(Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, Paris. By DT)In a passage from A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze writes the following:
A child in the dark, gripped with fear, comforts himself by singing under his breath. He walks and halts to his song. Lost, he takes shelter, or orients himself with his little song as best he can. The song is like a rough sketch of a calming and stabilizing, calm and stable, center in the heart of the chaos. Perhaps the child skips as he sings, hastens or slows his pace. But the song itself is already a skip; it jumps from chaos to the beginnings of order in chaos and is in danger of breaking apart at any moment. There is always sonority in Ariadne’s thread. Or the song of Orpheus.
How does the child’s song speak through the darkness? Does the song substitute the formlessness of the dark with the form of a discernable melody? That does not seem correct, as it would imply a causal relation between the two: before there is a melodic structure to the world, there is not chaos but the occupancy of other people’s songs. “It is territorial, a territorial assemblage,” as Deleuze goes on to say. The child’s song does not suppress the darkness, but bridges the light of inner experience with the nocturnal world. Seen in this way, the song is what Winnicott would term a “transitional object.”
For Winnicott, the notion of a transitional object is predicated on an intermediate reality. Between the reality of subjective experience and objective world outside of that reality, an intermediate space opens up. Winnicott cites the infant’s caressing of external objects—cloth, wool, string, teddy bear, etc—as emblematic of a “defence against anxiety, especially anxiety of a depressive type” (Playing and Reality, 5). The transitional object and phenomena coincide, each aspect dependent on the other, and each emerging with greater intensity in times of insecurity.
Winnicott provides the reader with a list of the special qualities of the relationship between the baby and the object. The characteristics range from a will to destroy the object, an insistence on its permanence, a total possession of control, and a sense of it as having an autonomous life. Eventually, the baby outgrows the object and it becomes relegated to “limbo,” now deprived of its meaning, and yet still remembered. Having survived and testified to the destruction of the object, the infant proceeds to an ontologically secure place in the world, now able to experience his own autonomy without the need to possess or be possessed by the things and people around him.
Winnicott’s ideas have a particular appeal to an understanding of agoraphobia. If we—as I have previously suggested—are to understand agoraphobia as having a special relationship with the inability to cultivate a sense of home, then from a Winnicottian perspective, this inability gravitates toward the home as an intermediate reality. Psychoanalytically, there is, of course, a relation between the home and mother’s breast, insofar as both constitute a first point of contact with the world and the source of primordial nourishment. From a phenomenological perspective, “home” is not a geometric site in the world, nor is it a construct of the subject’s internal landscape. Instead, it is a relational mode of being-in-the-world: it is the bridge enabling one to set foot in the world.
It seems to me that in the case of agoraphobia, the “disorder” is a failure to negotiate or create the transitional space between self and world. Let us return to the relationship between the breast and the home. When the baby cries, the breast appears in the world, giving the impression that the baby’s will creates the breast to materialize. In turn, the mother submits herself to the needs of the baby. Once other objects are introduced into this dyadic relationship, the baby slowly begins to recognise objects as being “not me.” In time, the mother herself distances herself from the needs of the baby, and with the mother’s guidance, the baby enters the transitional space between subjective and objective realities. If all goes to plan, then the frustrations met in this phase are adapted to and the baby begins to find a place in the world.
In the case of agoraphobia, the anxiety experienced has its roots in the subject’s inability to will a state of familiarity instantly. For the agoraphobe, the experience of anxiety is primarily an experience of radical alterity: the world becomes hostile by dint of its unfamiliarity, and the one thing the agoraphobe lacks, is the ability to establish familiarity outside of his circumscribed sense of “home.” Panic ensues as the sensations the agoraphobe undergoes are interpreted as a threat to his already vulnerable sense of self.
In turn, the reliance on transitional objects within the transitional space becomes a pathology. Only now, those objects are not teddy bears and pieces of cloth—though they may well be—but instead particular modes of bodily comportment and navigation. Recall this from “victim” of agoraphobia:
Hobbling, crutches, umbrellas, tying one’s shoe laces, holding to the wall, sunglasses, hats—these are all props equivalent to the “trusted other” that enable the agoraphobe to get from one point to another. They are modes of retaining control over a world that does not spontaneously produce, in Winnicottian terms, the primordial shelter of the mother’s breast. Lacking ontological security in the world, the experience of intermediate space is not interpreted as a “potential space” of creation and growth, but as a space divested of all familiar attributes and so opposed to the singularity of the I. Indeed, in the failure to navigate the terrain of the intermediate space successfully, what the agoraphobe experiences is the reality of internal experience confront the external world, without anything to link them.
I see a man hobbling past my house on crutches, a cripple for life, and I actually envy him. At times I would gladly exchange places with the humblest day laborer who walks unafraid across the public square or saunters tranquilly over the viaduct on his way home after the day's work.