the a posteriori becomes the a priori concretely and not merely in the general”  –Theodor Adorno, from “The Essay as Form”

This tale, like any good Bildungsroman, begins with a tutelary image—halcyon and filled with heavy promise. Adulthood sacrifices security for its affinity with open intellectual experience, but childhood need not make such trade-offs. In childhood, intellectual experience is radically open as it is not preconditioned and the child operates under the aegis of necessary naiveté and parental protection. As such, the child need not construct consolations; the world appears unified and docile, welcoming, mystified. The force behind the framework in which we must learn to operate is as yet unknown and so the world remains idyllic. Yet, as the contorted tree suggests in the first image, the nivellating and ossifying iron cage of rationalization, the bitter fruit from Eden’s tree—our means of later reconciling ourselves to the world—waits at the wings, and, as the foliage that grades into flame implies, such beauty as innocence is but a brusque flare. The foreboding skies above the young boy in the second suggest as much, as well, even though now, he engages his world without mediation, does not reify or reduce the object of his contemplation to something other than itself.

william_blake_title_page_songs_of_innocence               lamb

As a matter of course, the idyllic lapses and the child is sent out into the world, which is the bugbear and blessing of the burgeoning self-awareness that attends aging. One cannot learn from repose alone and asylum quickly stagnates—such is our lot. Individual experience is consciousness’s point of departure, its necessary divergence from original harmony and the accompanying assurance of solid footing.


You are what’s fallen from those fatal boughs.

Where will we go when they send us away from here?


Unpreventably, the child loses their way—Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, / ché la diritta via era smarrita. Though in life’s journey “the straight way” is lost, we might still come to ourselves, not in spite of, but because of the “dark wood” in which we find ourselves. Fear and vulnerability leads to self-discovery—i.e., the bright light in the dark forest, in the image. However, we generally clothe it in the sordid assuagements of cynicism and the like. We begin to construct the benign illusions that domesticate our terror and/or aid us in our daily grind, our itch and algos.


The old salves all begin to smack of mendaciousness, elan, and caprice, as adulthood dawns, and new ones are conceived or concocted, picked up for a song or at heavy cost. Times prior, the grown child’s fond memories, seem to speak of another affection, but did they promise such? The child, now an adult, returns to the originary, seeks the beginning to know their end. Something like a conversion experience, like Saul on the road to Damascus, occurs. Innocence is not truly noticed or known until one has lapsed from it and self-consciousness is not gained unless one has done so. Value is learned in loss. Memory—here, the hovering cherub or imp—affords reflection, acts as the articulation between innocence and awareness. Conversion necessitates a continuity as well as a discontinuity with the life that is and the life that was, but this, at the close, is not so much a conversion as a homecoming—a prodigal son returning.

And I stain’d the water clear

Works Cited

Adorno, Theodor. “The Essay as Form.” Notes to Literature. Trans. Shierry Weber Nicholson. Vol. 1. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. N. pag. Print. (pg. 10)

Blake, William. Blake’s Poetry and Designs. Ed. Mary Lynn Johnson and John E. Grant. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.

Dante, Alighieri. Inferno. Trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander. New York: Doubleday, 2000. Print.  (pg.3)

Ferry, David. “In Eden.” ‘In Eden’ by David Ferry :. The Poetry Foundation, July-Aug. 2011. Web. 03 Sept. 2013. <;.