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Professor Paul Verhaeghe reviews Estela Welldon’s book Mother Madonna Whore

Friday, 12 December 2008

Professor Paul Verhaeghe, senior professor at Ghent University and chair of the department for psychoanalysis and counselling psychology, on Estela Welldon’s Mother Madonna Whore

Putting forward the combination between motherhood and perversion made Estela famous - to my knowledge, she is the first clinician who has demonstrated time and again that perversion can only be understood if we look at the mother, meaning that we have to reconsider female perversion as well. The importance of this clinical insight cannot be overrated,and it testifies to three things. First of all, to her intellectual courage. Secondly, to her sense of humanity. And last but not least, to her clinical finesse.

To publish a book about motherhood as the seat of perversion in a feminist time and place is just another way of trying to commit suicide by proxy. With hindsight, it is almost a miracle that the book was actually published and read. It goes against two visceral certainties: that mothers are always saints and that women are never perverse. Estela confronts us with another reality, not caring about being politically correct, as long as it is clinically correct. And correct she was and is - beyond the romantic mainly boyish ideals of a saint motherhood and the feverish phallic masculine ideals of a sexy femininity, there are real women with real problems that are totally different from both the romantic and the erotic universe of the male, but it takes courage to put that forward against both traditional patriarchal and then contemporary feminist views.

Paul Verhaeghe, 2008

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