In Felisberto Hernández’s story “The Stray Horse”, the young narrator imagines that the piano teacher’s sitting room furniture has relationships, intentions, and desires. The developmental psychologist Paul Bloom attributes this imagination of objects as living as part of normal development in childhood. He argues that such a tendency, while scientifically incorrect, was an evolutionary advantage in the long, brutal prehistory of mankind. Whatever the merits of Bloom’s evolutionary story, it fails to grasp the nature of creative imagination in children. Maurice Merleau-Ponty cautions against reading backward from the adult into the child. Seeing all that is adult existing in some minor form in children fails to capture those unique, and often lost, parts of childhood experience. In their imaginative play, children rarely confuse object and toy play with religion. Instead of fitting into adult metaphysical commitments, children’s imaginations challenge our organization of reality. The intensity and rigidity of children’s play with objects, including their fear of select ones, often seems to speak of objects, such as those from “The Stray Horse,” that are connected to a parallel world that intervenes weakly on our own. It is fantastical, but not as in an addition to our metaphysical commitments, but as a kind of barbarian reality. This paper takes up the challenge of childhood imagination as the phenomenological prehistory of our own creative imagination. It considers the work in psychoanalytic and phenomenological accounts of childhood memories and ties it to the creative imagination of authors like Hernández.

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