , an "interoceptive
e x p e r i e n c e , " Leder, p. 6 1 ) that defies externalization and, to s o m e
extent, linguistic transposition. N a r r a t i v e s of fetal m o v e m e n t are
therefore doubly central to the texts in w h i c h they a p p e a r b e c a u s e they
constitute a reflection, on the part of w o m e n writers, on both the status
of w o m e n (biological and social) and her u s e of l a n g u a g e . In tracing
t h e m , I follow Elisabetta R a s y ' s advice to those w h o w a n t to
u n d e r s t a n d the relationship b e t w e e n w o m e n and literature, n a m e l y t o
privilege "gli indizi, le tracce, i dettagli, più che le categorie g e n e r a l i "
(Le donne e la letteratura, p. 11) . Fetal m o v e m e n t is such a clue, a
trace, a s y m p t o m a t i c detail that defies general categorization.
5
6
7
In the following pages I focus on t w o novels: N e e r a ' s L'indomani
(1890) a n d A n n i e V i v a n t i ' s Vae Victis! ( 1 9 7 1 ) , t h o u g h I will refer to
several other narratives of fetal m o v e m e n t as well. I b e g i n with N e e r a
(the p s e u d o n y m o f A n n a R a d i u s Zuccari, " o n e o f the m o s t w i d e l y read
authors of her d a y , " W o o d , p. 32), w h o is still a controversial,
duplicitous figure a m o n g critics b e c a u s e of the split b e t w e e n her antifeminist essays and the sharp criticism of w o m e n ' s conditions
characteristic of her fiction . T h e literary a n d linguistic contradictions
8
5
This culturally significant ignorance is dramatized in Ada Negri's short story
Ombra, published in the collection Finestre alte (1923) by the fact that the
pregnant protagonist is blind from birth.
For more in interoception, see Drew Leder, The Absent Body.
Maria Rosa Cutrufelli analogously insists that in order to critically read
women writers' texts one must note their thematic innovations and how these
impact the textual structures (p. 241). I believe that this recurrence of the
feeling of fetal movement is precisely one of the thematic innovations to which
Cutrufelli alludes.
As Amoia writes, "The majority of women writers at the turn of the century Liala, Invernizio, Neera, Colombi, Vivanti - were, like most of their
contemporaries, antifeminist and antidivorcist" (p. 93). Arslan advances the
hypothesis that an open commitment to feminism might have led to the loss of
their women readers' approval, which was at that time the only legitimation for
women writers (p. 165). About Neera in particular, Bruce Merry claims that
6
7
8
Cristina M a z z o n i
226
c o n c e r n i n g the role a n d the value of m o t h e r h o o d , particularly of
p r e g n a n c y a n d childbirth, are m o s t apparent at a m a c r o s c o p i c level in
the separation b e t w e e n N e e r a ' s fiction and non-fiction, in b o t h of w h i c h
"the reproduction o f m o t h e r i n g , " t o use N a n c y C h o d o r o w ' s p h r a s e ,
occupies central t h o u g h diverging p o s i t i o n s .
N e e r a ' s construction of fetal m o v e m e n t is also split b e t w e e n h e r
theories and her fiction. In the essay "Tutte m a d r i " (in Le idee di una
donna, 1903), N e e r a describes the feeling of fetal m o v e m e n t in
enthusiastic t e r m s , as a visceral experience of e m p o w e r i n g difference
for the p r e g n a n t w o m a n : " q u a n d o nel brivido m e r a v i g l i o s o c h e l ' u o m o
ignora, dalle sue stesse viscere palpitanti ascolterà la v o c e del grande
mistero, si sentirà così alta, così p r o s s i m a all'infinito da giudicare
m e s c h i n a ogni altra o p e r a " (Le idee [...], p. 145). W i t h o u t the
experience o f p r e g n a n c y , N e e r a insists, w o m a n " n o n g i u n g e r à m a i a d
afferrare il senso profondo della vita, perché su di lei n o n è p a s s a t o quel
fremito di un essere n u o v o che entra nella l u c e " (Le idee [...], p. 145).
T h e religious overtones of N e e r a ' s description are r e m i n i s c e n t of a
Christian subtext, that m o s t famous of narratives of fetal m o v e m e n t : the
Visitation of M a r y to Saint Elizabeth, during w h i c h Saint J o h n the
Baptist (six m o n t h s J e s u s ' senior) quickens in his m o t h e r ' s w o m b as he
recognizes, w h i l e still in utero, the presence of his divine c o u s i n ( L u k e
1: 2 6 - 4 5 ) . T h e q u i c k e n i n g w o m b is a k n o w i n g w o m b . A n d its
k n o w l e d g e is (miraculously?) transmitted to the p r e g n a n t w o m a n : j u s t
as Saint Elizabeth correctly d e c o d e s her s o n ' s u n s p o k e n m e s s a g e a n d
exclaims: " B l e s s e d are y o u a m o n g w o m e n and blessed is the fruit of
y o u r w o m b J e s u s , " so also the ideal m o t h e r as she is d e s c r i b e d by
N e e r a "ascolterà la v o c e del grande mistero" ( N e e r a ' s o w n e m p h a s i s ) .
9
10
"the aggressively anti-feminist tone of her essays may be part of an attempt to
keep her writing respectable and free of any bluestocking image" (p. 288),
while Wood believes that Neera's "exposure of the fallacy of romantic love
and her depiction of the emotional desert of most bourgeois marriages is
perhaps the stronger and the more striking for emerging from observation and
experience rather than any parti pris or political ideology" (p. 25).
I agree with E. Ann Kaplan's comment that, although a-historic and aspecific, Chodorow's "theories usefully describe the reproduction of white,
bourgeois mothering in the period from 1860 to 1960" (p. 34).
In La vergine Orsola, the story of an illicit pregnancy and a fatal abortion,
Gabriele D'Annunzio uses this subtext to hint at the protagonist's pregnancy
before it is explicitly announced: "e il cuore le balzò di giubilo nel seno come
San Giovanni nelle viscere d'Elisabetta alla visita della Vergine Maria" (p.
