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Looking Glasses and Neverlands

Lacan, Desire, and Subjectivity in Children's Literatue

Karen Coats

Publication Year: 2004

A “Choice” Outstanding Academic Title
This groundbreaking study introduces and explores Lacan’s complex theories of subjectivity and desire through close readings of canonical children’s books such as Charlotte’s Web, Stellaluna, Holes, Tangerine, and The Chocolate War, providing an introduction to an increasingly influential body of difficult work while making the claim that children’s textual encounters are as significant as their existential ones in constituting their subjectivities and giving shape to their desires.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

"Throughout the writing of this book, I have been blessed with many good friends, good colleagues, and good critics who have helped refine and shape the final product. J. D. Stahl and Bob Siegle introduced me to the possibility of studying children’s literature and Lacanian theory together. Marshall Alcorn, Inez Azar, Peter Caws, Meena Khorana, Judith Plotz, Bob Samuels, and Gail Weiss read and critiqued an early version of..."

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Introduction: The Subject of Children's Literature

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pp. 1-14

"Stories, it has been said, are as old as bread. I like that image, because it links stories to something as indispensable to our survival as food. It also reminds us that, as each culture takes a few simple ingredients and produces its own favorite forms of this 'staff of life,' usually simple for everyday use, more complex and textured for special times, so..."

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How to Save Your Life: Lessons from a Runt Pig

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pp. 15-36

"When Fern Arable realizes that her father is headed out to the barn to kill a runt pig, she is immediately engulfed in identificatory existential angst: 'But it’s unfair,’ cried Fern. ‘The pig couldn’t help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?’” (Charlotte’s Web [CW], 3). In a flash of horror and insight, she articulates the truth of Lacan’s assertion that all humans (and..."

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A Time to Mourn: The Loss of the Mother

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pp. 37-58

"In chapter 1, I looked at Charlotte’s Web as an allegorical story of the advent of subjectivity. I suggested that it and stories like it not only show how the theory works, but also actually facilitate the process whereby the modernist subject comes into being by taking the reader, by way of identification, on a journey through what counts as the normal development of subjectivity. This chapter explores that..."

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Mourning into Dancing: Recuperating the Loss of the Mother

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pp. 59-76

"The books that correspond to the time for concluding are the ones aimed at beginning readers. Learning to read involves certain important shifts for the child. It is as if he were making one giant step on the road to individuality; once he learns to read, reading will rarely be a situation where he is cuddled close to the body of another, ..."

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Looking Glasses and Neverlands: Beyond the Symbolic

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pp. 77-96

"Inevitably, psychoanalytic readings of the Alice books and of the story of Peter Pan abound. Charles Dodgson's immense fondness for children, primarily prepubescent girls, and J. M. Barrie’s fascination with the Llewellyn-Davies boys makes it almost impossible for critics to leave the writers off the couch. Clearly, Dodgson desired (and carefully cultivated) the companionship of children, in much the same way as did Barrie, and they each managed to create remarkably..."

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"I Never Explain Anything": Children's Literature and Sexuation

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pp. 97-120

"Of the mandates issued by the Symbolic regarding identity formation, the most stringent, and the most embattled in current theoretical debate, is the assumption of a specific gendered identity. We are interpellated into gendered roles even before our birth; parental and societal expectations vary according to the pinks or blues of our layettes. "

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Blinded by the White: The Responsibilities of Race

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pp. 121-136

"I noted in chapters 1 and 2 how images in picture books become idealized by child readers. Children operating in an Imaginary logic read these images as metonymic representation of categorical signifiers and construct their expectations of the signifieds attaching to those signifiers through the repeated associations of image to text. Interesting to note here are the side effects of taking the part for the whole."

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Abjection and Adolescent Fiction: Ways Out

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pp. 137-160

"In previous chapters, I have discussed the various ways the child subject uses literature to negotiate his passage from the Real to the Symbolic. Crucial to this passage is the formation of a coherent sense of a potential self through the Imaginary—that is, the child uses fictional small others to mirror back to him his own possibilities..."

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Conclusion: Postmoderns at the Gates of Dawn

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pp. 161-172

"I have argued throughout this book that most of the literature read to and by children and adolescents tends to participate in the construction and reinforcement of a modernist subjectivity. Alas-dair MacIntyre argues in After Virtue that 'man is in his actions and practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal,' but he adds that 'I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can..."


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pp. 173-178


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pp. 179-186


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pp. 187-192

E-ISBN-13: 9781587294778
E-ISBN-10: 158729477X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587295867
Print-ISBN-10: 1587295865

Page Count: 202
Publication Year: 2004