Telling Bodies Performing Birth: Everyday Narratives of Childbirth

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"Birth stories," Della Pollock tells us, "are everywhere and nowhere," permeating and haunting our everyday lives. In this remarkable volume Pollock explores the myriad ways in which men and women recount the ritual performance of giving birth.

Many of these stories, Pollock observes, rise out of the depths of terror, flirting with disaster only to end with a profound sense of relief at what medical discourse calls a "good outcome." Others represent pain, make counterclaims on reproductive technologies, and suggest complex associations between maternity, sexuality, and body politics in the contemporary United States. Pollock retells stories about some of the injustices that structure giving and telling birth--finding there a reckoning with the unknown and unknowable.

Focusing on the performances of birth stories, Pollock writes an intimate ethnography: an account of listening "body to body" to stories that press the borders of cultural critique with virtuosity, possibility, desire, and risk. She draws on cultural criticism, performance studies, and narrative theory to unpack this long-ignored practice. Most striking, however, are the stories presented here: unsanctioned, bold, fragmentary, and often furtive, they both unnerve and inspire even as they realize and resist cultural norms.

-Della Pollock's writing seduces us into new realms of theory, experience and narrative until we cannot escape the importance of 'telling bodies, performing birth'. This is a big and beautiful book to be read by one and all.

-Elspeth Probyn -head of the Department of Gender Studies, University of Sydney -A strikingly original study of a compelling genre of personal experience narrative - the stories through which women make meaning out of birth. Telling Bodies Performing Birth is a gripping read that intellectually challenges and produces pleasure. -Dwight Conquergood -professor of performance studies, Northwestern University

1998 Lilla A. Heston Award, National Communication Association, Performance Studies Division

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Editorial Reviews

Dwight Conquergood
A strikingly original study of a compelling genre of personal experience narrative -the stories through which women make meaning out of birth. Telling Bodies Performing Birth is a gripping read that intellectually challenges and produces pleasure.
A literary analysis of the stories American women (and some men) tell about the experience of giving birth in the 20th century. Viewing the stories as performances that serve the purpose of redefining conventional narratives of gender, the author touches upon a number of topics including the medicalization of reproduction, the recent reintroduction of male partners into the labor and birth experience, and the natural childbirth movement of the 1960s and 70s. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Della Pollock is associate professor of communication studies and director of the University Program in Cultural Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is coeditor of the journal Cultural Studies and editor of Exceptional Spaces: Essays in Performance and History.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

One: Origins in Absence
Two: Narrative Rites
Three: Practicing Pain
Four: Secrets/Doubles

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