Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Flights of Fantasy? or Space-Time Compression in Asian-Australian Picture Books

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Flights of Fantasy? or Space-Time Compression in Asian-Australian Picture Books

Article excerpt

  Metaphors of hybridity and the like not only recognize difference
  within the subject, fracturing and complicating holistic notions of
  identity, but also address connections between subjects by
  recognizing affiliations, cross-pollinations, echoes and
  repetitions, thereby unseating difference from a position of
  absolute privilege. ... such metaphors allow us to conceive of
  multiple, interconnecting axes of affiliation and differentiation.
  (Felski 1997, p.12)

While the concepts of space and time affect people universally, they occupy a dominant position in childhood experience by virtue of their fluidity. For a growing body that is rapidly being redefined in space as clothes, furniture and developmental phases are outgrown at what seems to surrounding adults to be an exponential rate, but that often feels to the child waiting for the next long-off birthday to be agonisingly slow. Thus, space and time are understood experientially in complex but often unexamined ways. This fluidity of space and time is likewise central to but also often uncritically recognised in the representational spaces of the picture books that children consume. In order to engage with the conceptual, semlotic and socio-political dimensions of the space-time continuum in picture books, this paper will assess two stories that negotiate physical and psychical depictions of migration. The analysis will proceed by looking at the ways in which hybridised space operates as a function of power and subjectivity central to the project of mediating narratives about Asian-Australian diasporic cultures. My analysis here relates only to textual representations of migrant experience, rather than judgements about identity politics per se; and suggests ways in which diasporic experiences are negotiated across space and time in picture books.

Diversions from the Western rationalist conception of space-time have provided fertile ground for fictional adventures into alternate time-spaces of the literary imaginary. Time- and space-shift adventures have a long history in fantasy children's literature, but little attention has been paid to the 'fantasy moment' set within the realist narratives in contemporary Australian picture books about migrant experiences. By affording specific attention to the operations of space in Australian picture books for children we can draw connections between the ways in which spatial relations direct power shifts in pictorial texts, and inform constructions of cross-cultural identity as both the fantasy and reality of hybrid cultural experience. Diasporic texts in particular adopt narrative mechanisms that, while reflecting the fantasy genre, engage with a multicultural construction of space-time that disrupts conventional Western schematics and displaces hegemonic notions of being and belonging that is extended rather than limited by perceptions of space and time. As an outcome of my assessment of two picture books, using them as case-studies for spatiality as a mechanism for engaging child readers with migration logics, I will go on to propose a model of analysis that collapses space and time through the critical application of Harvey's (1990, 1996) conception of spatiality as relational flow and Deleuze's (1993) configuration of Le Pli (the Fold).

Textual representations of Australian migrant populations have shifted markedly from the 1940s to the present. The trajectory includes a sustained period of textual engagement with European immigration - in novels, school readers, picture books, filmic texts - that focused on the emplacement of Greek and Italian migrant families within an assimilated Australian context. More recently, there has been a focus on the experience of migration from Asia to Australia (and one might ponder the reasons for this: a cultural shift in literary production that displaces a white cultural hegemony; or a requirement for publishing directed towards a marketable cultural sector; or both and more). …

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