151). As in Mantegazza, the heart and the uterus are conflated.
9
10
Italian Narratives of Fetal M o v e m e n t
227
N o t w i t h s t a n d i n g its Christian evocations in her essays, N e e r a ' s
e m p o w e r i n g visceral " b r i v i d o " - m e t a m o r p h o s i z e d into the univocal
v o i c e of a higher " m i s t e r o " - acquires an opposite epistemological
function in her novels. In Duello d'anime ( 1 9 1 1 ) , the u n m a r r i e d
protagonist M i n n a discovers she is p r e g n a n t w h e n she first feels her
u n b o r n child m o v e . This h a p p e n s at the exact m o m e n t w h e n her
adoptive m o t h e r dies - her biological m o t h e r h a v i n g died, again
significantly, in giving birth to h e r . T h e s e " c o i n c i d e n c e s , " by
associating p r e g n a n c y with death, underline the w a y in w h i c h
m o t h e r i n g , with all its self-destructive effects, is r e p r o d u c e d for N e e r a
from o n e female generation to the next. Rather literally, turn-of-thecentury maternity carried with it the very real possibility of death - the
c h i l d ' s , the w o m a n ' s , or both. M a n t e g a z z a cites frightening statistics on
death c a u s e d by childbirth (one w o m a n out of 23 died in h e r first
childbirth, and one in 47 in later childbirth, 2:63), and it c a n n o t be
w i t h o u t significance that b o t h N e e r a ' s m o t h e r a n d h e r g r a n d m o t h e r
died shortly after delivering a child. M i n n a ' s destiny of figurai death
(her p r e g n a n c y leads to a desperately u n h a p p y m a r r i a g e ) is also
p r e s a g e d in the detailed description, within the novel, of the suicide of
an u n m a r r i e d pregnant girl w h o had b e e n a b a n d o n e d by her s e d u c e r and
thus p u s h e d "a suicidarsi col b a m b i n o in s e n o " (p. 119) - a mise en
abîme of sorts.
A n o t h e r novel by Neera, L'indomani, tells the story of a w o m a n ' s
p r o g r e s s i v e disillusion with a m a r r i a g e w h i c h she formerly b e l i e v e d
w o u l d be the pinnacle of h e r existence. M a l t a ' s p r e g n a n c y in the
s e c o n d half of the novel constitutes that "crisis of female s e x u a l i t y "
discussed by Luisa Accati (p. 45), the conflict b e t w e e n social, cultural,
and m o r a l d e m a n d s and the w o m a n ' s identity ( w h i c h , a c c o r d i n g t o
A c c a t i , can take place during p r e g n a n c y , delivery, a n d breastfeeding
and not only at the time of sexual intercourse). T h e feeling of fetal
m o v e m e n t finally convinces M a r t a that h e r fate is likely to be similar to
that of the d o c t o r ' s wife, w h o s e five children and four m i s c a r r i a g e s
(ironically described as her h u s b a n d ' s "frutti d ' a m o r e a n n u a l i , " p. 173)
h a v e turned her into " u n a d o n n i n a né bella né brutta, col petto liscio, e
il ventre sporgente, un profilo da m a d o n n a invecchiata troppo p r e s t o "
(p. 35) - w h o s e h u s b a n d continuously cheats on her with their y o u n g
11
11
Death is also present at the birth of Minna's son, since her long labour is
described as "due giorni tra la vita e la morte" (p. 47), and her experience of
childbirth as the act of "aver bussato alle porte dell'eternità" (p. 150) and of
"aver sfiorato l'ala della morte" (p. 160).
Cristina M a z z o n i
228
m a i d s (since she cannot hire older, unattractive o n e s b e c a u s e they
w o u l d not h a v e the energy necessary to deal with her n u m e r o u s y o u n g
children, she is doubly trapped by her m o t h e r h o o d ) .
L'indomani dwells on the first t w o times that M a r t a feels h e r fetus
quicken. T h e first fetal m o v e m e n t is perceived w h e n the p r o t a g o n i s t
sees a farmer and his wife e m b r a c e with obvious love and sensuality
(and w e h a v e learned that M a r t a h a s n e v e r experienced sexual p l e a s u r e ,
p p . 1 7 1 - 7 2 ) . Just then, M a r t a
12
aveva soffocato un grido, come colpita al cuore; e nello stesso
momento aveva sentito le sue viscere sollevarsi, muoversi nel suo
grembo un essere, e per le sue vene, per la sua carne correre il palpito
atteso, la rivelazione di un'altra vita, scoppiata colla rivelazione
stessa dell'amore. Ogni velo era tolto, sciolto ogni dubbio, la sua
virginità cadeva in quel punto, ella era fatta donna. Comprendeva,
sentiva, desiderava tutto. L'impressione era stata così rapida e
violenta, che la presenza di quell'uomo, adesso, le faceva male. (p.
183)
L o v e reveals itself to M a r t a not through a pleasurable physical contact
with her h u s b a n d but t h r o u g h a disconcerting voyeuristic e p i s o d e - the
sight of a happily m a r r i e d p e a s a n t c o u p l e ' s passionate kiss. It is t h r o u g h
voyeuristic pain, and not t h r o u g h conjugal pleasure, that M a r t a loses
h e r virginity, by her o w n a v o w a l , a n d the veil, figure for the h y m e n of
innocence, falls as she at o n c e discovers the existence of love and
becomes a woman .
K n o w l e d g e , and h e n c e signification, is attained as M a l t a ' s
p r e g n a n t b o d y b e c o m e s c o n s c i o u s o f its de-centeredness: k n o w l e d g e ,
" l a rivelazione," is not located in h e r h e a d and not e v e n in h e r w o m b ,
but rather throughout her veins and h e r flesh - " p e r le sue v e n e , p e r la
1 3
12
Amoia rightly underlines about Marta: "Pregnancy reduces her to a
lackluster figure that finds no thrill in her imminent motherhood since she had
known no thrill in the act of love" (p. 97). This of course would make her for
Cesare Lombroso a "donna normale", as he succinctly puts it: "Essendo
dunque la donna naturalmente e organicamente frigida [...]" (p. 57).
