Entries in birth (3)


Red Aries #24 (Mothers)


Ann Miller, star of "Easter Parade", b. April 7, 1923


I hurry through these references in order to achieve a general impression of the harsh reality of the birth experience which Aries exposes.

Samuel Beckett (b. April 13, 1906): His parents made it clear that he was an unwanted pregnancy. He was obsessed with memories of suffocation in the womb, of an attempted wire hanger abortion on himself as a fetus, and with a nagging sensation of having been “incompletely born”.

Marguerite Duras (b. April 4, 1914) was obsessed by her demented mother, who favored her horrible eldest son. She was traumatized by her only pregnancy, which ended in stillbirth. She wrote, “I believe that always, or almost always, in all childhoods and in all the lives that follow them, the mother represents madness. Our mothers always remain the strangest, craziest people we've ever met.”  

Cynthia Ozick (b. April 17, 1928): Her tale of Puttermesser and the Golem is an amazing meditation on the  mother/child dyad. So, for that matter, is her famous holocaust story, The Shawl.

Baudelaire (April 9, 1821) and his mother, the remarried Mme Aupick, a paradigmatic relationship acutely analyzed by J-P Sartre in his classic 'Baudelaire'. Baudelaire lived fatherless with his mother in a state of symbiotic, quasi-fetal bliss, until he was eight, when she abruptly married Aupick. The poet never recovered from the late loss of his paradise. 

The mother of the poet Paul Verlaine (b. March 30, 1844) “suffered three miscarriages before Paul’s birth in 1844; she preserved the fetuses in jars. When Paul came along he received the obsessive and indulgent mothering that such behavior portended. . . .In 1869 Verlaine made at least two violent attacks on his mother, threatening to kill her (how genuinely remains unclear), and on one occasion breaking the glass jars in which the three dead fetuses were kept.” (Bohemian Paris, by Jerrold E. Seigel)

Bette Davis, in the film Now, Voyager a self-proclaimed matricide and in her daughter's autobiography My Mother’s Keeper an abusive parent. Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, an abused mother, and in Mommy Dearest, an abusive mother. In Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, they abuse each other.

Among the psychoanalysts:
Donald Winnicott and Melanie Klein, two important post-Freudian theorists specializing in the child: Each of them criticized Freud for his over-emphasis of the oedipal phase and his neglect of the crucial and often traumatic mother/child bond.

Wilhelm Reich (24 March 1897): As a teenager he spied on his mother’s trysts, breathlessly reported them to his father, and thus precipitated her suicide. Then he had to discover her body. This parallels Aries Christopher Hitchens's mother's suicide, which he hints he might have prevented. He was summoned to Athens to fetch her body, and shockingly confronted the blood-soaked scene of her death.


Billie Holiday suffered this formative meta-maternal disaster. Her favorite family member was her greatgrandmother, her grandfather's mother:

She really loved me and I was crazy about her. She had been a slave on a big plantation in Virginia and she used to tell me about it. She had her own little house in the back of the plantation. Mr. Charles Fagan, the handsome Irish plantation owner, had his white wife and children in the big house. And he had my great grandmother out in back. She had sixteen children by him, and all of them were dead except Grandpop.

We used to talk about life. And she used to tell me how it felt to be a slave, to be owned body and soul by a white man who was the father of her children. She couldn't read or write, but she knew the Bible by heart from beginning to end and she was always ready to tell me a story from the Scriptures.

She was ninety-six or ninety-seven then and had dropsy. I used to take care of her every day after school. No one else paid any attention. I'd give her a bath sometimes. And I'd always bind her legs with fresh cloths and wash the smelly old ones.

She'd been sleeping in chairs for ten yearrs. The doctor told her she'd die if she ever laid down. But I didn't know. And once after I'd changed the cloths on her legs and she had told me a story, she begged me to let her lie down. She said she was tired. I didn't want to let her. But she kept begging and begging. It was pityful.

