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Children's Literature, Issues of Definition: The "Why?" and "Why Not?" of Criticism Sebastien Chapleau THIS ESSAY IS CONCERNED WITH THE NOTIONS of form and content, as well as some ideological issues related to critico-literary canonisation. It engages with children's literature as textual practices, but also, in parallel, with (children's) (literary) criticism as an intellectual enterprise. Throughout what follows, I will consider some epistemological questions, and will place my thoughts within the affirmative "why?" and "why not?" of what I believe to be a counter-hegemonic argument, an argument interested in open-mindedness and unconditionality, or, in other words, (academic ) anarchism/freedom.1 Children's literature, as common beliefs often have it, is something one can buy in book-shops, or through websites such as Amazon, or pick up from library bookshelves. Approached this way, children's literature is a material object. And this is how many people—inside and outside academia—understand the phrase 'children's literature'. Nevertheless, children's literature, as an academic discipline, and given the way it has evolved over the past twenty years or so, and more particularly in quite a number of recent publications, is best described as sitting at the cross-roads of different definitional discourses: it is an ambivalent subject which very often leads to rather contentious debates as regards its very nature. In this essay, I would like to address some of the most influential arguments that have emerged since children's literature found its place within the academic arena. Therefore, I intend to read through the works of such critics as Jacqueline Rose and Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, who, using psychoanalysis, have focused on the fictionalisation of childhood in books written for and about children, and take their arguments through Jack Zipes and David Rudd who, reflecting on the genealogy of children's literature have argued that through its institutionalisation it has acquired a specific and ideologically-restricted (or ideologically-restricting) definition, and Peter Hunt who approaches children's literature the most radically by introducing the idea of a childist criticism of children's literature. As will soon become clear, this essay focuses primarily on issues of academic definitions, which all are concerned with what the phrase 'children's literature' is thought to mean and imply, or means and implies, or could mean and imply. My purpose is to concentrate on the fact that children's literature, 10 Winter 2005 Sebastien Chapleau through academic discussions, has acquired a variety of meanings which make its study an intricate enterprise.2 In order to illustrate my reading of the arguments developed by some of the above-mentioned critics, I will draw on some textual evidence—though, many will think, probably too briefly. I will refer to an example of what is usually considered to be 'children's literature,' but also, and I believe quite interestingly, to a piece of writing which could stand for a category of texts rarely looked at for ideological reasons, reasons which I will trace through my reading of Zipes, Rudd, and Hunt. Thus, this essay will put forward a rather polymorphic view of a subject the very nature of which has allowed extremely diverse definitional arguments to develop, and contentious debates as regards issues of canonisation to emerge. To lay the foundation for this analysis, let us start from children's literature as (a) text(s), to then approach the world of criticism. Let us consider an excerpt taken from the French picture book Histoire du grand méchant poulet, which seems to me to be representative of what is currently produced for children in France and elsewhere. Histoire du grand méchant poulet is the story of a "Grand Méchant Poulet [qui] s'appelait Claquedent. Il était terrorifiant . Il était effroustoufflant. On peut même dire qu'il était abominifiant."3 The beginning of the story tells us that Claquedent is a chicken with teeth, and we soon learn that "[cjhaque matin, ce Grand Méchant Poulet prenait un caillou bien pointu et aiguisait ses horribles dents. Ensuite, il mettait à chauffer une grosse marmite remplie d'eau, claquait la porte de sa cabane et s'en allait à la chasse en chantonnant." Claquedent the...


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