“If every newborn baby has an appetite for forward motion, the next step is to find out why it hates lying still.

Penetrating further into the causes of anxiety and anger in the very young, Dr. Bowlby concluded that the complex instinctual bond between a mother and her child – the child’s screams of alarm (quite different to the whimperings of cold or hunger or sickness); the mother’s ‘uncanny’ ability to hear those screams; the child’s fear of the dark, and of strangers; its terror of rapidly approaching objects; its invention of nightmarish monsters where none exist; in short, all those ‘puzzling phobias’ which Freud sought to explain and failed, could, in fact, be explained by the constant presence of predators in the primaeval home of man.

Bowlby quotes from William James’ Principles of Psychology, ‘The greatest source of terror in childhood is solitude.’ A solitary child, kicking and yelling in its cot, is not, therefore, necessarily showing the first signs of the Death Wish, or of the Will to Power, or of an ‘aggressive drive’ to bash its brother’s teeth in. These may or may not develop later. No. The child is yelling – if you transpose the cot on to the African thornscrub – because, unless the mother comes back in a couple of minutes, a hyena will have got it.

Every child appears to have an innate mental picture of the ‘thing’ that might attack: so much so that any threatening ‘thing’, even if it is not the real ‘thing’, will trigger off a predictable sequence of defensive behaviour. The screams and kicks are the first line of defence. The mother must then be prepared to fight for the child; and the father to fight for them both. The danger doubles at night, because man has no night vision and the big cats hunt at night. And surely this most Manichean drama – of light, darkness and the Beast – lies at the heart of the human predicament.

Visitors to a baby ward in hospital are often surprised by the silence. Yet if the mother really has abandoned her child, its only chance of survival is to shut its mouth.”

–Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, Penguin Classics, 1987, pp. 232-233.



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