Finally I spred a blanket on the floor and helped her stretch out. Then she asked me to lie down with her because she wanted to tell me another story. I was tired too. I'd been up early that morning to scrub steps. So I laid down with her. I don't remember the story she told me because I fell asleep right away.

I woke up four or five hours later. Grandma's arm was still tight around my neck and I couldn't move it. I tried and tried and then I got scared. She was dead, and I began to scream. The neighbors came running. They had to break Grandma's arm to get me loose. Then they took me to a hospital. I was there for a month. Suffering from what they said was shock.

When I got home Cousin Ida started right in where she had left off, beating me. This time it was for letting Grandma out of her chair. The doctor tried to stop her. He said if she kept it up I'd grow up to be nervous. But she never stopped.

What a gruesome version of the birth trauma, the terrifying struggle of nascent being against negation and regression, that continually animates Aries, the sign of beginning.



Aries Red #22 - Baby's first outfit - Descartes and Hobbes


 Aries remembers birth, emerging clothed in bloody viscera, in the seat of compulsion and pleasure/pain. Aries never gets over it and a marked ambivalence toward the Mother runs through the biography of the Ram.

The amniotic sac (gr. amnos, lamb) and the blood-laden placenta. Aries never fully recovers from the trauma of birth. They oscillate between the exhilaration of freedom and the unfairness of having no choice but to BE. They never give up their first lover/enemy, the Mother. The personal history of Aries often contains a flamboyancy in the mother-figuration, an dramatic engagement they can't pass up or let go of.

Aries tells us about beginnings: at the beginning of the modern mind Aries speaks through two philosophers, the contemporaneous Descartes (March 31, 1596 - 1650) and Hobbes ( April 5, 1588 - 1679). Philosophical argument deplores the ad hominem, but astrology adores it: both Descartes and Hobbes endured particularly vivid birth circumstances. Descartes, with cogito ergo sum, objectified the concept of the Self we continue to use and question. He experienced a complicated and politically dense infancy. Briefly, he lied about it; philosophers are not supposed to lie.

As for Hobbes, inventor of the rational materialist politics of power, his reputation rolls on the wheels of a few Arietic formulations, ("clear and distinct" as Descartes said thoughts should be) the "warre of each against all",  "nasty, brutish, and short". His birth took place during the bombardment of the English coast by the Spanish Armada. "His mother fell in labor with him upon the fright of the invasion of the Spaniards," Aubrey's Brief Lives puts it. A bachelor, Hobbes had no offspring but left an autobiography. He attributed his lifelong anxiety to his delivery: "And hereupon it was my Mother Dear/Did bring forth Twins at once, both Me, and Fear."

Additional reading:

Bordo, Susan. Ed. Feminist Interpretations of Descartes (1999)

Hoffman, Piotr. The Quest for Power: Hobbes, Descartes, and the emergence of modernity (1996)


Holiday in Red (#5)

Joseph Stone supplied this red rendition of Billie Holiday.

She tells an unforgetable story about a red dress in her autobiography, "Lady Sings the Blues":

When you did something against the rules [in the Catholic institution], at least they didn't beat you . . .

When you were being punished you got a raggedy red dress to wear. When you wore this dress none of the other girls were supposed to go near you or speak to you.

I'll never forget the first girl I saw wear the dress. She was a real wild one and she was alone in the backyard, standing on a swing. She kept swinging higher and higher, shouting and hollering, swinging higher and higher. She worked so hard she was puffing and huffing. And the kids stood around watching her, all eyes.

The Mother Superior tried to keep the kids moving and break up the crowd of gawking girls. The girl in the raggedy red dress kept on swinging and screaming. I guess she figured as long as she stayed up there on the swing no one could touch her. The Mother Superior just looked at ther, then she turned to a group of us and said: "Just remember, God will punish her."

In a few seconds there was a terrible jerk. As she swing to the highest point she could make on the swing, the chair broke and the girl flew through the air. Then there was a terrible thud and then nothing. When they found her, her neck was broken.

The first time I wore the red dress was at Easter.