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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

You Can Learn a lot From a Game—The Ooh and Ahh Behind Fort-Da!

Chapelle (1993) begins by discussing the repetition compulsion as a concrete example of the eternal return. Chapelle's discussion of Freud’s discovery of the repetition compulsion, while contemplating his grandson’s game of Fort-Da, is informative. Freud said that this game by his grandson using a reel on a thread was an attempt to deal with separation from his departing mother by controlling the situation through play, through the imaginative repetition of the experience, using a toy as a “stand in,” who substitutes for the mother. This game suggests that "life is symbolic even prior to the creation of symbols proper" in young child’s play this is already happening. In this game, there is the beginnings of ritual and ceremony, and “objects that place the child in role of high priest performing an exacting ceremony, repeating the same performance again and again” (p. 114). So, it seems that there is a lot more going on in this game, no wonder the child was oohhing and ahhhing:


Child’s play is an activity of pretence, of make-believe…treating his world metaphorically on the basis of the allusions that appear to be suggested by its depth dimensions. The allusions to a meaning that goes beyond the reel’s utility function as inviting suggestions, as promises of possibilities to be lived out, as luring gestures in the direction of worlds of fantasy. The boy playing Fort-Da and all children playing make believe games, take the world up on its promised possibilities. They are carried into realms of meaning through allusion. (p. 124)


In interpreting this game, Freud, like Huizinga (1944/1955) and Winnicott (1999) after him realized that symbolic pleay leads to culture. Before leaving childhood games behind, it is worth remembering that Jung during his conflict with the unconscious instinctively went back to childhood games. Arrien (1993) remarks:


As a result of this experience Jung discovered that our life mythos, or dream may very well be held in those childhood activities that we were drawn to do by ourselves, for hours. Often he would have his clients go back to the ages between four and twelve to remember those timeless solitary activities (p, 91).


For my first research project at Pacifica, I decided to follow Jung’s lead, an imitatio Jungi, as it were, and play with things from my childhood: I made my dragon out of childhood materials and used a favorite childhood song, after using the magic of Google on the Internet and look at where I ended up! The rest of my first semester's papers explored other childhood favorites: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Rankin and Bass, 1964) and Mary Poppins (Stevenson, 1964).

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