[T]he borders of our minds are ever shifting, and…many minds can flow into one another,
as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.
from ‘On Magic’ by W. B. Yeats.
Childhood is a time when our brains are, as Yeats states, ‘ever shifting’. We are laying the foundations of our house in our head. We are required by adults to recognise the paramountcy of opposites early on in the build.
A child’s mind is far more flexible than an adult’s as it’s still undergoing phenomenal growth patterns and changes. My three-year old nephew, for instance, thinks that the bees in his garden are the dutiful employees of the flowers and he calls a paint stain on our garage wall ‘the strange face’.
When I was a child, there was a home at the end of our row that we nicknamed ‘the opposite house’. We’ve all encountered a house that seems spooky in our vicinity, usually as it simply looks different to the others. We never witnessed anyone entering or leaving the house. The grass in the front garden was overgrown and the exterior wall paint was peeling. The house looked in pain, like a body or a face might. And, as children, we intuited this discomfort.
Whilst children may be less inclined towards opposites; they are very adept at expressing superlatives; the fastest, the farthest, the scariest. Carl Jung proposed that an extreme emotional reaction will inevitably produce its opposite. In this context, courage might be thought of as fear’s converse. After a while, we grew braver, and ran up and down the driveway of this house. I don’t know whether we wanted to heal it or harm it. But we were insistent on changing our initial feelings of fear.
We eventually began to steal the few flowers from the front garden when the occupant’s car was missing. There was something in us that wanted to interfere with the setting on a spatial or spiritual level, or just on a physical level. I know that I thought it was possible in some way to edit our response and its physical manifestation. By our floral subtractions, we were adding a new dimension to the house. We were removing its beauty and its pain all at once. We didn’t have any notion of wealth or deprivation, of what it materially and emotionally cost to keep a house looking well from the outside.
Whenever I say or write the words ‘when I was a child’, I think of the opening vocal line of the Kate Bush song, Hounds of Love. This song embodies the psychoanalytical principle of enantiodromia; the tendency of things to mutate into their opposite, especially in psychological development. The lyrics conflate opposites; for example a child’s natural hiding place is usually in the safety of their home, but Kate Bush invites us to think of a child as ‘hiding in the dark, hiding in the street’.
The speaker’s words in this piece, as in many of the poems we’ll explore in my course, The Opposite House, cannot be taken for granted. We’ll investigate this doctrine of opposites in psychoanalysis and in general, and use it as a guide to map our way through various poems, as well as looking at ways in which to apply it to our own work.
you go, I am sawed in half
in front of an audience of one,
before the two boxes of myself
are wheeled back together and I get
to stand up again, and bow, and walk away.
– from ‘Sky’ by Matthew Dickman
Play congenial hosts to your psychoanalytical ‘opposites’ on Sarah Byrne’s new online course, The Opposite House: But We Never Go In That Room!. Book online or ring us on 0207 582 1679
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