On Sendak’s Obituary in The Economist
- Posted by ppearlman
- on May 28th, 2012
The Economist’s recent obituary of children’s author Maurice Sendak got me thinking about parenting.
His books are often called dark; they are not, or not deliberately so. They are instead faithful to the powerlessness and terror that comes with being a child, with having to figure out the rules as you go, and with being entirely subject to the whims not merely of the world, as we all are, but to the imperfect people who raise you. In a conversationwith Art Spiegelman—like Mr Sendak, an artist profoundly marked by the Holocaust—Mr Sendak mocks people who sentimentalise childhood. “Childhood is cannibals and psychotics vomiting in your mouth!” He ends the conversation by telling Mr Spiegelman that he knew things as a child—terrible things, but he could never let adults know that knew them, or “it would scare them.”
The world is a terribly difficult place to navigate. We are all faced with the limitations of reality - rules, failure, death and the like.
And yet, amid the harsh environment, we have opportunities to experience rich relationships which deepen over time, the joys of our own accomplishments as well as the ones of those we love, the creative process, etc.
JF captures a critical element in Sendak’s work especially relevant to American culture that seems to, more and more, foster entitlement, the avoidance of loss and suffering and denial of limitations and mortality.
Our great challenge as parents is in finding the dialectic balance between illusion and reality.
On the one hand, nourishing our children’s illusions of endless possibilities, and on the other, instilling in them sober reality testing so they are equipped to navigate for themselves as they grow up, become adults and have children of their own.
This is made much more challenging due to this American cultural skew towards the illusion and away from the reality mentioned above.
Its easy for us to do the illusion part, building our children up and singing their praise, but more difficult pulling them back down into reality, with all of its discomforts, and assisting them in internalizing the permanence of it.
Sendak seemed to sense the American imbalance towards illusion and lent a hand to parents by modelling the dialectic for us and sharing it in a way that manages to delight children and parents.
For those interested in reading more about the dialectic, see Mitchell’s brilliant work entitled The Wings of Icarus.
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Phil is the executive editor of StockTwits and an investor in the company. He is a partner at Social Leverage, LLC and makes early stage investments in web based companies. (More)