Alison Winch on ‘Thomas Hobbes (1588–) Works Motherhood’

She-wolf suckles Romulus and Remus.The Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) in this sequence is the philosopher of post-Thatcher Britain; the ‘founding father’ of individualism. He is the man-genius who conceives people as competitive, violent and self-serving. Or at least that is how he is translated or used today (although when I read him, he is peculiar; of a different world). This Hobbes – like today’s perfect citizen – is dependent on nothing and no one but his own masterful mind.

What a load of crap! I wanted to put this imagined Hobbes in a situation where he had to face the systems of care that meant he could have written Leviathan in the first place. Identities are relational – however much market capitalism might tell us otherwise. We are intimately connected to species, systems, structures. Not independent, but mutually dependent.

So what happens when this Hobbes has to confront his relatedness and his multiplicity? I looked at this through the lens of motherhood as I had lots of notes and feelings about this, having just become a mother for the first time. Motherhood is an over-valorised and utterly conventional identity (for specific women and specific bodies). The ideal mother is respectable and keeps her carework within the private family unit. Or at least that is what is expected. If she is too visible then she’s a calcified stock figure (yummy mummy, pram face, MILF, scrounger).

Being a parent is dirty and complex. It amplifies vulnerabilities. I have my own inner Hobbes. I want to be completely self-sufficient. But caring for a child has meant that I can’t feed that delusion. Not only because of my relationship with my son (which itself destabilises ‘my’, ‘him’, ‘me’) but also because of the people, institutions, things, around us – our neighbour two doors down, my son’s key worker at nursery, my mum, the person who mended the washing machine yesterday, all the doctors and nurses at the local surgery.

I could have put this Hobbes in all kinds of other situations which would have revealed the varieties of ways that care underpins everything he does. But this Hobbes is partly made up of fragments written while postnatal and travelling around London: scared, ashamed, bewildered, cleaning (mainly cleaning), spending significant amounts of time on the bus.

Alison Winch’s poem ‘Thomas Hobbes (1588–) Works Motherhood’ is published in the Autumn 2018 issue of The Poetry Review, Vol. 108, No. 3.