It is with a similar vocabulary, it is worth noting, that Cesare Lombroso, with
biblical allusions, describes woman's loss of virginity as the acquisition of a
knowledge of good and evil that is dangerous to her morality: "l'incanto è
sparito, quel velo che nascondeva la conoscenza del bene e del male è
squarciato e innanzi alla conoscenza acquistata bruscamente, quelle il cui senso
morale non è troppo forte e che si trovano in rotta con la società, facilmente si
decidono a buttar via anche gli altri riguardi" (p. 584).
13
Italian Narratives of Fetal M o v e m e n t
229
sua c a r n e . " I n this process, M a l t a ' s b o d y b e c o m e s a w a r e o f b e i n g
splintered into self and other - " u n ' a l t r a vita." T h i s visceral
" c o n s c i o u s n e s s , " however, cannot be verbalized in a univocal m a n n e r ,
for it occurs at a prelinguistic level w h i c h we m a y call with Kristeva the
" s e m i o t i c " - that concept w h i c h is associated precisely with the
p r e s y m b o l i c contact b e t w e e n m o t h e r and child (a contact m o s t o b v i o u s
during p r e g n a n c y ) . An a n a l o g o u s realization has b e e n described from
other theoretical perspectives, equally useful in u n d e r s t a n d i n g the
implications of N e e r a ' s descriptions. F r o m a p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l
perspective, for e x a m p l e , p r e g n a n t e m b o d i m e n t is described as
d i v e r g i n g radically from the habitual, as b e i n g "in the dys state [...]
d o u b l e d , a n y w a y , asunder from itself," a n d "apart from the T " . T h e s e
" i n s t a n c e s of d y s - a p p e a r a n c e [such as p r e g n a n c y ] d e m a n d attention,"
placing a " d e m a n d for an affective and m e t a p h y s i c a l wrestling with
e m b o d i m e n t . " As a c o n s e q u e n c e , " o u r self-interpretation, importantly
tied to the a p p e a r a n c e and integrity of the b o d y , is t h r o w n into question
at t i m e s of puberty, p r e g n a n c y , and a g i n g " (Leder, p p . 89-92). In
anthropological terms, A n t h o n y Synnot a n a l o g o u s l y argues that "the
identity of b o d y and self is p e r h a p s m o s t clearly illustrated by b o d y c h a n g e s . Self-concepts c h a n g e , often dramatically, at p u b e r t y ,
p r e g n a n c y , and m e n o p a u s e . B o d y c h a n g e s c h a n g e the s e l f (p. 2).
D o u b l i n g , d y s - a p p e a r a n c e , wrestling with e m b o d i m e n t , selfc h a n g e are indeed intrinsic to M a l t a ' s e x p e r i e n c e of q u i c k e n i n g . T h u s ,
the corporeal realization of love - a love w h i c h she is denied, a n d not
the Caritas w h i c h J o h n the Baptist recognizes w h i l e still in utero - a n d
of the other life in her w o m b , in her v e i n s , and in h e r flesh, e x p l o d e at
o n c e in the feeling of fetal m o v e m e n t to turn w h a t N e e r a
m e t a p h o r i c a l l y describes in "Tutte m a d r i " as a " v o i c e " ( h e n c e a
l a n g u a g e ) w h i c h w o u l d take w o m a n close to "infinity," into a " v i o l e n t "
impression (a corporeal, prelinguistic, semiotic contact) w h i c h strikes
M a r t a to her heart ( w h o s e association w i t h the uterus, to w h i c h I return
b e l o w , recurs in Vae Victis!) and m a k e s h e r " s c r e a m " - and thus revert
to a state anterior to language.
14
T h e deromanticization and especially the " d e s y m b o l i z a t i o n " o f the
feeling of fetal m o v e m e n t is c o m p l e t e d w h e n M a r t a e x p e r i e n c e s it for
14
The "semiotic" is also tied to what Elisabetta Rasy has termed "la lingua
della nutrice" in her book by that title, a full and particular language that is
initially shared by mother (or nurturer) and child: "il bambino perde il suo
idioma e nasce al linguaggio, ma la donna, che è sempre nutrice, lo conserva.
Questa lingua, la lingua della nutrice, è la sua lingua peculiare" (La lingua
della nutrice, p. 22).
Cristina M a z z o n i
230
the s e c o n d time. T h e occasion is n o w a conversation w i t h h e r m o t h e r
( w h i c h darkly e m p h a s i z e s again C h o d o r o w ' s " r e p r o d u c t i o n o f
m o t h e r i n g " ) , w h o c o n v i n c e s her that love does not exist and that w h a t
M a r t a witnessed b e t w e e n the t w o farmers w a s but a fleeting m o m e n t of
physical passion. Just as M a r t a admits to her m o t h e r and to herself,
" A l l o r a [...] n o n c ' è nulla," the perception of a m o v e m e n t in h e r w o m b
m a k e s her certain of the p r e s e n c e of an-other within her, a visceral
presence w h i c h is expected to fill the gap left by the d i s a p p e a r a n c e of
l o v e ' s illusions and by her loss of bodily integrity:
La stessa sensazione che l'aveva fatta trasalire il giorno prima nella
casuccia dei due contadini, si rinnovava. Sentiva le sue viscere
commoversi sotto un impulso di persona viva, colla strana
rivelazione di un altro essere in se stessa. Sembrava una piccola
mano che battesse contro il suo seno, una piccola mano che voleva
dire: Aprimi, io sono l'amore e la verità. (p. 197)
- a sentence repeated in the following p a g e (the s e c o n d to last in the
b o o k ) : " M a intanto la piccola m a n ripeteva con insistenza: A p r i , io
s o n o l ' a m o r e e la verità" (p. 1 9 8 ) .
