Transitional Phenomena Working Group


Statement of Interest

We are a group of scholars, artists, educators and activists concerned with attachment theory, object relations theory and all manner of "transitional phenomena." We are especially interested in theorizing and characterizing objects and forms of action which mediate relations among persons or which are entailed in processes of projection, introjection, trauma, displacement, splitting, or sublimation. The psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott proposes that transitional phenomena (typified by transitional objects such as the blankets or pacifiers so important to young children) hover productively between the self and not-the-self, enabling experimental forays into alternate subject positions in ways that, if all goes well, deepen and expand the emerging person's capacities to take up the world in creative ways; such phenemona, insists Winnicott, are not limited to early childhood but continue throughout the life cycle, and are especially prominent in the arts and in forms of religious experience. In some cultural orders,transitional phenomena seem to be especially oriented towards progressive individuation and autonomy, in other cultural contexts, transitional phenomena seem to be more oriented towards the development of increasingly socialized forms of extended inter-dependence.

For an interesting new example of transitional phenomena here in Waltham, see the fascinating mural, "//Kids' Declaration of Independence,//"[[walthamarchives:thompson park mural|]] (aka "Paths to Success") developed by adolescents based at the Boys and Girls Club working closely with graduate students in the interdisciplinary program in Cultural Production. Two paths are visibly contrasted, one leading to wordly success and autonomy (fixing one's own car, opening a store, writing a "Kid's Declaration of Independence"), the other to a monochromatic nightmare of gravestones and the jail house. This radical opposition might be regarded, in Melanie Klein's terms, as a form of "splitting", in which the psyche projects varied aspects of the self onto externalized, deeply polarized images. Once objectified in these external media, the most disturbing aspects of self are rendered relatively safe, subject to being worked on, neutralized or transcended. Is something comparable happening along the mural's monochromatic sinister pathway (appropriately, located to the left), past dessicated trees and the graveyard to the prison?

We will continue these conversations with visiting educator Michael Armstrong (author of "Children Writing Stories") in the symposium, "The Pedagogy of the Imagination" at The Rose Art Museum on Tuesday, March 4, 2008.

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For more information, please contact Professor Ellen Schattschneider (eschatt@brandeis.edu) or Mark Auslander (mausland@brandeis.edu)