Persephone’s Return: Creativity, Procreation, and Contemporary Art
This project examines the normative category of “creativity” (as a value-laden criterion distinguishing artistic production from other kinds of production) and its transformation through discourses shaped by gender. More specifically, I investigate the “maternal” as a catalyst for this transformation. I define the “maternal” neither as a matter of biography nor iconography, but as one of authorship: what new values are encoded into the category of creativity when the progenitor of that activity invests the act of making with attributes like reciprocity (instead of competition), care (instead of critique), and dependency (instead of autonomy)?
My hypothesis is that such “new values” can be described as transforming dominant accounts of creativity. I test that hypothesis against the Demeter-Persephone myth of antiquity, which several scholars have named as a significant challenge to masculine paradigms of creativity (e.g. Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence”). Privileging as the agent of creation a female (instead of a male) protagonist, the reunion of intergenerational actors (instead of patricide or matricide), and cyclical (instead of progressive) time, the Demeter myth was significantly revived, at least since the 1970s, by artists, writers, and theorists invested in canon critique.
By revalorizing “myth” (as opposed to, say, “discourse”), these interventions seem to challenge what was then a dominant definition of “critique” (e.g. the Barthesian “structuralist activity”). I thus additionally hypothesize that this recuperation of mythology at the very moment that “mythology” was being delegitimized may be one reason why such counter paradigms of artistic creation have remained marginalized. Using insights from religious studies as well as feminist philosophy to guide my approach, I examine a spectrum of these artworks (within the visual arts, film, literature, theater, and performance) and argue that through this work of mythologization, such works call into being a novel paradigm of creativity, one in which the making of other bodies, indeed the natural world itself, is increasingly indistinguishable from the making of the artwork.