Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Relationship of Pre- and Perinatal Psychology to 20th Century Art, Literature and Philosophy

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Relationship of Pre- and Perinatal Psychology to 20th Century Art, Literature and Philosophy

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Observations in the field of psychotherapy give us every reason to believe that experiences before and during birth remain present in our awareness of our own bodies and in our inner states of experience as a constant background of experience. During external and internal crises and conflict situations, this background experience can be activated in the form of fantasies and emotional states and can then influence images and ideas about ourselves and the world. Cultural development is determined by various forms of expression between primary experience and how the world is later experienced. In mythical philosophies of life, primary experience is projected outwards and is experienced as external reality, for instance in the symbols of water and the tree of life. The cultural change that has taken place in the twentieth century is determined by the fact that primary experience is increasingly felt to belong to our own life-histories and personal development. This is expressed in the concepts of prenatal psychology, but also in the symbolism of modern literature, art and philosophy. Some artists, such as Dali and Beckett, have directly regarded experiences before and during birth as a source of their art.


Research in prenatal psychology has shown us that human beings, especially in their striving for self-understanding, have always been occupied with their pre- and perinatal experiences (Bowling 1988, 1990, Irving 1990, DeMause 1982, etc.). We find expressions of these first experiences in rituals and myths. In searching for his identity, Man has always had to face a basic experience of two worlds, the world before and the world after birth. The prebirth world appeared as a world beyond, the influence of which upon this world was conjured up and realized in rituals and myths. Only the continuity and interconnection of both worlds in our experience enables our life to feel complete; only this is experienced as healing. The Hero in myths, who symbolizes the adolescent, gains his full identity through a regressive journey to the uterine Waters of Life and the placental Tree of Life, followed by a return to the real world. He demonstrates his new identity by fulfilling special tasks which verify that he can come and go between both of these worlds and realities (Janus 1990, 1991).

In each generation, the relationship between the postnatal world and the experience of life before birth has to be determined afresh. My theory is that the appearance of prenatal psychology itself is the expression of a culture shift, a new configuration of the relationship between pre- and postnatal experience. This can be seen in the fact that the months of life before birth and the experience of birth itself are now being interpreted as a proper part of biography. Previously, these stages of life were projected into myths about Creation and the World or accommodated in religious imaginations. I see even our modern conception of the eternal Laws of Nature as determined by fascination for the prenatal experience of omnipotence.

In order to make plain what has been said, firstly the expression of pre- and perinatal experience will be described in the realm of myths, of monotheistic religion and then in the rational-scientific world-view. This will then allow what is slowly being taken as self-evident in our century, the increasing awareness of the fact of birth, of having been born, to be illustrated through examples from art, literature, music and philosophy.


For the sake of example, I will take German mythology. In it, prebirth experience is projected as a world beyond, which precedes the Earth-World so that events here are dependent upon its influence. The exchange, which touches every individual, of the prenatally experienced womb for the world of postnatal experience is projected in Cosmogony and is described as the formation of the World out of the gigantic body of a primeval being, Ymir:

"The World was made from Ymir's flesh,

And out of the blood, the turbulent sea,

The mountains from the bones, the trees from the hair;

From the skull, the protecting roof of the Heavens. …

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