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  • Minnows into Whales:Integration Across Scales in the Early Styles of Dr. Seuss
  • Paul G. Arakelian (bio)

The early works of Dr. Seuss have a lyrical simplicity emanating as much from the verses or pictures considered independently as from the connection between the two. Yet the integration of word and image in his books establishes overriding metaphors which subliminally control the overall meaning and extend it beyond the separate meaning the verses or pictures might have. As W. J. T. Mitchell has shown in regard to Blake's illuminated works, words and images cannot be separated, and the work must be considered as a whole. Mitchell's holistic view contrasts with an alternative view, exemplified in children's literary studies by the work of Perry Nodelman, that focuses on the ways one medium complements or contradicts the other. Blake's art and Mitchell's criticism avoid the metaphor of the "sister arts" and substitute instead a mathematical metaphor: "for Blake, poetry and painting were to be multiplied by one another to give a product larger than the sum of the parts" (Mitchell 31). The question then is not what is the relationship between picture and verse—does one complement or contradict the other—but how are the two integrated into one unique work of art?

In Nodelman's recent book, Words about Pictures, the issue of complementation, contradiction, or integration is addressed. Nodelman asserts that in children's books the operative mode is a contradictory one:

Given the differing qualities of words and pictures, the relationships between them in picture books tend to be adversarial: rape rather than marriage. They come together best and most interestingly not when writers and illustrators attempt to have them mirror and duplicate each other but when writers and illustrators use the different qualities of their different arts to communicate different information.


My own interest is neither in complementation nor in contradiction but in integration—the melding of word and picture to create a single message. This fusion would most probably occur, if it occurs at all, in the work of artists like Blake, who both write and illustrate their work, so that the art originates in one personality. Nodelman ignores this distinction, lumping Maurice Sendak, Mercer Mayer, Chris Van Allsburg, and other multimedia artists together with collaborators. This oversight is important because Nodelman claims: "Illustrators are subsidiary artists, their work a parasite on work that already exists" (79). He sees art as the relationship between inherently diverse parts, reflecting the sociological/psychological underpinnings of his criticism. He is like the anthropologist who sees how differently cultures create conventions of conversational space, body language, speech acts, and so on. He is interested in a reader's response to these differences, even though he shifts his definition of "reader" from young children (in Chapter 1), to the "ideal" viewer (in Chapter 2), to the scholarly "we" in the remainder of the book. In contrast, I tend more to the biological sciences, noticing how, despite cultural differences, human beings are similar in their behavior. And I pursue the tradition, long held among biological/mentalist linguists (Noam Chomsky, M. A. K. Halliday, Ray Jackendoff, George Lakoff, Elizabeth Traugott, and others), to use myself, the viewer, as informant, not "we" or others.

By "integration" I mean what Mitchell has called "composite art." It is neither the art of illustration nor of verse; it is a multimedia art. This integration is different from the eighteenth-century version of ut pictura poesis. As Mitchell argues, that version,

sought to overcome the separation of time and space, body and soul, by making poetry and painting more similar, adding them together as complementary representations, or reducing them to their common denominator, nature. Blake's strategy, I would suggest, was to transform the dualism into a dialectic, to create unity out of contrariety rather than similitude or complementarity. Blake wanted to combine spatial and temporal form in his illuminated books not to produce a fuller imitation of the total objective world, but to dramatize the interaction of the apparent dualities in our experience of the world and to embody the striving of those dualities for unification.


This combination does not pre-empt...


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pp. 18-22
Launched on MUSE
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