Sunday, 1 December 2013

ABC blog: I

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I is for iterative. It is a narrative structure, a temporal frequency that implies telling once about something that happens over and over again. The normal frequency is singulative: one event told once. In repetitive frequency, the same event is told several times, occasionally from different perspectives (known as Rashomon technique) or with additional details. The tokens of iterative are words and phrases such as “sometimes”, “ usually”, “every Friday”; but it can be much more subtle than that. Gerard Genette, the second most inspirational scholar for me, after Bakhtin, claims that Proust is the great master of iterative and unique with this device. Now, if Genette had read some children's literature he would notice that iterative is the most common narrative mode: “Every Christmas we...”. This is just one example of how features pointed out as unique in the mainstream are abundant in children's books.

I usually – this is iterative – discuss iterative when I talk about the circularity of children's fiction; how time seems to go on for ever, and it is always summer and nobody grows up. This is not quite true; in fact, it is true about William or Nancy Drew, but not many other books. Even when the boy and his bear are always playing in the Hundred Acre Wood, in fact they aren't, and we know it. And yet books such as The Secret Garden first take the child out of circularity and then bring them back and freeze them in time, forever.

Once upon a time – that's singulative – I gave a paper on iterative at a conference that was totally devoted to one single novel, Alan Garner's Strandloper. It is one of very few papers that hasn't been published nor incorporated into a larger piece of work. I am not even sure I have got it still. It my have dissolved into the mists of time.

I is also for identification, which I have recently written a lot about, especially immersive identification, a highly immature reading strategy when you love a character who is “just-like-you”. I claim that it is immature because the reason we read books is to learn something about other people, who are not just like you. Immersive identification is the opposite of empathy.

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