I've been circling around the motif of the child. I've been thinking about how the world of children could be seen as separate and parallel to the adult world. I find it both difficult and intriguing to try and experience or remember the child's state of mind. I've been trying to place myself in some of those memories - the way everything seemed within the impressionability of a lack of experience.
Where these states of adulthood and childhood push against each other, there exists an interesting narrative space. The "Child" is a concept - an invention of adults. The subtitle of a book I haven't read (yet) suggests there is an "impossibility of children's fiction". That is, the dynamic is always unbalanced because children can't write books to define their own experience (though there are likely some interesting examples of collaboration). There is always a power dynamic, and children are subjected to (and desire) the narratives told to them by adults. These narratives seduce, they organize the world, give it coherence. They also simplify, limit and distort. One of the things that's interesting and vulnerable about being a child is not knowing where the possible ends and the impossible begins. I remember the delicious feeling of believing (or allowing belief) in what is known to be a story - that strong desire for there to really be a world inside the wardrobe.
I've also been thinking about the way the space of childhood is increasingly colonized by adults who arrange and plan children's time. This is also a loss of wild spaces of the mind. There exists a widespread discussion about the loss of play in children (just google it). It's becoming apparent that unstructured time is being replaced by the "playdate" and other highly structured activities such as video games. Various entities want control over the bodies and minds of children - schools, parents, and not least the force of capitalism, which searches for any opportunity to transform experience into consumption. Unmeasured and "wild" experience is domesticated by brand bonding as early as diapers and chew toys.
Wherever I explore, many others have been before, and a network of thought seems to recognize connections everywhere.
One connection: I rented The Black Stallion the other day (because of the Alan Splet credit) and was pleasantly surprised. The film echos some of these themes of wildness and domestication. It seems to belong to another time, before product tie-ins and movies as a "franchise" (though I guess there was a sequel). It's quite a beautiful movie, filled with close-ups, textures and fragments, as the young boy Alec enters a dream-world through the portal/nightmare of a ship crash and island stranding. The narrative plays out in a child-logic way, fulfilling a fantasy of becoming-animal which seems to operate along mythic structures. It takes impossible leaps, from ship to desert island to small-town America, from the rustic stable to the energy of the racetrack.
The horse and the boy are analogues for each other throughout the film. On the ship, something in Alec recognizes and identifies with the horse - restrained by ropes and forced into a cell. On the island, both become wild. Alec cuts the ropes which have entangled the Stallion, setting it free. He eats seaweed, sleeps in a cave and roams the island almost naked. Eventually, the boy and horse bond - by taming the horse and wilding the boy.
Back in civilization, it's a difficult transition. Alec falls asleep in the back yard, as if the bed is no longer familiar. Following the runaway horse, he wanders through night time streets and curls up in an alley. He finds "The Black" through a kind of divining intuition, and an oblique riddle delivered by a "wise old black man" (the mystical Other). He finds the stable, which is guarded by an angry owner/ogre who, when confronted, turns into a kindly old man. Opening a hidden door, he discovers a dusty room of racing trophies and old photographs, a place of tradition and learning. Alec's obsession with the horse feels like a wish for control, a desire to replace the dead father, and now he's found a paternal place. Continuing the process of merging, both horse and boy are trained and domesticated into a horse/boy machine. "Don't take the wild out of that horse," the old black man warns ominously, and some disaster seems imminent. Will there be terrible consequences from this diminishment and control, restraining and directing the primal force of the Stallion? The Black fights and is injured, but they win the race and the movie ends happily (and suddenly) in a haze of wish fulfillment.
Another connection: I just bought two of Gabriel Liston's Blue Book Tiles. I've been admiring them for years, and was spurred by the show at NAAU that just ended. The paintings: two children burying another child in a pile of leaves, and a girl with a dead mouse on a shovel. His images feel like uncolonized child space, moments from future memory, embedded with the feeling of deep impressionability. (And they're appropriately Bruegel-esque for my tastes.)
As I'm thinking about this loss of undefined space, I've also wondered about the loss of boredom. As the market colonizes experience with endlessly absorbing brand-associated narratives and takes over liminal spaces such as vacant lots, children lose the opportunity for boredom, danger and unsurveilled play. In Gabriel's paintings, events happen with a lack of adult supervision - children in the process of figuring it out for themselves, getting hurt, inventing things. The other day, I mentioned my ideas about the need for more spaces of boredom in class, and a student led me to this appropriate quote (which he found by randomly opening a notebook):