The tottering space where adults and children meet

Sometime in May there was a short blog post on children’s literature at Meanjin. One of the premises of the blog was that there is ‘a huge, and largely under populated branch of children’s books that are written specifically for adults … just as Pixar realised the potential in populating their kids’ movies with scenes adults would enjoy.’

There’s a lot that could be said about that statement I think, not least addressing the crass marketing machines that are Pixar films, and the idea that the writing of children’s books for adults is an underpopulated area. In fact I’d argue, from long experience, that nearly all children’s picture books are written beneath, within and at the adult gaze. I thought about responding in a comments thread, but it was July before I found the post and anyway attached to it was a solitary comment by Overland’s Jacinda Woodhead that said most of everything I wanted to say and said it better.

In part Jacinda wrote:

Go the f*ck to sleep and the Lisa Brown books seem to me to be written from the position of the ironic parent: the joke is for grown-ups about their children and the frustrations of parenting; it was never really intended for a child audience … But I don’t think the works of Dahl, Blake or Sendak were produced to fit the landscape of this adult world; I suggest their works totter on the precipice of the uncanny and the sublime, the adult knowing and the child sensing. Two of my favourite children’s books are Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, illustrated by Quentin Blake, and Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There, both of which terrify me with their impressions of a kind of Otherness that comes from experiencing grief or horror. They are concepts so adult that I still don’t have the words to quite express how unsettled they make me feel, but they seem to me to totter in that space where adult and child readers might meet.

I was particularly taken by Jacinda’s image of the tottering space where children and adults might meet, and her use of two remarkable children’s picture books to illustrate that space, Maurice Sendak’s uncanny Outside Over There, and Michael Rosen’s extraordinary Sad Book, sublimely illustrated by Quentin Blake. Both also happen to be favourite picture books of mine. The Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe was so taken by Sendak’s book that he wrote about it extensively in his novel The Changeling.

For a long time I got paid to work with young children, aged between three and six years. What that meant in practice was the engaging of children in conversation. When children are asked what they think, when their theories about the world and their place in it are taken seriously, investigated, thought through, they say the most amazing things. As an act of political insubordination, I highly recommend talking with children, especially for men, whose contact with children, especially young children, can be very limited. The space that children inhabit is always a marginal one and indeed can be both uncanny and sublime. It’s also politically very fraught and highly contested, especially by children.

It’s also a space that’s difficult for adults to locate. For adults, children are largely invisible. Unless you have some children of your own or work with them professionally it’s very difficult to find a space where you can interact. And inhabiting a family or a classroom are not necessarily ideal spaces in which to have conversations with children, both arenas being burdened with so much structural anxiety.

Films like those of Pixar and children’s picture books written for adults (think of Possum Magic or Animalia) are largely attempts to regulate an unstable and liminal event, the tottering space that Jacinda so clearly named where children and adults might meet.

In that tottering space adults talking to or playing with children tend to look either very uncomfortable or very bossy, either very unsure of where they are or extremely sure that they know what is going on. Given that we have all been children – at least at some stage – it’s strange that we seem to have lost the ability to talk to ourselves, to live with ourselves in a way that doesn’t make us feel like we are colonisers on a strange shore, faced with restless natives who need better systems of administration. Children’s conversation can often seem so purposeless to adults, so very organic and interior, full of apparent non-sequiturs, always on the point of bursting apart social niceties, of troubling adult boundaries. When we talk of play we think of children’s games rather than children’s conversations, which in their excess are always ready to burst the bubble of mundane life. The rules of speech are not enough for children. They do not have enough languages with which to speak of their embodied experience, which is why they engage in what we call play.

Both Sendak and Rosen’s books seem to offer two parallel mirrors up to childhood, and illuminate a space which adults prefer not to explore, probably because of the uneasiness it generates. Rosen’s extraordinary book speaks to children in a direct and candid voice that is not didactic, patronising or overwhelming. It speaks of terror, loss, the ungovernable – all states that children can know all too well. Sendak’s book may well get under children’s skin, or perhaps takes something seriously that children already know, which adults have forgotten or prefer not to know.

In an earlier post I wrote about reading Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree to groups of preschool children. If the children had their way, I’d have been nailed to my chair, force-fed and made to read Blyton from sun-up to sundown. The only way to read Blyton to children is to take it seriously, to speak of her characters as though they were real, and had real thoughts, reflective capacities and who suffered. To read Blyton to children as a flippant and careless fantasy would be a great mistake, almost an act of humiliation. And Sendak must have gained that kind of knowledge long ago, or he couldn’t have created Outside Over There.