T h e apparent and clearly superficial plenitude e v o k e d by the
u n b o r n c h i l d ' s m o v e m e n t , tearjerkingly m e t o n y m i z e d into a little h a n d ,
signifying the plenitude of the w o m a n ' s b o d y - finally filled w i t h a
child, filled with m e a n i n g : love, truth - c o m e s about t h r o u g h the
realization of a primordial lack: M a l t a ' s lack of a love that others
instead h a v e (in the first experience at the f a r m e r s ' h o u s e ) a n d
ultimately of the universal lack of such a love, w h i c h is p o s i t e d (not
accidentally, by M a l t a ' s o w n m o t h e r ) as the deluded construction of the
female imagination. M a r t a b e c o m e s in the course of L'indomani an
increasingly e m p t y container, she " d y s - a p p e a r s , " in spite of the
g r o w i n g physical fullness b r o u g h t about by her p r e g n a n c y . F u l l n e s s a n d
e m p t i n e s s are paradoxically experienced almost at o n c e , in a fantasy of
a u t o n o m o u s generative p o w e r that paradoxically alternates, a c c o r d i n g
15
15
This pathetic image of the small hand also appears in Neera's Duello
d'anime: "nello stesso momento che la morte appariva a' suoi occhi
sgomentati, un subito, improvviso, arcano impulso di vita saliente su dalle
viscere la scosse con un rapido colpo, come di un cuore nuovo che palpitasse
sotto il suo cuore, come di una piccola mano che battesse alle pareti del suo
seno annunciandole il mistero dell'essere" (pp. 99-100). Annie Vivanti as well
uses this image to describe fetal movement in her novel about motherhood I
divoratori: "Ecco, il battito! il battito! Come una piccola mano morbida che la
colpisse al cuore!" (p. 143).
Italian Narratives of Fetal M o v e m e n t
231
t o p s y c h o a n a l y s t Silvia Vegetti Finzi, w i t h the p r e g n a n t w o m a n ' s
identification with an e m p t y container w a i t i n g to be filled from the
outside (p. 190). T h e child will supposedly fill this g a p constitutive of
the female i m a g i n a r y body, in N e e r a ' s L'indomani, with its " l o v e " a n d
" t r u t h " - qualities that echo the religious o v e r t o n e s of the essay " T u t t e
m a d r i . " B u t it is t o o late, and the final w o r d s of the n o v e l cannot dispel
in the reader the certainty that Marta, e x e m p l a r y of w o m a n ' s condition
in m a r r i a g e and p r e g n a n c y , is likely to fare no better than the d o c t o r ' s
wife - deformed a n d cheated. T h e apparent plenitude of the p r e g n a n t
b o d y only hides the emptiness of a signifier that, like the b o d y w h o h a s
lost its integrity, h a s already e x p l o d e d and c a n n o t be recaptured.
F o r Marta, then, the n e w relationship with her b o d y t h r o u g h a
discovery that, according to M a r i a M i n i c u c i , characterizes m a n y
w o m e n in their first p r e g n a n c y ( w h o for the first t i m e truly d i s c o v e r
their o w n b o d y as both familar and m y s t e r i o u s , p. 57), entails the
interoceptive c o n s c i o u s n e s s of symbolic e m p t i n e s s , or loss, together
with that of corporeal and semiotic fullness. L'indomani thus c o n f o r m s
to the e n d i n g characteristic of m a n y turn-of-the-century w o m e n ' s
n o v e l s , an e n d i n g which, according to A n t o n i a Arslan, e v e n as it e c h o e s
the d e b a t e s a r o u n d the question of w o m a n , n o n e t h e l e s s reconfirms the
return to the status quo through the protagonist's inevitable defeat a n d
subjection (p. 169). A n d yet, according to W o o d , in L'indomani, " N e e r a
could hardly c o m e closer to c o n d e m n i n g the e m o t i o n a l a n d sexual
frustrations foisted on w o m e n by a self-serving, m a l e - c e n t r e d culture
and sexual e c o n o m y , ably assisted by the sugary d r e a m s of r o m a n t i c
literature" (p. 3 7 ) . In spite of her collaboration with P a o l o M a n t e g a z z a
in 1881 on a p o p u l a r m a n u a l , the Dizionario per l'igiene delle famiglie,
Neera's characters in no w a y r e s e m b l e the b l u s h i n g yet s m u g p r e g n a n t
w o m a n who ushers in Mantegazza's chapter on motherhood. The
d i s p l a c e m e n t of the maternal m e t a p h o r in her essay by the m e t o n y m i c
lack of Neera's fictional narratives of fetal m o v e m e n t p r o p o s e s an
alternative r e a d i n g o f w o m e n and/as m o t h e r s . F o r the c o n t e x t - b o u n d
nature o f m e t o n y m y (based o n contiguity), a s D o m n a Stanton a r g u e s ,
16
17
16
Minicuci generalizes an analogous feeling when she writes that pregnancy,
especially the first pregnancy, is associated for many women with a sense of
increased difference and loneliness (p. 58). Vegetti Finzi underlines the
influence of pregnancy in a woman's changing relationship with her body, with
its pleasures but also with its feelings of fullness and emptiness (p. 186).
According to Rasy, Neera downright incorporated Mantegazza's devaluing
theories of women's physiology into her works (Le donne e la letteratura, p.
124).
17
Cristina M a z z o n i
232
" e x p o s e s specific cultural values, prejudices, and limitations," e v e n as
it " w o u l d p r o m o t e the recognition that the m o t h e r cannot s y m b o l i z e an
untainted origin [...] but rather, that this idea[l] is a l w a y s / a l r e a d y
inhabited by, and a c c o m p l i c e to, the w o r k i n g s of contextual
phallogocentric structures" (p. 175-76).
Fetal m o v e m e n t is o n c e again associated with an a m b i v a l e n t
plenitude, o n e that conceals lack and ineffability, in a later n o v e l , Vae
Victis! ( 1 9 1 7 ) , by A n n i e Vivanti - " o n e of the m o s t p o p u l a r a n d
successful writers in Italy around the turn of the c e n t u r y " ( W o o d , p.
