“Tell me about your mother”: The philosophers on the couch


The model mother

“This is how she and I lived in a kind of symbiosis, and without trying to imitate her, I was cast by her. writing Simone de Beauvoir in Memories of a neat girl (1958) about his mother, Francoise Brasseur. Very young, little Simone felt the need to follow in her mother’s footsteps, especially in the field “virtue”. Above all, the future letter woman fears to disappoint her, which for her is nothing more or less than disappointing heaven: “She was my witness, and I made almost no distinction between her gaze and God’s gaze.”, she remembers.

Beauvoir evokes her mother’s austerity, but also recognizes her tolerance. “I would like to be considered; but I essentially needed to be accepted in my truth, with the shortcomings of my age; my mother assured me by her tenderness a total justification », she acknowledges. Françoise Brasseur manages to hold together two false conflicting educational goals: to let the child be himself, while allowing him to develop in “his truth”.

Socrates too inherited “his truth”, his calling, thanks to his mother, Phenaret. She was a midwife. When he was growing up, the philosopher, in turn, practiced this art of birth – majesty – not with women, but with spirits. It is up to him to let the people they meet formulate the truth they already have in them. ONE “gift” that he and his mother “received from the goddess Artemis”, he says in Theaetetus.

mother’s evil

It’s easy to love who is our guide and our model. But should we only love the mother because she is our mother? That is the terrible question facing Albert Camusin front of Catherine Helene Sintes, a mother “crippled” and unable to express affection. This maternal silence, «The silence of the animals […] of irreparable destruction ”undoubtedly created the beginning of the feeling of the absurdity of the world, which would become the central motif in Camus’ way of thinking.

“She never caressed him because she did not want to know. Then there are long minutes to look at her. To feel like a stranger, he becomes aware of his pain. tells the author and talks about the child he was in the third person. After all, little Albert feels born in himself “momentum” love for his mother. “It must be because it’s his mother after all”, he decides bitterly.

Other philosophers, such as Arthur Schopenhauer, will completely renounce sonly love. In a letter full of anger, the German thinker reveals the complaints he nurtures against his mother Johanna Schopenhauera rather prolific writer who at the time enjoyed some fame : “I know women. They consider marriage an annuity. When my own father was stuck in a hospital chaire […] islandwould have been left to himself if an old servant had not fulfilled the charitable duties towards him which Mrs. my mother did not fulfill. Madame my mother held parties while dying in solitude. » The one who has to writes-testyour womenone of the most notorious misogynistic works in the history of ideas, to conclude: “This is the love of women.”

Mothers’ grief

Mothers can make the baby suffer… or vice versa. Seneca, forced into exile by the emperor Claudius in the year 41 (he was already over 30), his mother, despite herself, Helviathe pain of a forced separation. “Often, O dear mothers, I have been tempted to alleviate your sorrows”he lamented in a letter with the title Comfort in Helvia ». To alleviate his grief, he offers him a variety of means such as studies or refuge with his relatives. Through this long letter, the Stoic applies the principles of his philosophy, which make the absence of disturbances –ataraksi – the ultimate goal of life. More than a sonly duty, comforting his mother becomes a philosophical demand.

But the calm that the stoic ideal advocates seems very incompatible with the state of motherhood. Motherly love is depicted as a constant concern of Martha Arendt, the mother of Hannah, dedicating an entire notebook to his daughter, from birth (Our child, notebook by Martha Arendt). “benign otitis media”, “fall” … cEvery little wound is listed there with the utmost care. When her daughter was later of school age, Martha Arendt wrote: “I’m seriously worried. She’s so sensitive it hurts every time she has to deal with someone. […] I am saddened by the thought that she will experience the same ordeal as me in her relationship with others. » Thus, she formulates a universal parental fear: the fear that her child will endure the same trials as herself.

Mothers and the Oedipus complex

“Later I will marry her to protect her. I promise her: I will extend my hand to her, I will put my youthful significance to her service., writing Jean paul Sartrein The words (1964), the autobiography that tells of his childhood. Anne-Marie Schweitzer, his mother, is a young widow who has returned to live with her parents. The small “Poulou” that considered as “his equal “, her ” big sister “, even though his bride. “My mother was mine, no one disputed my peaceful possession of her”, he remembers. His Oedipus complex, which he qualifies “incomplete”, saves him, as a bonus, the pain of jealousy. Because he has no rival, little Sartre does not know “reality only by its grinning inconsistency”.

In Rousseau, the Oedipus complex assumes quite different proportions. It all starts with a drama. The philosopher loses his mother, Susan Bernard, who dies and gives birth to him. He then weaves a more or less ambiguous relationship with the women who raised him.. The episode of beatings inflicted by Miss de Lambercier, one of the most famous of confessionstells of the somewhat masochistic agitation aroused by the threat of, then the execution, of this corporal punishment. “I had in the pain, even in the shame, found a mixture of sensuality, which had left me with more desire than fear of experiencing it again with the same hand”he confesses.

With her second educator, Madame de Warens, things become more concrete. He meets her like fifteen, she becomes his “protector”. He calls him ” mother “, she gave him the nickname ” small “ : conditions which they will keep throughout their relationship, even when it becomes when he is twenty years old, “of a different kind”. Quick, summarizes the philosopher, the “senses” has entered into the attachment he feels for this “young and beautiful mother”.

mothers love

“I only love one person in this world, it’s mom”, writing Marcel Proust in a letter to his friend Louis d’Albufera, a few days after the death of his mother, Jeanne Weill. As a child, Proust had known this panic attack to be abandoned when his mother one evening did not come to kiss him to say goodnight. At the time, the episode ended well for little Marcel, who ends up staying with her mother. Nevertheless, he was already aware that it would not hold: “I knew that such a night could never be repeated; that the greatest wish I had in the world to keep my mother in my room during these sad nightly hours was too much contrary to the necessities of life. »

Motherly love is often closely linked to childhood memories. “Crying for your mother is to mourn your childhood”writing Albert Cohen in My mother’s book (1954). His mother, Louise Cohenembodies for him the nostalgia for a lost paradise: Man wants his childhood, wants it back, and if he loves his mother more as he gets older, it’s because his mother is his childhood. “ he continues.

“It’s still beautiful, such a love”, will also write Romain Gary about his mother, Mina Owczynska. A love so pure and so absolute ”That it gives you bad habits. […] We believe that it exists elsewhere, that it can be found. » But this feeling is unique and is not found anywhere else. This is what inspired the title of his novel, The promise of dawn (1960)vsscars, he concludes, “With motherly love, life gives you a promise at dawn that it never lasts”.

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