New Voices Talk Series – Women and their body (3)

Marjolein Oele: “Pregnant Constellations and their Demise: A Phenomenology of Miscarriage”

On the 8th of December 2022, at 4 pm (German time/CET), we will have the pleasure to hear Marjolein Oele on Pregnant Constellations and their Demise: A Phenomenology of Miscarriage.

Pregnancy has been a life-changing experience for me. It has been so not only because of her bodily transformation and the amazing two forms of life that emerged, but also because of its painful loss. It has prompted her 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?

One way of accessing the meaning of pregnancy loss is through rethinking the meaning of pregnancy in terms of a constellation. In previous work, she has proposed to view pregnancy in light of the building of a pregnant city, 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 she seeks 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. 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. She 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.

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.

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