Maturing into Childhood

I’ve been thinking about maturity as a process of returning to childhood. Picasso famously said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” For many of us, childhood is a time before anxiety, when we have yet to learn about cruelty and indifference, when we are fearless.

Bruno Schulz considered childhood an ‘”age of genius,” a time when no barrier existed between an inner psyche and the outer world, between dreams and reality, between desire and fulfilment, between the intellectual and the sensual – the time of the origins of poetry.”‘ In 1936 Schulz wrote to a friend:

What you say about our artificially prolonged childhood – about immaturity – bewilders me somewhat. Rather, it seems to me that this kind of art, the kind which is so dear to my heart, is precisely a regression, a return to childhood. Were it possible to turn back development, achieve a second childhood by some circuitous road, once again to have its fullness and immensity – that would be the incarnation of an “age of genius,” “messianic times” which are promised and pledged to us by all mythologies. My goal is to “mature” into a childhood. This really would be a true maturity.

The idea that in childhood we find the key to self-knowledge is not just a Freudian conceit that exorcised writers like Joyce and Proust. Heraclitus echoed the idea, but instead thought that humans are only children during the entire period of their lifetime, that even into adulthood we are nothing more than children playing games. Heraclitus frees us to consider childhood as not just a stage (the first of Solon’s ten stages of a human lifetime, each of seven years duration) but as a potentiality of human experience, an essential force.

4 thoughts on “Maturing into Childhood

  1. I have no romance for childhood. Give me the jaded, disillusioned, wisdom and maturity of mid-life. There is still, as I have learned, plenty of room for the wonder and folly of life as I get older.

    • I am greedy for both the wisdom that, if we are lucky, comes with time’s passing, and the wide-eyed wonder of childhood. I am warier of disillusion and jadedness, though I value both, but so often I see them curdle into bitterness and distemper.

  2. Thanks for an interesting post as always! It took Picasso a life time to paint like a child…childhood as the incarnation of an “age of genius.” When this happens to Picasso or whoever, it may be similar to “satori” in a Buddhist term for awakening. Your post also reminds me of William Blake’s poem “The Smile”: “That betwixt the Cradle & Grave/ It only once Smiled can be/ But when it once is Smiled/ Theres an end to all Misery”

    • Thank you, Kazuko, for that Blake poem and for your wonderful comment. I hadn’t thought of the similarities between maturing into childhood’s “age of genius” and “satori” – that’s such an interesting possibility.

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