23). T h e b o o k chronicles the story of t w o Belgian sisters-in-law raped
and i m p r e g n a t e d by a g r o u p of invading G e r m a n soldiers. W h i l e the
older of the t w o , Luisa ( w h o s e d a u g h t e r Mirella has turned m u t e after
b e i n g forced to witness the rape of her aunt Chérie), a b h o r s the child
and goes to great lengths to obtain an abortion (hiding the w h o l e ordeal
from her h u s b a n d ) , her y o u n g e r and u n m a r r i e d sister-in-law, C h é r i e ,
gives birth to her son in spite of the reproval and ostracism of all those
around her (including her patriotic Belgian boyfriend, w h o a b a n d o n s
her in disgust a n d s h a m e ) . T h e novel, by the w a y , is singularly
u n d e r s t a n d i n g and a c c e p t i n g of both w o m e n ' s decisions, so that
although Sharon W o o d claims that in Vae Victis! " m a t e r n i t y as m i s s i o n
cancels out c r i m e a n d b e c o m e s a n e n d i n i t s e l f (p. 24), w e m u s t also
k e e p in m i n d that the text openly supports not only Chérie's m a t e r n a l
decision (to w h i c h W o o d clearly refers), but also Luisa's c h o i c e to h a v e
an abortion: rape, then, is not necessarily canceled out by the m o t h e r ' s
m i s s i o n . A n d in fact it is perhaps only b e c a u s e her a m n e s i a p r e v e n t s
her from r e m e m b e r i n g the rape that Chérie can k e e p and love the child
that results from it.
18
19
C o m b i n e d with her ironic ignorance of her b o d y ' s r e p r o d u c t i v e
p r o c e s s e s (the reader, unlike Chérie, has no trouble identifying the
18
Antonia Arslan Veronese places Vae Vietisi in the tradition of the feuilleton
("Romanzo popolare e romanzo di consumo fra Ottocento e Novecento", p.
44), while Graziella Parati argues instead that Vivanti "succeeds in creating a
hybrid genre by turning romance novels into ideological mediators that project
those same racial, social, and political tensions into the future" (p. 332).
The problematic raised by Vivanti's textual transgressions makes it
impossible for me to subscribe to the claims made in Dame, droga e galline
(ed. Antonia Arslan Veronese) that Annie Vivanti's writings (including Vae
Vietisi) should be placed next to those of Carolina Invernizio and Luciano
Zuccoli - authors of "romanzi d'appendice", or feuilletons (a claim made first
of all by dedicating to Vivanti the third part of the book, after a part on
Invernizio and one of Zuccoli, but also, more specifically, on pp. 44 and 367).
19
Italian N a r r a t i v e s of Fetal M o v e m e n t
233
nature of her s y m p t o m s : increased appetite, e x p a n d i n g w a i s t l i n e ,
fainting [...]), this a m n e s i a leads C h é r i e to suspect the m o v e m e n t she
feels within her to be the s y m p t o m of a serious illness, t h r o u g h the
recurrent m e t o n y m i c (con)fusion b e t w e e n the heart a n d the uterus
(certainly not a e u p h e m i s t i c o n e , as it w a s for M a n t e g a z z a ) : " A n c o r a ,
a n c o r a quel batter d'ali nel c u o r e ? C o m i n c i a v a ad impaurirsi. C h e fosse
' a n g i n a p e c t o r i s ' ο q u a l c h e altra strana e terribile m a l a t t i a ? " (p. 2 4 0 ) .
U n a b l e to distinguish b e t w e e n the different interoceptive s e n s a t i o n s of
heart a n d uterus (a confusion repeated t w o m o r e t i m e s in this p a s s a g e ) ,
C h é r i e c a n n o t r e c o g n i z e the m o v e m e n t w h i c h w a k e s her from h e r
sleep, w h i c h p r o v o k e s " u n a s e n s a z i o n e indefinita di gioia - di gioia
m o r a l e e fisica," a " p u l s a z i o n e lieve, un fremito d'una d o l c e z z a
impossibile a definire," a "palpito s t r a n o , " a "lieve t r e m o l i o s o m i g l i a n t e
a un batter d'ali, quasi che un altro c u o r e [again, the heart] p u l s a s s e
d e n t r o al s u o " (pp. 2 3 2 - 3 3 ) , a sensation w h i c h " n o n le d a v a d o l o r e ma
le faceva vibrare da c a p o a p i e d i " (p. 2 4 0 ) . In this p a s s a g e Vivanti's text
p u s h e s h a r d against that s y m p t o m a t i c " n u c l e o di o p a c i t à " w h i c h , in
Vegetti Finzi's analysis, is the result of t h e cultural repression of the
internal representation of p r e g n a n c y : " V i è, in ogni g e s t a z i o n e , un
n u c l e o di opacità c h e fa s i n t o m o . U n a delle m a g g i o r i r i m o z i o n i o p e r a t e
dalla nostra cultura mi a p p a r e quella c h e ci
sottrae ogni
r a p p r e s e n t a z i o n e interiore della g r a v i d a n z a e del parto. Le i m m a g i n i ci
v e n g o n o tutte dal di fuori e si proiettano su di u n o s c h e r m o o s c u r a t o ,
che n o n sa trascrivere le sensazioni e n d o g e n e " (p. 186). If o n e of the
results of this cultural repression is the w o m a n ' s inability to r e a d t h e
signals of h e r o w n b o d y (at a t i m e w h e n a girl's sexual e d u c a t i o n w a s
m o r e often than not left to the h a n d s of fate - or to those of h e r
h u s b a n d ) , a n o t h e r result is the writer's difficulty in r e p r e s e n t i n g the
p r e g n a n t e x p e r i e n c e without the silences, s t a m m e r i n g s , a n d a m b i g u i t i e s
b r o u g h t a b o u t by the clash of l a n g u a g e w i t h t h e " d a r k e n e d s c r e e n " of a
culturally repressed e x p e r i e n c e . H e n c e the m e t o n y m i c d i s p l a c e m e n t t o
the heart, a m o r e acceptable, less g e n d e r e d o r g a n - R o l a n d B a r t h e s
e v e n c o m p a r e s it to the (obviously m a l e ) sex: " T h e heart is the o r g a n of
desire (the heart swells, w e a k e n s , etc., like the sexual o r g a n s ) " (p. 52).
