Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Situating Childhood: A Reading of Spatiality in Aboriginal Picture Books

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Situating Childhood: A Reading of Spatiality in Aboriginal Picture Books

Article excerpt

There is no unspatialized social reality
(Soja 1996, p. 46).

Representing spatiality

Stuart Hall contends that '[p]ractices of representation always implicate the positions from which we speak or write--the positions of enunciation' (1996, p. 110). I would add that there is a deferred manifestation of positioning in the act of reading. Since, as Hall says, '[w]e all write and speak from a particular place and time, from a history and a culture which is specific ... [w]hat we say is always in context, positioned' (1996, p. 110). The act of reading is also implicated by cultural positioning. For myself, having colonial-immigrant Anglo-Saxon heritage, the act of reading texts by Aboriginal authors is weighted with cultural dilemma: firstly. I feel unqualified to read unfamiliar cultural nuances appropriately; secondly, I fear mis-reading, and mis-appropriating Aboriginal cultural production(s). In an attempt to mediate my own misgivings. I would like to take up Lisa Disch's model of visiting, of which she recommends that '[I]n order to tell yourself the story of an event from an unfamiliar standpoint, you have to position yourself there as yourself' (1994, p. 158). So, I approach Aboriginal texts as a visitor, and bring with me the cultural knowledge that I have acquired as educated, white, Australian, female, adult.

In visiting, I will attempt to perform a contemporary reading of spatiality in Aboriginal picture books in terms of representations of inhabitation and spatial phenomena within the text. Bob Randall and Kunyi June-Anne McInerney's Tracker Tjugingji (2003) invites readers to share a journey in and through cultural constructions of spatiality. Elaine Russell's A is for Aunty (2000) creates a montage of performative spatiality that links space and time. Russell's most recent picture book. The Shack That Dad Built (2004) furthers representations of spatiality as personified by embodiment. These texts offer a spatialisation of Australian childhood that invites exploration.

The construction of spatiality

To borrow from Helen Tiffin, texts construct worlds (1987, p. 22). In indigenous Australian cultures, worlds also construct texts since notions of country are inherent to Aboriginal stories, both stories and people are 'placed' (Bradford 2003, p. 202). Furthermore, children's picture books construct worlds perceived by adults (and sometimes children) that further construct representations of worlds played back to children in the acts of production, interpretation, viewing/reading and being-read-to.

Recognition of the nature of constructed worlds calls into being notions of spatiality, since spatiality is the performative affiliation of object and space that Heidegger regarded as 'being-in-the-world' (1962) and is elsewhere described as 'habitus' (Bourdieu 1977), 'lived space' (Lefebvre 1991) or 'dominated space' (Low 2003). Nevertheless, spatiality is a product of the occupancy of space. In The Production of Space (1991) Henri Lefebvre recognizes complementary aspects of spatiality in which space imposes behaviour on the occupant, and simultaneously, the nature of occupation constructs space.

Central to the condition of spatiality is inhabitation. In the 1980s, during the reconceptualisation of geographies as 'postmodern', Edward Soja condenses Lefebvre's argument in his declaration that, as a 'social product, spatiality is simultaneously the medium and outcome, presupposition and embodiment, of social action and relationship' (1989, p. 118). Thus, spatiality can be considered a place and an event, occupation and interaction, with others and with space itself.

Of what value are these Western theoretical insights to an interpretation of spatiality in Aboriginal picture books? Lefebvre (1991) and Soja (1989, 1996) provide a position from which culturally constructed theories of spatiality coincide and diverge. While some cultural constructions of spatiality overlap, both divergence and multiplicity are important to post-colonial reconceptualisations of cultural exchange, and establish the persistent becoming of a spatialisation of childhood that incorporates cultural diversity. …

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