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Bonaparte, M. (1940). Time and the Unconscious. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 21:427-468.

(1940). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 21:427-468

Time and the Unconscious

Marie Bonaparte


Even if we disregard the case of the newly born infant in whom a sense of time does not as yet exist, the days of childhood seem to succeed one another in a world untroubled by our ideas of time. These early days—as each one of us may recall—seem very much like an eternity to the child, and this applies with even greater force to the weeks, months and years that extend into the future. Children wake from their slumbers, get up, run about, eat, play, laugh and cry in a 'time' whose sweep is of a very different order from that of the brief, pathetic time enjoyed by adults. 'Time' in childhood is in a way incommensurate with our own.

To be sure, the grown-ups who are responsible for the child's upbringing rigorously insist on his observing the conventions of their particular variety of time, with the sub-divisions which this entails for them. They take away his playthings at a certain hour, and fix the times at which he is to be allowed to eat, or worse still, must go to bed each evening when he would prefer to continue enjoying himself or to remain up in the company of those admired and envied persons. But in spite of this the child's inner sense of 'time' remains unshaken until he arrives at the physiological age at which the nature of this time is destined to undergo a change; he simply regards the attempt made by adults to impose their 'time' upon his, still in its essence of virtually infinite duration, as an intrusion on the part of a strange and hostile world. Perhaps the vital urge which causes him to grow, as it causes the plants to grow from the soil, and which will one day impel him in his turn to transmit life to an unbroken line of descendants, is already making itself obscurely felt from the depths of his being and is to be regarded as the factor which thus informs the child's sense of 'time' with a prescience of eternity.

It is usual to speak, and not among poets alone, of the 'paradise' of childhood.

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