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Alvarez, A. (1988). Beyond the Unpleasure Principle: Some Preconditions for Thinking through Play. J. Child Psychother., 14(2):1-13.

(1988). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 14(2):1-13

Beyond the Unpleasure Principle: Some Preconditions for Thinking through Play

Anne Alvarez

The Czech novelist living in exile, Milan Kundera, once gave a definition of poetry which might be relevant to the question of play as a form of thinking. He said that of all the novels of the 18th century it is Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy that he loves best. He reminded his audience that Sterne starts the novel by recounting the night when Tristram was conceived, but that Sterne has barely begun to talk about that when another idea suddenly attracts him, and that idea, by free association, reminds him of some other reflection, then a further anecdote — and Tristram, the book's hero, is forgotten for a good hundred pages! Kundera points out that whereas for contemporaries of Sterne's such as Fielding, the poetry of human existence lay in action and events, for Sterne, the poetry lay not in the action, but in the interruption of the action. Kundera is critical of the 18th century rationalism which stimulated science to explore the why of everything. “Man, who desires his life to have a meaning, foregoes any action that has not its cause and its purpose”. Kundera claims that against that reduction of the world to the causal succession of events, “Sterne's novel asserts by its very form that poetry lies not in the action, but there where action stops, where the bridge between a cause and an effect is ruptured, and thought wanders off in sweet lazy liberty”.

I would like to spend a little time comparing and contrasting some of the psychoanalytic theories of play with the theories and findings put forward by the researchers in child development.

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