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  • Texts
  • Mavis Reimer

The change of the name of this journal from Canadian Children's Literature/Littérature canadienne pour la jeunesse to Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures in 2009 was the subject of many hours of discussion by the editorial and advisory boards. Among the questions we debated were the gains and losses in dropping the national descriptor of the journal, the best way to indicate that we intended to continue to publish in two languages, the implications of substituting the term "young people" for "children," and the grammatical relation implied by the order and punctuation of the three terms of our subtitle. The choice to replace "literature/littérature" with "texts," however, occasioned little controversy: it seemed obvious to us that texts was a more open and flexible category, one which formally signals our intention to work within a cultural-studies framework and our welcome of the submission of essays on a wide range of literary, media, and cultural objects and forms. But, if the obvious is typically a rich site for investigation, as ideological critics have demonstrated, then it seems useful to unpack the term to which we so readily agreed.1

The shift in literary studies from the common usage of literature to the common usage of texts to describe the object of study is registered in the different choices made by Raymond Williams in Keywords (1976) and by Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg, and Meaghan Morris in New Keywords (2005): literature appears as a main entry and there is no entry for text in the 1976 "vocabulary of culture and society," while the opposite is true of the 2005 reference work. Williams explains in his 1976 entry that the word literature came into English "in the sense of polite learning through reading" in the fourteenth century (184). Since the eighteenth century, however, the history of the word has involved "a steady distinction and separation" of "well-written books of an imaginative or creative kind" from "other kinds of writing—philosophy, [End Page 1] essays, history, and so on—which may or may not possess literary merit or be of literary interest," as well as from those poems and plays and novels that "are not 'substantial' or 'important' enough to be called works of literature" (186). "Significantly in recent years," he notes in a concluding paragraph, literature and the literary have been "increasingly challenged, on what is conventionally their own ground, by concepts of writing and communication which seek to recover the most active and general senses which the extreme specialization had seemed to exclude" (187).

Terry Threadgold's entry for text in New Keywords makes it clear that the challenge glimpsed by Williams was, indeed, consequential and far-reaching: not only are "all genres of writing" now referred to as texts "for purposes of analysis" in literary studies, but also "[a]ll of these enterprises are seen as aspects of a general textuality and as forms of textual practice," a category which also includes multimedia cultural texts "in which language is only one dimension" (346). The expanded notion of text, defined by Threadgold as "a pan-disciplinary concept that encompasse[s] any cultural object of investigation" (346), describes the understanding of texts that informs the title of this journal and that is generally used in contemporary international cultural studies. In his 2008 textbook Cultural Studies, Chris Barker observes that "it is an axiom of cultural studies that a text is anything that generates meaning through signifying practices" (490).

Barker's gloss on text assumes the framework of semiotics, especially as developed by Roland Barthes in Mythologies (1957). In one of the essays in that collection, Barthes analyzes the court appearance of a farmer who was charged with and convicted of murder, a case in which police, prosecutor, judge, and journalists all concurred in borrowing elements of classical rhetoric and literary [End Page 2] characterizations to describe the man, the event, and the scene of the trial itself. "Literature has just condemned a man to the guillotine" ("Dominici" 43), Barthes concludes, with literature here, as Simon During observes, meaning not just "the literary canon but the conventional system of writing and representation in which the canon remains...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1920-261X
Print ISSN
1920-2601
Pages
pp. 1-9
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-20
Open Access
No
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