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8 December 2022

New Voices Winter Term 22/23 Talk Series on Women and their body: Marjolein Oele


Talk | 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM | Center for the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists

Abstract: Pregnancy has been a life-changing experience for me. It has been so not only because of my bodily transformation and the amazing two forms of life that emerged, but also because of its painful loss. It has prompted me to ask a simple yet profound question: how to grasp this grief, and how to combat the prevailing cultural discourse that seems in so many ways unsuited to address the ambivalence surrounding early pregnancy loss?[1]

One way of accessing the meaning of pregnancy loss is through rethinking the meaning of pregnancy in terms of a constellation. In previous work, I have proposed to view pregnancy in light of the building of a pregnant city,[2] in analogy to Plato’s building of a city in the Republic. Following this thought: what happens when the emerging pregnant city falls apart prematurely? Here it is the liminal experience of early miscarriage (i.e., miscarriage before the 12th gestational week) that I seek to investigate, which is important for 3 reasons. First, this form of ephemeral loss is conceptually under-articulated, yet experientially prevalent: 70 % of conceptions end prior to birth.[3] Secondly, rethinking early pregnancy loss stimulates correction of many accounts of loss that are predominantly focused on the loss of individuated, singular beings, rather than allowing for an analysis of loss at the level of the milieu. Thirdly, recognizing the importance and prevalence of dissipating constellation may bring further understanding and recognition to those caught in the grieving aftermath of miscarriage. I will show that Gilles Simondon’s account of pre-individuation is a helpful tool to both conceptualize the pregnant city in its early formation and in its dissolution, precisely because Simondon discusses a metaphysics of life that focuses not on being, but on being-as-becoming (ontogenesis) and affords a place for processes that are pre-individual.[4]

[1] In other philosophical publications on pregnancy, I have referenced the figure of Diotima (in Plato’s Symposium) as a key inspirational figure for my own thoughts on pregnancy. While, along the lines of Cavarero’s critique, I disagree with Diotima’s ultimate assessment of physical pregnancy (as a “lower” form of pregnancy, thereby annihilating maternal power), Diotima reminds us that pregnancy can and should stand center—as a liminal experience—in our philosophical accounts. Marjolein Oele, “Dasein and the Experience of Pregnancy: Contemplating Becoming-With, Attunement and Temporality with and beyond Heidegger,” in: Dasein and Gender, co-edited by Susanne Claxton and Patricia Glazebrook (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2023).

[2] Marjolein Oele, “Openness and Protection: A Philosophical Analysis of the Placenta’s Mediatory Role in Co-Constituting Emergent Intertwined Identities,” in: Configurations, Vol. 25 (3), July 2017, 347-371.

[3] The incidence of early clinical pregnancy loss “is estimated to be 15 % of conceptions with a significant variation according to age. Thus, the incidence ranges from 10 % in women aged 20 to 24 years to 51 % in women aged 40 to 44 years.” Overall, Larsen argues that 70 % of all conceptions end in death prior to birth.  Larsen et al, “New Insights into Mechanisms behind Miscarriage,” BMC Medicine 2013, 11 (154), 2-3.

[4] Gilles Simondon, “The Genesis of the Individual,” 1992, p. 300.

Biography: Marjolein Oele is Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Francisco. She was trained as an MD at the Free University of Amsterdam, has a master’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Amsterdam and received her PhD in Philosophy in 2007 from Loyola University Chicago. Her research intertwines Ancient Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Environmental Philosophy and Philosophy of Medicine. She is the author of E-Co-Affectivity: Exploring Pathos at Life’s Material Interfaces (SUNY, 2020) and co-editor of Ontologies of Nature: Continental Perspectives and Environmental Reorientations (Springer, 2017). She is currently working on a new book manuscript entitled Elemental Loss. Her articles have been published in a range of journals, including Ancient Philosophy, Configurations, Environmental Philosophy, Epochê, Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal, Radical Philosophy Reviews and Research in Phenomenology. She is a member of the executive board of the Pacific Association for the Continental Tradition (PACT) and she joined the editorial board of the journal Environmental Philosophy in 2017 as its book review editor.

This online talk will be held on Zoom. I hope many of you will be able to join us for an interesting talk and a friendly and engaged discussion!  Please register (no registration fees) here: contact@historyofwomenphilosophers.org

If you already have registered for the previous talk, you do not have to register again. The Zoom link will be the same.


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