T h e heart h a s b e e n consistently identified in W e s t e r n culture as the seat
of intellectual thought and of feeling, of vital forces a n d interiority, as
the center of decisive things such as c o n s c i e n c e , morality, a n d the
law .
20
20
See for example Jacques Le Goff, "Head or Heart? The Political Use of
Body Metaphor in the Middle Ages".
Cristina M a z z o n i
234
T h r o u g h this association of the uterus with the heart, w r i t e r s like
N e e r a and Vivanti perform a m e t o n y m i c m o v e that is o p p o s i t e to the
appropriation b y m a l e writers o f the m a t e r n a l m e t a p h o r . R a t h e r than
c o - o p t i n g natal i m a g e r y in order to d e s c r i b e m a s c u l i n e creativity, turnof-the-century w o m e n writers explore the possibilities i n h e r e n t in
figuring and r e p r o d u c i n g m a t e r n a l t h o u g h t and w o r k - in this c a s e ,
p r e g n a n c y - by m e t o n y m i c a l l y m o v i n g along culturally p r e g n a n t
i m a g e s - such as, precisely, the heart.
21
W h e n , frightened, C h é r i e finally describes to L u i s a "l'ineffabile
b r i v i d o , il fremito m e r a v i g l i o s o , " she confirms p r e g n a n c y - l i n k e d o n c e
m o r e with the heart - to be an "ineffable" e x p e r i e n c e , o n e that is at a
certain level i n c o m p a t i b l e with ( b e c a u s e it e x c e e d s the limits of)
l a n g u a g e : "È c o m e [...] un batter d'ali [...] è c o m e un palpito - c h e n o n
è [...] del m i o cuore [...]" (p. 2 4 5 ) . P r e g n a n c y h a d b e e n linked w i t h
ineffability in Sibilla A l e r a m o ' s autobiographical n o v e l Una donna
( 1 9 0 6 ) - "il r o m a n z o c a r d i n e d e l l ' e m a n c i p a z i o n e f e m m i n i l e agli inizi
del s e c o l o " (Rasy, Le donne e la letteratura, p. 126) - w h e r e it is t h e
p e r c e p t i o n of fetal m o v e m e n t that alerts A l e r a m o a n d h e r r e a d e r to the
protagonist's p r e g n a n c y : " P o i il palpito in me d'una n u o v a vita, e
l'attesa ineffabile" (p. 58). Fetal m o v e m e n t is b o t h k n o w l e d g e of
p r e g n a n c y (as semiotic as well as physical fullness) a n d silence
c o n c e r n i n g this very p r e g n a n c y - defined as an ineffable state of
w a i t i n g , "l'attesa ineffabile." T h e negative features of s i l e n c e ineffability as lack of w o r d s - are d i s p l a c e d in A l e r a m o ' s text by an
o p p o s i t e configuration: it is not only, a n d not even primarily, w i t h an
a b s e n c e of w o r d s that the p r e g n a n t protagonist is faced, b u t r a t h e r w i t h
linguistic e x c e s s , o r m a y b e even w i t h that w h i c h e x c e e d s l a n g u a g e .
S u c h p a r a d o x i c a l k n o w l e d g e can only be e x p r e s s e d t h r o u g h a
p a r a d o x i c a l m e d i u m : the o x y m o r o n o f literary s i l e n c e . Silence a l o n e
c a n in fact signify the e x p e r i e n c e of limits, or, in P a o l o V a l e s i o ' s w o r d s ,
"il m a r g i n e , il p u n t o in cui la corda tesa è p r o s s i m a a spezzarsi; la z o n a
i n s o m m a in cui noi - p a r l i a m o ο no - s e n t i a m o la t e n s i o n e p i ù forte,
p e r c h é s p e r i m e n t i a m o c o m e ci sia d i v e n u t o impossibile esser c o n t e n u t i
nella nostra stessa r a z i o n a l i t à " (Ascoltare il silenzio, p. 3 5 4 ) .
22
A l e r a m o ' s , N e e r a ' s , a n d Vivanti's novels b e l o n g to t h o s e texts
w h i c h , in Kristeva's w o r d s , " t r o v a n o il m o d o di dire la v i o l e n z a c h e
21
This appropriation has been discussed by Susan Stanford Friedman.
Paolo Valesio appropriately describes the topos of ineffability as "uno dei
più ricchi per lo sviluppo delle strutture discorsive in Occidente" ( " Ό
entenebrata luce [...]'", p. 21).
22
Italian Narratives of Fetal M o v e m e n t
235
e c c e d e le p a r o l e . " A "testo di silenzio," this p a s s a g e of Vivanti's Vae
Victis! is a m o n g those texts "intessuti di non detto, crivellati di
ripetizioni, in cui d o n n e articolano, con la p a r s i m o n i a delle loro p a r o l e
e le ellissi della loro sintassi, u n a lacuna c o n g e n i t a alla nostra cultura
m o n o - l o g i c a : il dire del non essere [...]" ( " D i s c r e z i o n e , " p. 9). C h é r i e ,
that is, m u s t resort to similes a n d to the silences of the ellipses in o r d e r
to describe with h e r voice, with her "lingua della n u t r i c e , " that b o d i l y
k n o w l e d g e w h i c h escapes language qua Law-of-the-Father - and w h i c h
deconstructs M a n t e g a z z a ' s e u p h e m i s m of breast-as-belly by painfully
m o v i n g b a c k and forth b e t w e e n an ailing heart and a gravid uterus. At
that point Luisa, horrified that Chérie is p r e g n a n t with the G e r m a n
e n e m y ' s child, definitively and prosaically " d i a g n o s e s " her niece's
condition: "È la cosa terribile. È la cosa nefanda! [...] C h é r i e - tu sarai
m a d r e ! " (p. 245). B u t p r e g n a n c y in this p a s s a g e is " u n s p e a k a b l e " in a
different w a y , for the adjective " n e f a n d o " indicates unspeakability in its
m o s t a b o m i n a b l e , abject sense: ne-fari, unfit to be s p o k e n of, a n d n o t
b e y o n d w o r d s . Chérie's m o t h e r h o o d , like Luisa's o w n , should not be
s p o k e n of, and its object - the u n b o r n child - legitimately destroyed:
" C h é r i e b e c o m e s the creator o f otherness t h r o u g h her p r e g n a b l e b o d y
that threatens to contaminate the racial identity of a n a t i o n , " writes
Parati; " s h e personifies the b o d y of the nation; her p r e g n a n t b o d y
represents a double threat that is both private a n d p u b l i c " (p. 328).