Adult attempts to regulate the thing we call children’s play, that tottering space where children live and where we might meet them, can look very much like attempts at authoritarian closure. What may well be troubling us is our own lack of playfulness, and the subjection of our speech. It is surprising – or not – that so many adults can’t recognise play when they see it, or perhaps would prefer children’s play to look like a Pixar film.

One of the many things that children can do is get under our skins, as though childhood were something outside us and not within us, already under our skin as it were. It is as if there is a thing called childhood out there that is just too much trouble, that we wish could be abolished, or somehow be transformed into a smaller version of us as we are now.

And that’s probably the thing about adults talking to children: our uncomfortableness or didactic bossiness are both ways of managing the ever-present possibility of our humiliation at children’s hands. Playfulness, or transgressive speech, is not something that adults aspire to. Whatever we think it is, our tolerance for it is low, and adults playing and talking with children tend to look either uncomfortable or bossy, very unsure of where they are or extremely sure that they know what is going on. Given that we have all been children, at least at some stage, it’s strange that we seem to have lost the ability to talk to ourselves, to live with ourselves in a way that doesn’t make us feel like we are colonisers on a strange shore faced with restless natives who urgently need draconian systems of administration.

To be troubling though, as children well know, can be a very effective type of protest, of marking your place where you have none.

In his history of the pre-Second World War culture of working-class children in the UK, Hooligans or Rebels?, Stephen Humphries examined the phenomenon of British childhood (particularly in northern England) called ‘larking about’ – a phrase that describes the ‘huge repertoire of practical jokes known to working-class children, many of which are aimed at the humbling and humiliation of adults.’ Humphries speaks of children embarking on a variety of tricks, jests and group campaigns – including school strikes, over 150 of them between 1889 and 1938 – to derail adult abuses.

But ‘larking about may also include such things as:

Singeing adult bottoms seated in outside lavatories by thrusting a stinging nettle or candle through the rear flap doors; the tempting of passers-by on dark evenings with coins attached to cotton, which would be pulled away by the hidden tormentors as soon as the victim grovelled toward his find.

Humphries makes the point that ‘larking about’, rather than being simplistically categorised as childish activities, can be reframed as ‘an expressive and effective form of resistance to authoritarian control’. This of course is not how such behaviour is viewed by power elites, who may view it as childish insolence, a lapse in behaviour or an interruption in the quest for maturity.

Larking about can disrupt roles, structures of authorities and identities and in doing so bring some flux into an adult world too keen to hold itself in particular shapes.

The fact that something as essentially unproductive as play might give us wellbeing and an ability to be more troubling than troubled is as difficult a thing to grasp as it is to put into words – which is somewhat of the point. Play doesn’t lend itself to concrete identities and in its larking about, identities – who we think we are, and who everyone else is – are the first things play disrupts. That there might be a gap between who we think we are and what we actually are is what play trades in and larking about exposes. If the consolidation of power is also the consolidation of my identity, no-one with interests in power will have any interest in play, and may well devise a whole array of sophisticated systems for detecting anyone so foolish as to lark about and trouble identity in any way.

Larking about as a valid form of resistance, a kind of guerrilla tactic of choice, has been so marginalised that its main protagonists have been children. The problem with children as the embodiment of a lineage of larking is that children can have their playfulness legislated out of existence and even criminalised. Anyone who is not a child and who larks about, who uses humour as a guerrilla tactic, is of course childish, infantile, immature, rude, all states associated with being unavoidably young.

If a child puts a dog turd in the shoe of a particularly obnoxious adult, there could be something humbling or at least funny in that. But if an adult puts dog turds in the shoes of obnoxious children, a slightly sinister shadow seems to fall across the scene.

Perhaps this is what children’s larking about does: asks the bleeding obvious about who and where we are. In Shakespeare’s plays those who make the sharpest and most acute comments are frequently fools, lunatics or the traumatised. So, in our sometimes un-Shakespearean-seeming lives, it takes a sharp gaze, a gaze quick enough to catch what’s happening in those margins, to see that larking about, the actions of fools and children, always accompanies some fracture in the social fabric, in the crack opening between the way things are deemed they should be and the way they actually are. And this is where the question hidden behind the intent in larking about is found – behind the tricks, the school strikes, the public pranks – a question that might sound something like, ‘Why is this important?’ Or perhaps, ‘Why are any of us doing what we are doing?’

That a lineage of fools and fooling is what could be reclaimed to keep us in the search for a reality less rigid and prone to power struggles (and in that reclaiming think more about the politics of the margins than the gravitational attractions of the centre, to become inheritors, or practitioners of fooling, of a kind of carnival) requires a kind of moral discipline, an eye for the vernacular of power, of where power is and what it does. When it becomes criminal to be a fool and fool around, then we could really be in trouble: cut off from any form of mockery, perhaps the last resort of the marginalised and the dispossessed. To live outside the law, it may not be enough to be honest; you may have to be funny as well, in the way of having some kind of ironic self-regard, and if we can’t have that we may well only be extreme.

