Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Editorial

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Editorial

Article excerpt

The title of this special issue--Spaces of Transformation--encapsulates the exciting possibilities opened up by the kinds of writing for children and young people considered by the contributors. Responding to an invitation to write on topics under the broad rubric of utopian and dystopian fiction, the essays herein explore and engage with a range of writing that has in common a focus on speculative thinking about the implications of current social conditions and social relationships--a hallmark of this generic tradition. Thomas More's elegant pun eu-topia--the good place that is no place--produced not just the imagined island society of his 1516 text, Utopia, but a resonant conceptual possibility that has provided a matrix for cultural critique and social change ever since. The topia, or place. More's narrative opens up is both an imagined geographical locus and a space to think with. The imagined society of Utopia, characterised by the absence of money and its attendant power, is an implicit critique of the materialism and social hierarchy of the England of More's own day, and readers are invited to read actively in order to make the comparison with their own social context. Writers have been creatively embracing this heuristic opportunity ever since, positioning their readers to be actively questioning members of their culture.

It may be surprising that the focus of so much of the current creative work for children and young people deriving from this intertext dwells on the alternative version of the concept--the dystopian 'bad place'. Such texts have in common with utopian texts an attention to the inadequacies of the social structures and power relations of the writer's present. Rather than imagining a new, transformed space in which those inadequacies are corrected, the dystopia imagines an alternative topos in which they are exacerbated. At first glance then, an emergent emphasis on the dystopian seems to be evidence of a kind of cultural bleakness. On the contrary, I would argue that the energy around a dystopian imaginary so evident in this issue of Papers signifies an enormously positive phenomenon. If, as Fredric Jameson has argued, the postmodern cultural landscape, based on the 'cultural logic of late capitalism'. sees a waning of historicity that renders history flat and depthless, and reads past, present, and future as mere variations in style (Jameson 1991) then the 'dystopian turn' in books for children and young people evident in the pieces in this special issue can be read as a marker of a counter-tendency. There is in this work both a willingness to read the present as part of an historical continuum of change, and an assumption that in order for the future to be different, the present must be seen as a complex of active social and economic processes in constant transition that need to be explored and analysed by active readers.

Certain key words emerge in responses, both utopian and dystopian, to More's imaginary topos, with its attention to the inadequacies of the present. For Ernst Bloch, 'the little word if' is one such word, and he notes how often the word, and the kind of speculative thinking it invites, is ridiculed because society undervalues 'unusual anticipating' (Bloch 1986). Anticipatory consciousness, for Bloch and others working in the utopian tradition, is, on the contrary, highly valued as a sign that history is still in process; a sign, therefore, of hope, a second keyword. A third keyword central to this critical/creative terrain is community, which Raymond Williams sees as central to the exploration of alternative places/spaces of imagining (Williams 1980). An insistence on community signals a refusal to turn attention away from social formations and their implications for individuals within them, and a refusal to focus solely, as did so much social thought of the 1980s and 1990s, on the competitive, alienated individual of capitalist commodity culture.

While the words if, hope, community, are at the heart of the utopian tradition, their meanings equally underpin the project of the critical dystopias Tom Moylan and Rafaella Baccolini have defined as the characteristic turn the tradition has taken since the late 1980s--a turn which helps to account for the dark settings, oppressive regimes, post-apocalyptic societies and endangered communities in the work analysed in this issue. …

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