Friday 29 November 2013

ABC blog: G

To see previous entries, click A  B  D  E  F

G is for gap. I first heard about gaps in a lecture by Aidan Chambers, in the early '80s when he used to come to Sweden regularly. Chambers claims that the scope of gaps in a text is a measure of literary quality, and I am prepared to agree. He distinguishes between didactic texts that have very few or no gaps and creative texts that leave a lot of gaps for readers to fill.

I had never been particularly interested in readers, but this approach offered a way of examining texts from the readers' perspective, without going into empirical research. Nowadays, I am convinced that you cannot study children's literature without considering readers. Implied readers. The reader in the text, which is the title of Chamber's essay.

I then read Wolfgang Iser's (pronounced EE-zer, in case you didn’t know) works where he discusses how (implied) readers interact with texts during the act of reading, through anticipation and retrospection and filling of gaps. He also points out that there are various kinds of gaps in literary text. Information gaps are there for readers to fill with their previous knowledge and experience, both from real life and from previous reading. For instance, few texts involving human beings mention that characters have two arms and two legs. This is a gap we fill automatically, by default, unless we are told something else. Narrative gaps are deliberately left for readers to be alert while reading, filling them as the text progresses, as new facts are added, new inferences made. Some gaps are never filled and leave us curious – or frustrated. The open ending is the ultimate gap. There are cultural gaps that presuppose familiarity with socio-historical and cultural conditions. These can go unnoticed when real readers are displaced, or shifted from implied readers. Or they can be misinterpreted, which may or may not affect the overall interpretation.

Gaps is a also a concept I have used extensively in my work on picturebooks, where, I insist, words and images collaborate, filling each other's gaps – but preferably still leaving enough for readers to fill. In fact, words and images can amplify each other's gaps, creating a BIG gap between the verbal and the visual. These are the books we find most exciting and challenging. 

G is also for genre and gender, two subjects that I have explored extensively. In articles leading to the book From Mythic to Linear, I started looking across genres, finding similarities between folktales and adventure, fantasy and young adult novel. In the book, I suggest three kinds of children's narratives: prelapsarian, carnivalesque and postlapsarian, depending on how time and space are organised (see chronotope) and where the ending takes the character or at least points at. In Power, Voice and Subjectivity, I added child/adult tensions to these categories. 

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