Academic journal article American Journal of Play

The Poet's Voice in the Making of Mind

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

The Poet's Voice in the Making of Mind

Article excerpt

The Poet's Voice in the Making of Mind Russell Meares New York, NY: Routledge, 2016. Acknowledgments, introduction, references, and author index. 222 pp. $33.56 paper. ISBN: 9780415572347

The Poet's Voice in the Making of Mind tackles one of the most fascinating mysteries of all: how the human mind comes into being and what distinguishes it from our nearest simian relatives. The book sweeps across evolution and development at a dizzying pace, touching upon biology, philosophy, linguistics, psychotherapy, literature, human development, and neuroscience. Meares's through line is how the germ of mind gets planted in each child initially through play. The process begins with the earliest conversations between mother and child, when instinctively the mother sets up a kind of pretend game that is half real, half imaginary. Mother speaks to baby "as if" the infant understands; and through her words and coos, she pours hopes, dreams, intentions, and perceptions into the space between herself and the baby. Amazingly, from the start, baby does understand mother's love, her underlying intentions, and the nuances of her tone. Through this dialogue, a child slowly internalizes a mother's pictures of inner and outer worlds, eventually understanding even the content of her words.

Meares's primary thesis is that these early, playful exchanges between mother and child constitute the origins not only of a baby's mind, but also of what is uniquely human about our capacity to symbolize, including the full range of cultures across place and time. Within the alchemy of love and care for children, Meares asserts that the instinct to play brings the highest expressions of self-creativity and culture.

When we read a book, we not only read what the book has to say about the topic at hand, but we also read the personhood of the author. As if by osmosis, readers implicitly understand writers in much the same way that babies internalize the perspectives of their mothers. Such underground communication becomes especially pronounced in books with a well-developed perspective. The Poet's Voice in the Making of Mind is just this sort of book. Within a couple of paragraphs of the introduction, I began marveling at the mind of the man behind the words. Meares brings the passion, curiosity, creativity, and compassion of a psychiatrist who has scaled the pinnacles of the healthy, creative mind, yet who has also spent decades working with the broken minds of some of the most troubled, character-disordered patients of all. …

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