Introduction
A W I L L F U L N E S S A R C H I V E
Th ere is a story called “Th e Willful Child.”
Osuredo
nce upon a time there was a child who was willful, and would
not as her mother wished. For this reason God had no plea-
in her, and let her become ill, and no doctor could do her
any good, and in a short time she lay on her death- bed. When she had
been lowered into her grave, and the earth was spread over her, all at
once her arm came out again, and stretched upwards, and when they
had put it in and spread fresh earth over it, it was all to no purpose, for
the arm always came out again. Th en the mother herself was obliged
to go to the grave, and strike the arm with a rod, and when she had
done that, it was drawn in, and then at last the child had rest beneath
the ground. (Grimm and Grimm 1884, 125)1
What a story. Th e willful child: she has a story to tell. In this Grimm story,
which is certainly a grim story, the willful child is the one who is disobedi-
ent, who will not do as her mother wishes. If authority assumes the right
to turn a wish into a command, then willfulness is a diagnosis of the
failure to comply with those whose authority is given. Th e costs of such
a diagnosis are high: through a chain of command (the mother, God, the
doctors) the child’s fate is sealed. It is ill will that responds to willfulness;
the child is allowed to become ill in such a way that no one can “do her
any good.” Willfulness is thus compromising; it compromises the capac-
ity of a subject to survive, let alone fl ourish. Th e punishment for willful-
ness is a passive willing of death, an allowing of death. Note that willful-
ness is also that which persists even after death: displaced onto an arm,
from a body onto a body part. Th e arm inherits the willfulness of the
child insofar as it will not be kept down, insofar as it keeps coming up,
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