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Thursday, August 02, 2007


The inner child

Poetess posted a question about the inner child. My answer to this one may seem a bit odd: I never felt I had an inner child. I just had a self; when I was a child, I felt like a human being, and the same holds true today. At the same time, childhood is immensely important and relevant to art - but the relevance isn't internal, it's perceptual.

When you're a child, the world is numinous. You know nothing: your ignorance is infinite and absolute. You don't know that if you want the toy, you have to crawl towards it rather than back away; you don't know that the thing that feeds you is capable of having opinions; you don't know that earth will hold you up but you'll sink into water. There is a vast amount of information that it's vitally important that you learn, and learn fast: hence, everything that you perceive is profoundly, philosophically important. A fact isn't just a fact, it's a signifier of something greater, a tiny window into an infinite universe of understanding. To a child, the world is soaked in meaning.

As an adult, the world settles into the normal, and that vividness of perception, that symbolic richness, is exchanged for the more everyday magic that is the knowledge of what to do and how to take care of yourself in a confusing universe. Remember how extraordinary that seemed as a child, the way adults just knew what to do? You buy that magic for the price of numinous perception. And it's worth having. It isn't a tragedy, and I don't believe that it's too high a price to pay, not when I remember how magical adults seemed to me as a child.

But art can make the world new again. A strange combination of words, a vibrant painting, a curious camera angle, can make you see the world as you've never seen it before, as if you were still four years old and had everything to learn. Art can combine symbols and signifiers so that once again small things hint at greater ones. Art creates a world invested once again with meaning.

There's also the question of childish artistry. Some years ago when I was learning how to write, I came upon an old English notebook from when I was eight or nine. There were some stories in there, and I read one, about objects coming to life in the classroom after dark. It was a set topic, but the story had a riotous energy to it, a wild, freewheeling inventiveness. Self-consciousness is something that we learn, and as artists, have to unlearn: seeing that story filled me with confidence, because it made me think, 'Well, if I could write that freely once, I can do it again. I'm still that person, I just need to remember I can do it.' You don't want to write like a child, but it does help to write like an adult who remembers their childhood, because what you created back then is raw energy, and if you can add adult understanding to it, then you've got something far more vital than something with adult understanding alone.

You're always the same person you were when you were a child. That's the best thing to remember.

Hmm, yes and no. The brain undergoes massive reconstruction at the age of about four or five, and again during adolescence. So, yes, you are the same person, but no, you can't ever get back into that mindset.

Fascinating post, Kit :).
I need to find an old story I wrote, back around 8 years old. It was my first attempt at a novel...and ended up being three pages long (single-spaced, though!). Had something to do with a evil computer that controlled a bunch of space colonies with laser guns, and a crack team that was bent on taking it down. I think I killed everyone off in the end.

I wonder if that's a plot I could salvage...
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