Fetal m o v e m e n t allows for a multiple inscription a n d imbrication
of otherness as a n d in the w o m a n ' s body. First of all, k n o w l e d g e of
p r e g n a n c y c o m e s to Chérie not from the self but from the other. N o t the
child's father, h o w e v e r , as M a n t e g a z z a w o u l d h a v e liked, b u t a m o t h e r
figure ( L o u i s e , h e r brother's wife, is older a n d already h a s a daughter)
w h o m u s t fill the w o m a n - physically full but linguistically e m p t y with the k n o w l e d g e of her-self/her-other (this is also the case, for
e x a m p l e , in A d a Negri's short story Ombra a n d M a r i a M e s s i n a ' s n o v e l
Alla deriva, 1920). Plenitude m u s t c o m e from the other: as the child
fills the p r e g n a n t w o m a n ' s flesh with another flesh, the older, m o r e
e x p e r i e n c e d w o m a n (rarely her o w n m o t h e r , since these w o m e n
protagonists are often o r p h a n e d or otherwise m o t h e r l e s s ) fills h e r
l a n g u a g e - or, at times, her p r e g n a n t silence - with an-other's w o r d s .
23
23
As Minicuci writes about the early part of this century, newly married
women were closely observed for signs of pregnancy, especially by other
women; although this social control was often felt as a violence and as an
invasion of privacy, it also indicated the beginning of a bond among women
which removed pregnancy from male control (pp. 56-57).
Cristina M a z z o n i
236
T h e u n c a n n y , visceral interoception of an otherness within the self
is a fracture shared by narratives of fetal m o v e m e n t , an otherness w h i c h
is the source of the otherwise irreconcilable dualities g e n e r a t e d by this
experience: p o w e r and surrender, k n o w l e d g e and ignorance, c h o i c e and
fate, fullness and e m p t i n e s s , w o r d s and silence. " S i n c e the e i g h t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , " Susan Squier notes, "reproduction has c o m e to function as a
p r e e m i n e n t site for the negotiation of b o u n d a r i e s b e t w e e n self and
other," and its " m o r a l d i m e n s i o n " is evident in the fact that
reproduction "raises issues of the relationship b e t w e e n self a n d other,
m i n d and b o d y , the limits of such c o n c e p t s as a u t o n o m y , responsibility,
c o n t r o l " (Babies in Bottle, p. 169). T h u s N e e r a ' s M a r t a d e s c r i b e s
"un'altra v i t a " and " u n altro e s s e r e , " Deledda's " m o t h e r " an earthshattering " q u a l c h e c o s a , " A l e r a m o ' s protagonist " u n a n u o v a v i t a , "
Vivanti's Chérie " u n altro c u o r e , " Negri's Ignazia (the p r o t a g o n i s t of
Confessione d'Ignazia) e v e n uses her son's n a m e a n d describes specific
b o d y parts. T h i s e m p h a s i s on the fetus' otherness is related to Squier's
c l a i m that o n e of the functions of the (literary and non-literary)
figurations of reproduction in the r o m a n t i c and m o d e r n p e r i o d w a s
precisely to create a m e t a p h o r i c b r e a k b e t w e e n m o t h e r a n d fetus
( " R e p r o d u c i n g the P o s t h u m a n B o d y , " p. 115) - break w h i c h in N e e r a ' s
and Vivanti's novels allows the literary e m e r g e n c e of the p r e g n a n t
w o m a n as a subject separate from the fetus that m a k e s a m o t h e r of her.
A b o u t the link b e t w e e n childbearing and otherness, Carol M o s s m a n
rightly observes that "to talk about the literal birth act is not s i m p l y to
a c c o u n t for the e m e r g e n c e of o n e being, but rather to consider h o w o n e
h u m a n entity b e c o m e s t w o " (p. 2) - a p r o c e s s that, a l t h o u g h necessarily
m o r e gradual b e c a u s e m o r e e x t e n d e d in time, is constitutive of
p r e g n a n c y e v e n m o r e than o f childbirth.
T h e word " o t h e r " , " a l t r o " , constantly recurs in these literary texts,
m a r k i n g the pregnant b o d y as the place of a splitting and as the ultimate
origin of subjectivity - but also of loss of subjectivity: " T h e pregnant
subject", as Y o u n g notes from a philospher's perspective, " e x p e r i e n c e s
her b o d y as herself and not herself. Its inner m o v e m e n t s belong to another
being, yet they are not other, because her body boundaries shift and
because her bodily self-location is focused on her trunk in addition to her
h e a d " (p. 46). A n d as Kristeva psychoanalytically puts it, "A m o t h e r ' s
identity is maintained only through the well-known closure of
consciousness within the indolence of habit, w h e n a w o m a n protects
herself from the borderline that severs the body and expatriates it from her
c h i l d " ("Stabat M a t e r , " p. 255). This identity or self-location, this closure
of consciousness, needs protection, for it is constantly threatened by the
Italian Narratives of Fetal M o v e m e n t
237
infiltration of an other through the prenatal connections established
between the w o m a n and the fetus. T h e m o t h e r ' s lack of unitary m e a n i n g
reflects and refracts the instability of linguistic signification itself:
conflict, contradiction, antithesis mark the pregnant b o d y even as they
characterize language. This construction affirms the h u m a n form of the
maternal and posits the gestating w o m a n as a site for contesting
differences, as opposed to the bourgeois metaphoric idealization of
maternal plenitude (and its flip side, of course, her animalization, her
reduction to gross matter/mater).
