Autotelic Relationships and the Child as ‘Metaproject’

The increasing fragility of marriages and intimate relationships in general is particularly apparent from the perspective of long-lasting premodern marriages. Traditional families once based on the unquestionable dominance of the father as well as on the need to pass on the family’s fortune and social status to the next generation are progressively replaced by a hitherto unprecedented configuration of relationships which are, at least in the dominant discourse of late modernity, underpinned solely by the affective relation between the partners (with or without children). The democratizing effect of this shift towards what I will call an „autotelic relationship” is irrevocable, however it also imposes the imperative to strive for happiness within relationships as well as to submit all matters and life plans to permanent debileration, discursivation, and evaluation. Despite the fact that marriage and birth rates clearly indicate the deep crisis of contemporary family, people still tend to believe that their difficulties related to family life and relationships can somehow – with the help of psychotherapy, couple’s or family therapy – be overcome by submitting oneself, once again, to the imperative of constant communication, discursivation which, instead of bringing ease, only enhances fragility as they are themselves a great part of the problem. The only apparently viable, and more or less unconscious, strategy to stabilize fragile relationships is having a child. This is how having a child becomes the only possible ‘metaproject’ in the era of late modernity.

Released: Replika 110, 95–133.