- Symposium on Children’s Literature and IllustrationIntroduction
The following symposium derives from “Picturing Childhood,” a conference held on September 29, 2012 under the auspices of the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania that featured the award-winning author and illustrator David Small. Small’s works span several decades of both writing and illustrating children’s books, often in collaboration with his wife Sarah Stewart. Those books include his graphic memoir Stitches (2009), a work that deals graphically, in both senses of the word, with his traumatic childhood as a victim of parental, grandparental, and medical abuse and neglect.
The program of the conference began with an interview that I conducted with Small. The conversation covered the subjects of how creativity emerges from the body; how the work of art performs a transitional—that is, both an intrapsychic and an interpersonal—function; how from generation to generation particular kinds of trauma uncannily repeat on and through the body (for instance, in the case of Stitches, through speechlessness); how memory operates as recuperative, reconstructive, and constructive in both the creative act and psychoanalysis; how objects and object relations graft prosthetic support for the ego or compensate for perceived as well as real loss; and how bridges can be created between fantasy and reality, between a solitary psychosis and a generative and regenerative acknowledgment of others. Essays from the conference included here expand upon those subjects in Small’s work.
Together with Small’s books, the conference also explored the creations of Beatrix Potter, Else Holmeland Minarik, and Maurice Sendak. The following essays on their literary and visual art give psychoanalytic and phenomenological attention to the poignancy of “big” and “little” and of “reality” and [End Page 131] “make-believe” in the life of children, helping us to see the world through the eyes of little ones as they negotiate the tasks of sorting out and mastering a world that often overwhelms and befuddles them, spatially, cognitively, and emotionally.
As psychoanalysts, we are called upon every day to envision both the childhoods and the present-day lives of our patients and to be willing to enter imaginatively with them into fantasy and dreamland, with all of the perspectival and temporal shifts that might entail. All of the essays in this symposium on children’s literature and illustration model ways of reading and observing that take seriously—in the ways that psychoanalysis has always taken seriously—this essential task of picturing childhood.
When Wordsworth wrote in his 1798 poem The Tables Turned, “We murder to dissect,” he evoked the violence at the heart of analysis and learning. Like literary critics, psychoanalysts walk a fine line between destruction and creation in our work. We realize in psychoanalysis that an interpretation has both something killing in it and something that makes way for more life; we perform acts of liberating violence or of violent liberation. David Small, who already performed his own acts of murder and dissection on both the figures of his childhood and his own ways of coping, has taught us—through his creations, his choice of media, and his self-analysis in Stitches—that an author and illustrator walks a similarly fine line. [End Page 132]
Elaine P. Zickler is a member of the faculty at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia. She maintains a private practice in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in Moorestown, New Jersey.