Our friends at the Roehampton University’s National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature organised this talk the other day:
|unfortunately, nothing in the rest of this blogpost will be as awesome as that|
David Rudd versus Peter Hunt: forget the Superbowl and the Olympics! The two scholars began by introducing their new books:
David Rudd’s Reading the Child in Children’s Literature: An Heretical Approach is a decidedly polemical, theoretically ambitious work which tries to get a fresh look at children’s literature criticism and theory. Rudd explained he was tired of works that ‘apply’ theories to children’s texts, and therefore always find what they’re looking for: ‘If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail’. In his new book, Rudd turns to the ‘heresy’ of the Lacanian framework.
(By then Peter Hunt gracefully chirped in that it was a ‘fabulous book’)
Peter Hunt’s latest book, co-written with Dennis Butt, is cheerfully entitled How Did Long John Silver Lose His Leg? and explores ‘mysteries’ of children’s literature – or rather, what happens in the gaps and interstices of classic children’s texts. Would Bobbie really have managed to stop the train, or would she have been turned into puree? Hunt noted that this book was ‘on the other hand of the spectrum’ from Rudd’s.
(but Rudd, ever the gentleman, hastened to say that Hunt’s book was equally fabulous).
Then the floor was opened to questions, and since the audience was made up mostly of MAs and undergraduates in children’s literature, Rudd and Hunt were spared having to say what their favourite children’s books were. In fact, all the questions were deep, insightful and elicited sophisticated replies from the ‘two heavyweights’:
First Question: Thirty years after Jacqueline Rose, the debate is still heated: is it ‘possible’ to do children’s literature theory?
David Rudd critiqued Rose’s view; by elevating the child to a special status within the text, she reinstated, he said, the Romantic child ‘throught the back door’. In fact, children’s literature is no more or less ‘impossible’ than any other human endeavour, because everything is textualised: there is nothing special about the child in language.
Peter Hunt nuanced Rose and Karin Lesnik-Oberstein’s views that children’s literature critics only write with specific groups of children in mind. In chidren’s literature criticism, Hunt said, most critics are in fact very aware of the difficulties which surround the concept of the child.
David Rudd added that the debate is only ‘heated’ because children’s literature criticism is such a small world; the same split exists in ‘adult’ literature criticism, but there the split also means that there are different journals, different conferences, etc – people just don’t talk to one another as much.
Peter Hunt stated, finally, that if we study chbooks we are some way towards engaging with concepts of childhood; and we absolutely have to deal with that.