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Umbilical Phantoms: A Conversation with Siri Hustvedt and Anna Motz

Friday April 12 at 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm EDT

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“The more scientists find out about the placenta, the weirder it gets. The cellular exchange creates chimeras of both mother and foetus during pregnancy.” Join novelist and essayist Siri Hustvedt and forensic psychologist Anna Motz for a philosophical and psychological salon on the birth of things: babies, ideas, art.

This salon will explore philosophical and psychological issues on the nature of creativity, and the central role of the placenta, which has often been neglected. The significance of the placenta will be explored alongside the nature of unconscious phantasies in pregnancy. The discussion will focus on female creativity , both reproductive and artistic.

This discussion is inspired by Siri’s essay “Umbilical Phantoms,” published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis (2022) and Anna Motz’s work on a woman’s unconscious use of her body in pregnancy and early motherhood. An excerpt from Siri’s essay is included below to introduce the conversation:

Reproductive metaphors, conscious and unconscious, for making art abound. Plato’s pregnant philosopher lived on. Once poets gained admission to various imaginary Republics in the West, pregnant male artists have given birth to poems, music, paintings and books, scions of wondrous creations, born like multiple Athenas from their throbbing heads. The envious appropriation of female gestation and birth has reinforced the Platonic hierarchy of two realms, idea and soul over body and nature, rather than human thought as a product of developing, natural, embodied processes.

Abstract concepts isolate one thing from another, an isolation that brings the comfort of clarity and clean separation. But such distinctions are often fraught. Ambiguities haunt the science of the placenta. Despite an eagerness to distinguish the maternal from the fetal, things get fuzzy. A 2021 paper (Thomas et al. 2021) uncovered a significant percentage of maternal immune cells in the early fetal placenta. The assumption that decisive boundaries exist bespeaks an intolerance for mixing that dates to mechanistic thought in the seventeenth century – bodies are machine-like things with clearly differentiated parts.

Anna Motz has spent over thirty years working analytically with mothers, both within and outside criminal justice systems, and explores and reveals unconscious phantasies in the pregnant body. She describes the inter-relation between mother and baby, in phantasy and in the first days of life to uncover the roots of love, and its distortions, as well as the development of a sense of self.

Recommended Readings:

Femme Fatale: Why women kill (Anna Motz on the Think podcast with Krys Boyd)

When Women Commit Violence (Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker)

Anna Motz C-SPAN Interview

Siri Hustvedt is the author of a book of poetry, four collections of essays, two works of non-fiction, and seven novels, including the international bestsellers What I Loved and The Summer Without Men. Her 2014 novel The Blazing World was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and won The Los Angeles Book Prize for fiction. She is the recipient of many awards including  International Gabarron Prize for Thought and Humanities, The European Essay Prize, and The Princess of Asturias Prize. She has a PhD in English from Columbia University and is a lecturer in psychiatry at Weil Cornell Medical College in New York. Her work has been translated into over thirty languages.

Anna Motz was born in Oxford, England, and raised in New York City and is an internationally recognized forensic psychotherapist. She received a degree in psychology from Oxford University. She lives and works in Oxfordshire as a consultant clinical and forensic psychologist and psychotherapist for Central and North West London NHS Trust, providing specialist consultation, assessment, and treatment for high-risk women, in partnership with His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. Motz is a member of the Advisory Board for Female Offenders, under the UK Ministry of Justice. She is the author of three books on forensic psychotherapy and If Love Could Kill: The Myths and Truths of Women who Commit Violence (Knopf, 2024).

Photo credits: Siri Hustvedt by Spencer Ostrander and Anna Motz by David Fisher. Opening quote: Siri Hustvedt in The Conversation.

This event will be recorded.


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Umbilical Phantoms: A Conversation with Siri Hustvedt and Anna Motz
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$ 20.00


Friday April 12
2:00 pm - 3:30 pm EDT
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Anna Motz


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