This paper represents a larger effort to theorize the complexities of inner life beyond the individualizing and pathologizing force of psychological categories. With Julia Kristeva (1995), I therefore begin with the assumption that “social history is one of the elements of organization and permanency that constitute psychical life” (p. 28). Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s (1917) concepts of mourning and melancholia, I examine how social legacies of traumatic loss organize and shape emotional life symbolized in the literary figure of the “replacement child” (Schwab, 2010). While debates over Freud’s concepts point to a split in his construction of melancholia as the pathological other to the health of mourning, I highlight an ambiguity that gives way to a reading of both conditions as “a productive pair” (Stillwaggon, 2017, p. 34). From this vantage, the very same child who melancholically materializes unspeakable loss may also be read as the child who invites the belated work of mourning. My aim is therefore to examine the replacement figure as placeholder for the painful past that may also animate the creative work of re-signifying a relationship to this very history.
To examine these claims, I offer a discussion of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s (2014) novel, Adult Onset, which tells the story of a replacement child confronting the return of traumatic history. For scholars of education, psychology, and childhood, MacDonald’s novel illustrates how the social world takes up residence in the life of the mind, and in this sense, offers an allegory of working through loss as central to adult efforts to represent and receive childhood. The novel invites readers to notice their own tendencies – and the tendency of the fields in which they work – to repeat pervasive narratives of childhood, learning, and development, and to question what deeper histories these narrative fend off. My discussion underscores the ethical qualities of reading literary accounts of the work adults do with their own childhoods to open new conceptualizations beyond the fated future born of unconscious repetition.
Lisa Farley is an Associate Professor at York University in Toronto, Canada. Her research examines psychoanalytic theories of childhood to investigate the creative conditions of growth in contexts of social and historical conflict. Her work appears in History & Memory, Psychoanalysis and History, American Imago, Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Curriculum Inquiry, The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies and Pedagogy, Culture & Society. She currently has a monograph under contract with SUNY Press, entitled Childhood Beyond Pathology, which investigates five child figurations in the contemporary scene to articulate new ways of conceptualizing the inner work of growth beyond individualizing categories of diagnosis and development.