Beyond Bunnies: Poetry, Psychoanalysis, and Pedagogical Potential A Reader Response by Kelly Quinn For EDU 5101 Perspectives in Education

Beyond Bunnies: Poetry, Psychoanalysis, and Pedagogical Potential A Reader Response by Kelly Quinn For EDU 5101 Perspectives in Education

Mirroring Farley (2015), I’m beginning with a confession. At the risk of copying Winnicott’s patient with an overly mimetic attachment to poetry, I must confess that my initial responses to Farley’s article were borrowed lines of poetry. Throughout the reading, Farley’s emphasis on the creative urges of infancy made me think of Wordsworth’s (1807) ode “Intimations of Immortality.” Taking a strikingly similar stance to Winnicott and Farley, Wordsworth suggests we can only be creative insofar as we can access our infancy. The school-aged child loses early creativity, becoming a “little actor” conning a part, “As if his whole vocation / Were endless imitation” (p. 188). Like Farley, for Wordsworth, the true poet must retreat beyond this imitation to the creative impulses of infancy. But Farley breaks from the Wordsworthian model here, suggesting that while the creative impulse relies on infant urges, creative work must be grounded in our cultural location. This produces a painful crisis, as our infantile sense of omnipotence drives us to create something authentic and unique.  We can, however, only create within the modes of representation that our culture provides to us. The teacher can ease this crisis and facilitate creativity, however, by creating a space where the copy can in fact be “more than just a clone” (p. 131).  My response builds on Farley’s, and Winnicott’s, use of poetry to highlight the intersectionality of creativity, crisis, and copying, which permeates our existence from infancy, through school, and into parenthood.

The regression beyond “endless imitation” to our infantile urges takes me to Wordsworth’s vision of our origins. The lines that reverberated most in my mind while reading Farley were these:

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home.

Heaven lies about us in our infancy! (p. 187)

Wordsworth’s view of childhood is that we are born in a state of perfection, but then are corrupted by the world. This then-radical view took hold in the Romantic period, challenging the doctrine of original sin, which suggests that we are born corrupt, in need of civilizing to correct our baser instincts. I think the tension between these positions lingers, and each holds implications for education. We can map these views onto Dewey’s (1938) discussion of educational philosophies: those who support progressive education, “based upon natural endowments,” reflect the Romantic view of childhood, and those who support traditional education, “a process of overcoming natural inclination,” are aligned with an original sin view of human nature (p.1). The creative crisis Farley describes, however, melds these positions: her emphasis on the role of copy in creativity combines both our natural endowments and the learning passed down to us.

Wordsworth says we are born with fragile ties to heavenly origins, but Farley cites Britzman (1999), who says we are born into the world with “ties to authority” (p. 11, as cited in Farley). The authority Farley and Britzman envision is not Wordsworth’s God, but our parents, and these are ties that cannot be broken. Indeed, Farley notes that even separation from parents does not bring complete freedom. She quotes Anna Freud, who writes: “it’s as if the parents say: you can go away, but you must take us with you” (p. 86, as cited in Farley). Philip Larkin’s (1974) poem “This be the Verse” came to mind for me at this point:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.

Such a dark and emphatic counterpoint to Wordsworth! There are perhaps other ways to read this poem, though. I did not take Larkin’s final line to heart—I have children. When I fret about my maternal flaws, I take consolation in Winnicott, who argues that mothers need only be “good enough.” But Larkin offers his own consolation too: for him, messing one’s children up is not an individual failing, but one of the incurable conflicts of being alive, as Farley puts it. Larkin uses his poetry to offer the very kind of “pained perception” Farley describes (p. 124).

The corruption Wordsworth foresees for the heavenly infant is intricately bound in to education. It is easy to imagine that when he writes that “Shades of the prison-house begin to close / Upon the growing Boy,” the prison-house is the school. On a recent afternoon when I was collecting my children from school, the first child to emerge shouted “Freedom!”, and the children following him took up his rallying cry. It reminded me of my high school yearbook, with some choosing “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I am free at last!” as their motto, which seemed to me a grotesque invocation of King’s proclamation, to compare the irritations of the contemporary Canadian education system to slavery. Whether in imitation or sincerity, though, students across generations and cultures insistently choose metaphors of imprisonment to figure their educational experiences, giving voice to the secondary aggression described by Farley as our response to encountering “limits imposed by the outside world” (p. 125). The education system my children and I have experienced is not in itself a harsh one, but in doggedly describing it as prison-like, children illustrate an existential conflict.

Farley’s view of education, however, affords education a possibility to help resolve, rather than merely reinforce, existential conflict. Cindy Blackstock’s (2016) interview resonated with my thinking about Wordsworth-through-Farley. She recalls that as a five-year-old First Nations child, she was aware of racism but couldn’t figure out “what we had done wrong,” to be treated in this way. What they had done wrong was simply to be born as First Nations people: their sin was an original sin, a sin of essence, not of action. Her own articulation of the nature of children stands in sharp contrast: she argues that children, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are “the great hope of reconciliation—we just need to follow their example.” Children, she says, “are experts in love and fairness.” Like Farley, Blackstock sees the potential for education to productively complement the innate potential of children with culturally-transmitted knowledge.

It is freedom that Farley envisions, I think, when she describes education as providing the space where one can achieve copious creativity. Winnicott’s psychoanalytic understanding of creativity is that copying becomes creative only in the presence of another who can “reflect back the ‘pained perception’ of emotional conflicts repressed in the repetition” (p. 130). A copy is not, Farley and Winnicott, say, an exact replica, because there is emotion involved in the act of repetition. Creative copying depends upon a “good enough reader who can narrate the un-told history of desire held within the double” (p. 131)—a role that teachers, as well as psychoanalysts, can take on. Dewey cautions against Either/Or educational philosophies, and it strikes me that Farley’s version of copy/creativity functions similarly: copying opens creative possibilities.

References:

Blackstock, C. (2016, February 14). Interview by P. Mansbridge. Mansbridge One on One [Television broadcast]. Toronto: CBC.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Macmillan.

Farley, L. (2015). Copying and creativity: On the strong poetry of psychoanalysis. In Ng-A-Fook, N., & Ibrahim, A., & Reis, G. (Eds.) Provoking Curriculum Studies: Strong Poetry and the Arts of the Possible in Education (pp. 111-123).

Larkin, P. (1988). This be the verse. In R. Ellmann & R. O’Clair (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Second Edition (p. 1069). New York: Norton. (Original work published 1974).

Wordsworth, W. (1965). Selected poems and prefaces. J. Stillinger (Ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. (Original work published 1807).