Natality: Toward a Philosophy of Birth (Hardcover)
An exhilarating exploration of natality, a much-needed counterpoint to mortality, drawing on the insights of brilliant writers and thinkers.
Birth is one of the most fraught and polarized issues of our time, at the center of debates on abortion, gender, work, and medicine. But birth is not solely an issue; it is a fundamental part of the human condition, and, alongside death, the most consequential event in human life. Yet it remains dramatically unexplored. Although we have long intellectual traditions of wrestling with mortality, few have ever heard of natality, the term political theorist Hannah Arendt used to describe birth’s active role in our lives. In this ambitious, revelatory book, Jennifer Banks begins with Arendt’s definition of natality as the “miracle that saves the world” to develop an expansive framework for birth’s philosophical, political, spiritual, and aesthetic significance.
Banks focuses on seven renowned western thinkers—Arendt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Sojourner Truth, Adrienne Rich, and Toni Morrison—to reveal a provocative countertradition of birth. She narrates these writers’ own experiences alongside the generative ways they contended with natality in their work. Passionately intelligent and wide-ranging, Natality invites readers to attend to birth as a challenging and life-affirming reminder of our shared humanity and our capacity for creative renewal.
About the Author
Jennifer Banks is senior executive editor at Yale University Press. Her work has appeared in the Boston Review and?Pleiades, among other publications. She lives in Massachusetts.
Unusually thoughtful... Banks is a lively writer of capsule biographies and a deft interpreter of thorny philosophical concepts... [Natality is] fresh and reflective.
— Becca Rothfield - Washington Post
Thought-provoking... Many sections of this book are so human, so humane, and so lovely. I found myself repeatedly inspired... I stand in awe of Banks’ accomplishments in grappling in a unifying way with such deep and passionate thinkers. Her book succeeds in raising the question of natality so that we might move, as the subtitle indicates, a few steps farther ‘toward a philosophy of birth.'
— Dixie Dillon Lane - Current
A gripping exploration of some of society’s biggest contradictions: our adoration for life but ignorance about birth, our reverence for mothers but disregard for their needs, and our focus on mortality but—until now—neglect of natality. This is a fascinating read.
— Dana Suskind, MD, author of Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise
Jennifer Banks has brought to light a dimension of experience that is both universal and weirdly neglected. This is a lucid, provocative, and groundbreaking book.
— Christian Wiman, Yale University professor and author of My Bright Abyss: Mediation of a Modern Believer
Natality is a quietly disruptive book. At a time when public discussion of motherhood and childbirth too quickly devolves into political talking points, Jennifer Banks unearths voices from the past that challenge us to consider the profound and inscrutable nature of birth. Natality reminds us that there has never been a singular conversation around childbirth, but by tending to the mystery, beauty, and contradictions of birth, we contemplate humanity itself.
— Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne
Natality is not just one way to think about the human condition, but an indispensable way, without which nothing else makes much sense. This gripping, hopeful, and inspiring book, written in a spirit of fellowship that gives the whole book a human glow, is a splendid antidote to the nihilistic temptation.
— Anthony Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law at Yale Law School
With poetic precision, Jennifer Banks moves deftly through various literary, living, and intellectual cultures to tell us about our beginning at a time when the gradient of most narratives dips toward our end. I will read Natality again and again, to feel alive, to be reborn.
— Sumana Roy, author of How I Became a Tree
To describe the revelation of Jennifer Banks’s Natality, I find myself reaching for words like original, fertile, generative—words to describe not only the book but the way it acts upon you, and upon the world. Natality is a work of astonishing brilliance, beauty, hope, and generosity. I know I’ll be buying it for everyone.
— Devorah Baum, author of On Marriage
In this resplendent tapestry, each chapter a riveting discovery, Jennifer Banks witnesses the hidden gestations within the wombs of literary history. Natality is not just about giving birth. Natality is at the heart of culture care, of all generative making, and it opens paths uncharted.
— Makoto Fujimura, artist and author of Art and Faith: A Theology of Making