Neither mother nor fetus is ever a totally a u t o n o m o u s self, both of
their bodies being open, heterogeneous - " g r o t e s q u e , " to use a definition
given in a different context by Mikhail Bakhtin. N a n c y C h o d o r o w , for
instance, observes that a w o m a n m a y symbolically return to her m o t h e r
precisely " t h r o u g h her identification with the child w h o is in her w o m b "
(p. 201) - rather than, as m a n more literally does, through coitus. F r o m a
political perspective, Carole Pateman argues that unlike the m a l e body,
"tightly enclosed within b o u n d a r i e s " and thus the model of civil order
and political right, " w o m e n ' s bodies are permeable, their contours change
shape and they are subject to cyclical p r o c e s s e s " (p. 96). Yet the
distinction between self and other - problematized in these p r e g n a n c y
texts - is essential to the constitution of a linguistic system of
signification. T h e semiotic, as Julia Kristeva describes it, challenges and
subverts the symbolic, but does not exist independently of it. A n d
language as we k n o w it - most notably from S a u s s u r e ' s linguistics - is
explicitly and essentially based on difference: the recognition of
difference, that is, is the condition of language. T h e pregnant b o d y
threatens the differential structure of language and therefore threatens
language itself - though in threatening language it also ironically
confirms it.
If there's one thing that's been repressed, here's just the place to find it:
in the taboo of the pregnant woman. This says a lot about the power she
seems invested with at the time, because it has always been suspected
that, when pregnant, the woman not only doubles her market value, but
- what's more important - takes on intrinsic value as a woman in her
own eyes and, undeniably, acquires body and sex. (Cixous, pp. 261-62)
C i x o u s ' evocative (though to s o m e extent essentializing) language brings
together cultural repression and self-empowerment over the pregnant
b o d y - w h o s e visible sexuality adds value rather than " p u d o r e " to the
eyes of the (self) beholder. Turn-of-the-century w o m e n writers are not so
exultant in their re-inscription of the maternal b o d y within literary
Cristina Mazzoni
238
(re)production - and in their ambivalence they h e e d D o m n a S t a n t o n ' s
advice that " t h e m o m e n t the maternal emerges as a n e w d o m i n a n c e , it
m u s t be put into question before it congeals as feminine essence, as
u n c h a n g i n g in-difference" (p. 174). T h e y nevertheless impel us to ask the
very questions formulated in a different context by p h i l o s o p h e r and
cultural critic Susan B o r d o - and they m a y also help and e n c o u r a g e us to
find multiple, polyvocal answers. In Unbearable Weight, B o r d o w o n d e r s :
" I s p r e g n a n c y merely a cultural construction, capable of b e i n g shaped
into multitudinous and social forms? Or does the u n i q u e configuration of
e m b o d i m e n t presented in p r e g n a n c y - the having of a n o t h e r within
oneself, simultaneously b o t h part of oneself and separate from oneself constitute a distinctively female epistemological and ethical r e s o u r c e ? "
(p. 36). If the b o d y represents the procreative effort of discursive practices
it is also anchored in physiological tissues and m e c h a n i s m s , so I ask
again: can p r e g n a n c y be conducive to k n o w l e d g e (a k n o w l e d g e w h i c h , at
least for n o w , m u s t remain the prerogative of w o m e n ) , a n d c a n such
k n o w l e d g e then be turned into w o r d s - or does/must it r e m a i n within the
space of silence - h o w e v e r pregnant?
Silence, as Paolo Valesio has persuasively argued, o u g h t to be
listened to, for it m a y gesture towards the potential plenitude of
c o m m u n i c a t i o n . But Valesio describes t w o fundamental types of silence:
" i l silenzio c o m e interruzione (ο frattura ο infrangimento ο taglio [...]); e
il silenzio c o m e plenitudine (o pienezza, ο c o m p i u t e z z a ) " (Ascoltare il
silenzio, p. 378). T h e plenitude of silence is in dangerous p r o x i m i t y to the
fracturing interruption of silencing and, aware of this risk, I believe that it
is important to listen to the w o r d s of p r e g n a n c y as well as to its p r e g n a n t
silences. T h e t w o are inextricably intertwined: " c ' è un indicibile assoluto
e c ' è u n a difficoltà storicamente determinata a dire la propria e s p e r i e n z a , "
argues
feminist
philosopher
Luisa
Muraro,
complicating
and
c o m p l e m e n t i n g V a l e s i o ' s bipartite division, " m a i d u e indicibile, c h e in
teoria p o s s i a m o distinguere, alla singola possono risultare non separabili.
Ο lei p u ò non voler separarli, c o m e presentendo nella sua ordinaria
difficoltà a dire la prefigurazione dell'assolutamente indicibile" (p. 33).
M u r a r o ' s context is, appropriately, a discussion of the m o t h e r ' s language,
of her symbolic order. Ineffability and silencing both contribute to the
obfuscation of quickening, the former social relevance of w h i c h h a s n o w
b e e n o v e r s h a d o w e d by practices such as the use of p r e g n a n c y tests. B u t
literary figurations of this once impenetrable (and n o w almost trivial)
female intimacy have m u c h to say in spite of ineffability, in spite of
silence. Or perhaps just through ineffability, across their silences. T h e s e
figurations, these reproductions intertwine the voice of language,
Italian N a r r a t i v e s of Fetal M o v e m e n t
239
language as it is physically (re)produced, with a reproductive b o d y that
constitutes itself and/as the other. T h e y thematize the procreation of
subjectivity at its carnal inception, even as they post a peculiarly female,
singularly unvisualized knowledge of selfhood, otherness, and their
constitutive inextricability. M a n t e g a z z a ' s husband " n o n s e n t e " - does not
feel, does not hear - but that does not m e a n that we should not.
CRISTINA MAZZONI
University of V e r m o n t ,
Burlington, V e r m o n t
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