Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 2

By Justin D. Call; Eleanor Galenson et al. | Go to book overview

10
Infant Development: Fictive Personality
and Creative Capacity

Jay Martin, Ph.D.


"Good" and "Bad" Fictions

We all make use of fictions. The first fictions are fantasies concerning parents, the body, the self, others in the immediate vicinity, and then strangers. Later, through fictions—offered to us in books, films, and the mass media arts— we acquire imprinting experiences, introjects, and, at a more mature stage, models for identification; through experiment with imitations of identifications, people learn to develop and change. Fictions, then, are essential in maturation, providing a necessary arena for "trying on" personal identities and "trying out" relations with others.

Yet, at every stage of development, experience with fictions is ambiguous. Not all fictions serve development. Quite naturally, everyone acknowledges that some fictions are "good," while others are "bad." "Good fictions" are variously named: "play," "experiment," "improvisation," "imagination," "hypothetical thinking," and "creativity." "Self-deception," "delusional thinking," "impairment of reality

testing," and "illusions" are the terms by which we characterize fictions that hinder or balk growth and development. "Good fictions" are called "healthy" and "adaptive" because they tend to prepare for action, compensate for loss, or make flexibility and inventiveness possible. "Bad fictions" are labeled "neurotic" or even "psychotic" because they lead to isolation, denial, or grandiosity; they make loss inevitable and block free experimentation.

Yet, what eventually in adult life becomes divided into "good" and "bad" fictions starts out as a single process in infancy. The source of fictions in infancy is the infant's experience of internal illusions, which are soon subjected to a steady stream of disillusionment, from within and without. Put in the simplest terms, the infant is "illusioned" by his internal push for pleasure. His "illusions" seem confirmed by the experience of gratification and realized in the internal feeling of cohesion and growth. What "dis-illusions" the infant is the failure of the environment to respond to his illusions, which the infant interprets as loss. Loss attacks growth, blocks pleasure, brings pain. Loss is all that binds and confines. Loss is what the process of disillusionment brings and means.

Necessarily, infancy must include both illusioning and disillusioning experiences—confirmations that the self coheres in itself and can

____________________
Parts of this essay were written while I was a resident scholar at the Rockefeller Foundation Study and Conference Center, Bellagio, Italy; The work was completed under a Senior Research Grant from the National Endowment for Humanities. I am grateful to both institutions.

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