17 June 2015

From frustration to creativity through transitional phenomena


These transitional moments are not easy for me.
            D.W. Winnicott talks about transitional phenomena. Perhaps he thinks of what I am calling here transitional moments as ‘phenomena’ and therefore, as transitional. I am speaking of the graduation of my older daughter from her master’s program at the University of Chicago School of Social Administration as earlier I spoke of my experience of my daughter’s 21st birthday. My daughter’s graduation demands a change in my understanding of who I am in the world and what the world may be for me now. I am in a transitional moment: I am in an area of transitional phenomena.
            For Winnicott the transition to a balanced, creative life was that which occurred in the ‘movement’ from the wholly subjective world over which the subject has complete control to that ‘reality’ that is objectively perceived and that does not satisfy the child’s sense of omnipotence. Transitional phenomena are those areas that are permitted to the infant (by good enough parents) between primary creativity--when the infant ‘creates’ the world she needs--and the objective world. Transitional phenomena are those intermediate areas of experience between what Winnicott claims the infant is ‘allowed”--“the substance of illusion” and an external reality. The good enough parent offers the child the illusion that there is an external reality that corresponds exactly to the infant’s own capacity to create: in these moments for the infant the world exists wholly by the child’s creation. When the child cries the breast automatically appears as if the child had created the breast—imagined it into being; the breast appeared exactly at the moment that the child imagined it. Of course, the infant does not know it is the breast it would create, but it does know that the world met her exact need at the precise moment that she expressed that need. With good enough parents whatever the child desires immediately appears: there is no difference between the infant’s imagination and reality.
            Transitional phenomena, then, are activities in which the infant engages with the environment during the moments when the good enough parent doesn’t immediately respond to the infant’s needs. These phenomena are linked to “thinking, or fantasying” on the part of the infant because these phenomena represent experiences of early relinquishment of omnipotence over the object (the ‘breast’) and the beginnings of the child’s relationship with the external world. This external world begins to exist in the experience of external phenomena.  Some would refer to this experience as one of frustration, a subject about which I posted recently. Winnicott sees these experiences in a less negative light. For Winnicott, these are moments when the child begins to ‘think’ or to engage in productive fantasy: the child acknowledges the existence of the external world that can be used but not wholly controlled nor destroyed. The child learns to use the external reality to fulfill desire. In the adult—because the existence of transitional phenomena do not disappear with childhood but continue (hopefully) throughout life, transitional phenomena are experienced in the production of art, in the experience of religion. Transitional phenomena are areas wehre occur the experience of “imaginative living and creative scientific works.” Transitional phenomena occur over the entire range of living¾over the entire cultural field. That is, transitional phenomena occur everywhere as the organism grows (and matures), and the negotiation the subject makes between her internal and external reality occurs in creative productions. The failure of the transition would lead, I suppose to either forms of schizophrenia or totalitarianism.
            One learns reality by becoming disillusioned with her sense of omnipotence, but one learns creativity in that experience of disillusionment.  The child learns that her capacity to control the appearance and purpose of the world is not absolute. In the potential space that exists between the wholly internal and the wholly external reality exists as transitional phenomena. It is the function of the good enough parent to disillusion the child, but one can’t be disillusioned without first possessing the illusion. We enter reality when we attempt to destroy the object and it survives. So perhaps I consider that the independence of the child in this transitional moment cum transitional phenomenon leads to the production of this blog piece--to some experience of creativity. The loss of my sense of omnipotence (an obvious and immature regression) transforms into my creative power.  My children have defeated me! I thrive.

9 Comments:

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Perhaps he thinks of what I am calling here transitional moments as ‘phenomena’ and therefore, as transitional.
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