Deconstruction and the Child Children’s literature: anthropomorphism: animality: posthumanism
Oxford Literary Review 41.2 (December 2019)
Deconstruction and the Child
Children’s literature: anthropomorphism: animality: posthumanism. (Timothy Clark and Jennifer Ford)
“The category of “childhood”—as well as the related notions of “children” and “child”— requires a rethinking …” (Spyros Spyrou, Childhood (2017)).
The title of OLR 41.2 (December 2019) deploys four unstable terms, all deeply implicated in definition of the other (children, anthropomorphism, animality, posthumanism). Children’s literature is often seen as a literature of nature, animals, talking animals and toys, but what concepts of the child, childhood and the nonhuman are being assumed or reinforced?
It has been argued that “it is difficult to overstate the correlation of the animal and the child in literature written and marketed for young readers” (Jaques, 2017, Childhood and Pethood in Literature and Culture, p. 109) and that “literature geared towards a child audience reflects and contributes to the cultural tensions created by the oscillation between the upholding and undermining the divisions between the human and the animal” (Amy Ratelle, Animality and Children’s Literature and Film. p .4). Such correlations, oscillation and instability often and sometimes inevitably occur within contexts of overt and covert didacticism (the ‘purpose’ of ‘children’s literature’ is to ‘teach’ something), dialogism (between child reader, adult author, child narrator and nonhumans) and inter-generational or inter-species differences. Might a re-evaluation of ‘child’ and ‘children’s literature’ be part of the posthuman impulse dating back to Foucault’s speculation in 1971 that the concept ‘man’ may be nearing its end?
This is the first time the concept of the “child” has featured as a central question for a volume of OLR, or of deconstructive thought more widely.
Topics for ‘Deconstruction and the Child: Children’s literature: anthropomorphism: animality: posthumanism’ might include: children’s philosophy/philosophy for children; environmental ethics and children’s literature; childish dissonance —the repetition of obvious and unanswerable questions (why do we eat some animals?); approaches to notions of the ‘autobiographical’ animal or nonhuman in children’s literature; the child as a nonchronological category, present throughout life in all textual forms (the ‘outsider within’ (David Kennedy) or the ‘hidden adult’ (Perry Nodelman); the child as deconstructive of the human/animal/environment difference; natality; ‘the child’ as ‘a concept that runs a particular risk of being hypostatised’ (Stephen Thomson OLR vol 25); childhood, adolescence and magic realism; childhood and adolescence as privileged sites for philosophies of the pre-reflective; ‘children’s literature’ and reassessments of hierarchies of ‘serious’ and ‘genre’ fiction; visual and literal deconstructions across different formats within children’s literature.
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