It makes me protective. Defensive, sometimes. Is that a strange thing to say? Can one be protective of somebody else’s work?
I think one can. I think one can be protective of it but also resent the absence of it from critical work. Think about Enid Blyton for example. I suspect, rightly, that your impression will be coloured by several of the quite public debates that have happened over her work in the past few years. The appropriateness of her register. The quality of her work. The suitability of her work. Quite often, work around Enid Blyton often focuses on that key term around. To investigate Blyton is to investigate cultural semiotics, and the appropriation of an author. To investigate Blyton is to investigate the discourse around Blyton and ever so rarely, the texts themselves.
I’m not arguing that we discount that discourse; I am, however, asking whether there’s a space in that for the text? For research that focuses on the quality and relevance of the text at textual level, as opposed to situating it within a cultural discourse and frame of a very particular context?
I suspect, sometimes, this is a false construct to make. Can one absent the text from its paratextual elements? Is an ‘a’ always an ‘a’ wherever it is writ? Is it the same ‘a’ or different? Of course, it’s different; every letter bears the weight of context upon it, and construction when formed into words. Every mark, every line has construction and intent upon it. Meaning. Significance. Context.
But I yearn for this distinction; I yearn to separate my texts from the discourses around them and, in the case of many, to forcefully place them within a discourse. The relevance of these writers. Their popular appeal. The fact that they were the literary equivalent to Zoella et. al. The fact that popular fiction was, is, and should be considered as important.
And yet, absence. Denial. Restriction. I work with popular fiction. I’ve just finished a chapter on A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian : one of the most perfect coming of age novels that exist within the children’s literature pantheon. My literature review for this novel? Less than forthcoming. A handful of articles, nothing more. Novels such as The Secret Garden are written about to the nth degree, but others? Breathless gasps in the wind; an absence of thought, and yet these books matter. Did, have, shall.
Perhaps it’s a question of canon; that weighty, laden, complex term. Think of the classic pieces of children’s literature you know, the ones that pop up in Important Surveys and Angry Thought Pieces About The Rubbish We Read Today. I’ll guess that they are not things like In The Fifth At Malory Towers. And yet, perhaps, they should be. We become blind sometimes, I think, to the relevance of popularity. Of the critical interest of popularity.
This isn’t a plea for every book in the world to be academically critiqued and to be parsed through a thousand theoretical frames.
It’s a plea for the awareness of those frames, of what they include, and what they exclude.
It’s a plea, perhaps, to recognise the other.