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Vieira, B. (2009). Pearls of Dew: Transitional Phenomena and Haiku. Fort Da, 15(2):66-77.

(2009). Fort Da, 15(2):66-77

Pearls of Dew: Transitional Phenomena and Haiku

Beth Vieira, Ph.D.

A man's work is nothing but the slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

— Albert Camus, The Wrong Side and The Right Side, 1937

The consideration of the origins of a work of art could involve many different discourses at various historical moments. To narrow the scope, this essay takes up only two particular domains — the aesthetic and the psychological. If one juxtaposes those two domains, a potential space emerges — the space of the “in between” — in which a two-fold action can take place: psychology can be seen to illuminate a particular aspect of aesthetics and at the same time aesthetics may illuminate a particular aspect of psychology. Only one form of art, haiku writing, is under consideration precisely because that form has a set of unique qualities that make it at once wide open and yet paradoxically underdeveloped.

Haiku is the shortest and densest literary form. Most accounts of haiku rely on Eastern perspectives, such as Zen Buddhism or Japanese aesthetics, to explain features unique to haiku. However, the literature is scant when it comes to uses of Western psychological theory to account for the very same features. I'll attempt to show how D.W. Winnicott's theory works with haiku, and I'll also speculate that Winnicott's theory has the potential to be “Easternized” in a directly motivated way because it can step into the space usually reserved for Eastern thought.

In the often-cited essay, “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena,” Winnicott (1971) describes an intermediary space between the subject and object, between inner and outer reality:

This intermediate area of experience, unchallenged in respect of its belonging to inner or external (shared) reality, constitutes the greater part of the infant's experience, and throughout life is retained in the intense experiencing that belongs to the arts and to religion and to imaginative living, and to creative scientific work.


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