Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism

By Deborah Cogan Thacker; Jean Webb | Go to book overview

Chapter 14

Playful subversion

There are many contested definitions of postmodernism, and the difficulties of locating the relationship between Modernism and postmodernism suggest a complexity that might be expected to exclude children's literature. However, it is precisely the nature of the task of writing for children, and the power relations entailed in that act, which forge a special link between children's literature and postmodernist responses to cultural change. By including children's literature in a map of literary history it is possible to see the postmodern tendency in art and literature as a return to or, perhaps, a reinterpretation of the radicalism of a Romantic view of the adult/reader relationship.

Postmodern theorists, such as Lyotard, challenge the credibility of the master narratives that have dominated cultural production since the Enlightenment (Brooker 1992). Although this position may appear to dismiss the essentialism of Romantic constructions of childhood, the implied reader of postmodern children's literature is still defined in Romantic terms. The techniques that define the texts discussed in this chapter as postmodern, as well as those discussed in the chapters that follow, may be subversive and liberating, yet the public 'use' of children's literature continues to marginalise its experimental and aesthetic value.

The marginalisation of writing for children and its link with popular culture place it in a relationship with definitions of high culture that are constantly contested in postmodern formulations. In addition, the inequity of the relationship between the 'adult, knowing' author and the 'innocent, receptive' child, and the uneasy assumption that stories can be repositories of universal truths, are all involved in the discourses which surround art, culture and politics in this postmodern epoch. In contrast to the growing market

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