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Mitchell, J. (2006). From Infant to Child: The Sibling Trauma, the Rite de Passage, and the Construction of the “Other” in the Social Group. Fort Da, 12(2):35-49.

(2006). Fort Da, 12(2):35-49

From Infant to Child: The Sibling Trauma, the Rite de Passage, and the Construction of the “Other” in the Social Group

Juliet Mitchell

Why [is it] that where literature, life, and memory remind us how significant were those hours, days, years we spent with brothers, sisters and friends, when we put on our academic hats, we forget.

Weissner and Gallimore, 1977

Postmodernism has made us sensitive to the constructions of sameness and difference, the subject and the other. Attention to violence and trauma has made us aware of the way the “other” is the focus of hostility through the human proclivity for projection and representation, or the “other” is created in order to be the hostile object.

For me, personally, the status of the “other” broke somewhat differently on my consciousness, long before postmodernism, when as a student I read Simone de Beauvoir's (1952) The Second Sex and discovered that I was, as a woman, the very site of a primal alterity — woman was the place where (with her connivance) man deposited all that he did not want about the limitations of humanity. The experience was bewildering as it is psychologically impossible to be only and entirely “other” from one's own position. Perhaps it is because of this early sensation that I find the question of “othering” as an abstract concept vertiginous, and my contribution here is consequently prosaic, down-to-earth. I suggest childhood sibling relations are an important place where we negotiate “self” and “other” but also where we, or through whom we, construct the “other” of ourselves, our unconsciousness, the it (or id) which cuts across self and subjecthood, locating us forever elsewhere than in our “selves.”

In opposing the grand narratives of modernism, the postmodern focussed on criticising notions of universality and the concern with origins.

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1 An earlier version of part of this paper was given as “Siblings and the Other,” the first of the Wolfson Lectures, Oxford University, February 2005; and also for the Annual Lecture of the Northern California Society of Psychoanalytic Psychology, San Francisco, CA, April 2005.

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