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The Ages of the Child

The Letter, Issue 61, Spring 2016, Pages 35 - 44


Michael Gerard Plastow

Oedipus was the only one to successfully answer the question posed by the Theban Sphinx. His answer saved his life, but it was also a turning away from the enigma of sexuality by reducing the riddle to a developmental schema. From Oedipus’ response, it is evident that the developmental conception is age-old, not a recent scientific invention. But the child does not permit of any clear definition established by ages and stages. Our modern notion of childhood has come about through the repression of sex and death in the child. I propose that the child first exists in-fancy, in the fancy or fantasm of each parent, leaving an indelible mark upon the soul of each child.

Keywords: infancy; child; development; infanticide; mother love; fantasy; fantasm.

Our modern notion of the child emerged in the decline of the Middle Ages and the privileged place that the child occupies in the family is quite recent. It is my thesis that the modern ‘sentiment of childhood’ described by the historian Philippe Ariès has come about through the repression of both infantile sexuality and mortality: sex and death being the two great enigmas according to Freud. By examining this ‘silent history’[2] of the child, we might endeavour to locate the lost discourses of childhood.

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