‘Silly Age: The space of imagination in coming-of-age narratives in fiction and art’
Edith Cobb wrote that children between six and twelve develop their creative self by going through a period of organic connection with the environment. Whereas Freud defined this “silly age” as the latency stage and of little importance to human development, Cobb found it to be a critical point on the circuitous path to adulthood. She contended that adults return to this childhood moment of creative self-realization later in life when creative inspiration needed to be tapped.
This “silly age” in coming-of-age fiction offers the narrative potentials for alternative storytelling. Characteristic of this genre in film and literature is the youthful deployment of space and imagination to resolve conflict and divert catastrophes, leading to narrative breakages, twists and unexpected shifts in structure – finding creative resolutions when hopelessly there seems to be none. And the “silly age” in film and literature acts as unstructured space enabling parallel and intersecting narratives to defy logic, extraordinarily warping time and space. In all the texts read throughout this paper is the requisite human connectedness of which the young protagonists find solace within the expansive political and social context. These fiction and filmic narratives all speak to the possibilities of imagination.
I use this paper to intervene in contemporary art criticism by highlighting the importance of the “silly age”. Its importance of returning comes as a period without the norms learned in adolescence and adulthood. Without the relatively absolute parameters learned and reinforced in adolescence and adulthood, we become open in our relations with other beings and things as marked by increased compassion and acceptance.
Kai Wood Mah (PhD), is a registered architect and design historian. He was Assistant Professor of Design History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, from 2007 to 2013, and is currently Associate Professor of Architecture at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Canada. He is a member of the Order of Architects of Québec and of the Royal Architect Institute of Canada.