Sunday, August 29, 2010

Marah Gubar Vs. the Jacqueline Rose Cult (and Coda)

See coda below..
In a review of a study of Kipling by Sue Walsh, Marah Gubar neatly summarizes the current controversies surrounding the work of critic Jacqueline Rose (The Case of Peter Pan) and her righteous acolytes.
These days only a few scholars (many of them at the University of Reading) worry about keeping faith with Rose's ideas and rooting out heretics. On the other hand, the question that concerns a new generation of critics is: What would the opposite of Rose's critical practices look like? For example, Rose insists that childhood is "invented"; turning the tables, let's talk about the childhood that is "discoverable."

In her terrific Artful Dodgers, Gubar points out how Rose woefully misses the humor in the very story that she singles out to prove her argument (viz. Peter Pan). And as Perry Nodelman has suggested, this same humorless Jacqueline Rose has spawned a Cult of Neo-Puritans who condemn others to the extent they deviate from the gospel.

While not the only victim of these Roundheads, in reviews of my book Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children's Literature, I was taken to task by zealots who faulted me for not having read my Rose and who could not even conceive that my endeavor was to do something new and turn Rose's literary criticism on its head. Thankfully, other reviewers were not so singleminded and obtuse.

Rose, Walsh, and their kind argue that discussion of "real children" is dubious and they condemn anyone who hazards in that direction an "essentialist." In the end, their righteousness closes more doors than it opens.

Jerry Griswold
Coda. I have since learned that the Fall 2010 issue of the Children's Literature Association Quarterly is devoted to a discussion of Jacqueline Rose's legacy. While my remarks above look to the future, they do not sufficiently acknowledge the past and my gratitude to Rose for problematizing the field. That was shortsighted of me. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time."
Perry Nodelman does this balancing in his terrific essay in the Quarterly, while in his own enterprising essay David Rudd aims to redeem Rose by untangling a Gordian Knot. My own feeling remains that after dreary decades of derivative discussions of "colonial constructions," the time has come for critics to turn their heads in a new direction: We can learn more by fresh attention to phenomenology and poetics.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Jerry. It was good to see this luminous bit of attention-paying this morning. You know, I felt that Rose made the crucial error of condemning children's fiction as a conceptual framework without bothering to understand that it was a conceptual framework in which many people find value, or that all conceptual frameworks are manmade and work for the people who are prepared to see them as real. In fact, part of the mesmerizing power of her book was its relentless obtuseness, its amazing distance from the knowledge of how life is lived, in the same way sermons against fornication are mesmerizing and a little humbling. After a while, one begins to feel in the wrong and sheepish, although soon after one lays down the text or leaves the church, one does find oneself lapsing again into the way of the fornicators. // mj