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  • Play, Panache, Pastiche:Postmodern Impulses in Contemporary Picture Books
  • W. Nikola-Lisa (bio)

We live in a postmodern,
post-literate age;
an age which looks reflexively upon itself,
upon previous cultural attitudes,
past political realities—
we are political, corrected, aware, vital.
In that backward glance, that gaze, we play:
play with the materials of culture,
play with the (in)determinant codes of literature,
play with all that we have previously esteemed, valued—
held to be immutable.
Nothing is for certain in this day and age;
our time is an ambivalent one—1
the titans of the past, the idols, the demagogues,
have all fallen;
they lie groaning at our feet:
what is art? what is history? what is life?
what is sacred? anymore
in the chronicles of the past has been revealed—
a fraud:
postmodernism is here to stay,
its landscape diverse, utilitarian, pluralistic, democratic
(the coarse expression of a leveling tendency in culture,
a tendency which privileges the common and everyday,
the ordinary and unpretentious)2
a shoe turns into an automobile,
adorning its hood—Nike of Samothrace;
a tube of paint turns into a bespeckled puppy,
its gaze fixed upon Leonardo's Mona Lisa;
a lifeless prism turns into a movie projector,
the image projected—Picasso's Portrait of Marie-Therese3
The high and the low;
the aristocratic and the popular;
the continuous mix-match of postmodern impulse
(Whistler's "Mother" holding Pilkey's dreaming cats;4
Margaret Wise Brown's ageless lullaby in pop-up book form;5
Carle's monumental butterfly the size of a postcard.)6

We live in a postmodern,
post-literate age;
in a world of afters—
post-literate, post-industrial, post-modern,
as if we have nothing to learn from the past—
or everything!
Everything is connected? [End Page 35]
All things are equal—relative—always in motion;
everything is in motion,
conflated in the miasmic sea of contemporary thought,
gained through the revelation that all is écriture7
—writing—
not speech
—books—
not rhetoric;
we write and rewrite/repeat history;
we have to, there are no other words but the ones we've uttered,
no other thoughts but the ones we've thought,
no other texts but the ones already written/
rewritten/
fashioned out of the past—
the dialectical NOW:
A MAILMAN RIDES OFF ON HIS BICYCLE TO DELIVER,
SEEMINGLY HARMLESS, UNPROVOCATIVE, INCONSEQUENTIAL,
THE MAIL: TO WHOM?
A FAIRYTALE WITCH, A LITTLE GIRL WITH A RED CAPE,
A PERSPICACIOUS WOLF,
A DELICATE BLOND WHO'S SOON TO CELEBRATE
HER BIRTHDAY (THAT'S A CHANGE;
BUT NOT ENOUGH THAT WE DON'T RECOGNIZE THE TEXT,
THE LAYOUT OF CHARACTERS,
THE THIN BLUE LINE THAT CONNECTS THEM TO THE PAST).8
We are all borrowers,
packrats of words, images, ideas;
how far we go is determined by who came before us
(Newton standing on the shoulders of giants)
—the past
as we know it is embedded in our mind,
is our mind:
reconfigured/reconstituted/reconstructed
what was once, is now, and shall ever be,
forever and ever—
a relic in time,
an artifact of history,
a presence in our mind:
Once upon a time there were three bears, seven dwarfs, five gorillas, a frog
prince, some sleeping beauties, a wolf, a dinosaur, a Mad Hatter, a steam boat,
four firemen on a fire engine, a crocodile with a clock on it, a considerable
number of giant beanstalks—and a little boy named . . .9
Minski pondering an abstract mathematical formula
—shades of Pythagoras;
Minski tossing an egg aloft (Oops! What goes up must come down.)
—shades of Galileo;
Minski kicking his father's key chain (and inventing the toaster oven)
—shades of Benjamin Franklin,
and Alexander Graham Bell,
and Henry Ford,
and Leonardo Da Vinci,
and, of course, the incorrigibly precocious Mozart.10 [End Page 36]

We live in a postmodern,
post-literate age;
an age of metafiction11
(counter texts)
books that don't fit;
books that defy the rules—
writerly texts (which demand our participation)12
scriptible texts (which break with convention)
THIS BOOK APPEARS TO CONTAIN
A NUMBER OF STORIES THAT DO NOT
NECESSARILY OCCUR AT THE SAME TIME.
BUT IT MAY CONTAIN ONLY ONE STORY.
THEN AGAIN, THERE MAY...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-1201
Print ISSN
0885-0429
Pages
pp. 35-40
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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