Even in our physical environments, the traces of larking about are found in in-between places. Graffiti often appears in the most dour and utilitarian of environments, railway yards, the backs of warehouses – places of transience. This kind of marking of a lark seems to arouse ungovernable fury in those adults who have the most hierarchical power (or wish they had), politicians for example, creating a kind of pious rectitude behind which can be heard the grinding of teeth and which foreshadows the enacting of dismal laws to prevent children buying spray paint.

Graffiti leaves an almost indelible mark and its creators larking about in the deserted hours in deserted spaces are invisible, and no amount of policing or surveillance either extinguishes graffiti or makes its protagonists appear to us.

The thing about liminal spaces, the tottering spaces, is that they can’t be easily policed. When put under surveillance, they both disappear and appear elsewhere on the boundaries of the new policing, created by the policing itself. But somehow, when we left childhood, we learned, for the most part, not to be troubling; to abandon liminal space for the safety of well-policed zones of control, where we watch everyone else as they watch us, alert for the first sign of trouble.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. In 2017, he won the Viva La Novella Prize. His winning novel, A Second Life, was published by Seizure, and also won the Woollahra Digital Literary Prize for Fiction.

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  1. Terrifically interesting post, Stephen (and not only because you quote me at the beginning).

    I’d like to read the Humphries book. The idea of children’s political resistance is fascinating and I admit it’s something I rarely think of, unless in the abstract (possibly because I have such little interaction with children and become immensely bossy and patronising when I do).

    • Addendum: I really liked the way you described graffiti – an indelible mark that causes teeth gnashing and that can’t be policed.

      What other modern forms/behaviours/? do you think fit the larking about definition?

  2. Ta for the comments Jack. Well, I loved the ‘tottering space’ line. The rest of the post was just a commentary on that.
    Maybe another form of ‘larking about’ that falls into the definition I gave graffiti, would be those (often children) who throw rocks at Israeli tanks.
    I think the point is more, in what ways do we not larkabout ourselves? It can be a result of not taking ourselves seriously enough, or taking ourselves way too seriously. Maybe it would be interesting to think of what it would mean to write in that way.
    Children’s ‘bad behaviour’ is not often thought of as a site of political resistance (ie; anorexia) because it is always pathologised.
    As far as this post goes I was actually quite pleased with ” The rules of speech are not enough for children. They do not have enough languages with which to speak of their embodied experience, which is why they engage in what we call play.”
    I don’t know if anyone has ever said that before, but I think it’s true.
    I’m not sure I can imagine you being excessively patronising and bossy. But perhaps you adopt a radically different persona after dark.

  3. For some reason I am thinking of the Von Trapp children from ‘The Sound of Music’ who are oppressed by the pathological need for order imposed by their military father in the face of the *chaos* of having lost their mother. The children rebel by ‘larking about’ and driving their governesses to distraction. Enter Maria who is, indeed, bossy, but not patronising – she sings them into submission: but more than that, she *sees* them and the best in them and their need to play and express themselves … now, why she gets romantically mixed up with their crazy father is another question.

    I do feel that children want adults to hold certain boundaries for them. I remember my mum’s hand on my hot forehead when I was a little kid and recovering from an appendectomy that went a bit wrong & laid me up for 6 weeks. It was a relief to be told I had to rest and couldn’t play, even if I kicked my feet and demanded if so, my guinea pig be allowed to stay in bed with me (permission granted). She was in charge, and I was glad.

    Setting boundaries for children out of care is so different from setting them out of fear. Worst are parents and teachers whose self-worth depends on children *liking* them – the levels of manipulation and punishment that arise from this ill-health are legend.

    I think many worthy children’s books are written for adults because it’s adults who need the messages and the help.

    Thanks for the post Stephen – always food for thought.

    • Hi Clare
      The narrative of SofM is supposed to be (I suppose) that Maria is able think about the children where the father can not. To him they have become reminders of his dead wife and so he doesn’t allow them to have feelings so that he can’t.
      I think in SofM if I remember rightly, the emphasis is on the patriarch’s grief, not the children’s. (Is theirs even mentioned?)
      Why Maria falls for him is standard male fantasy: the beautiful virtuous woman who will see beneath my rough exterior to the humble child-like person beneath, who has to bear so much that no-one understands etc etc.
      Of course children need boundaries Clare. But so does everybody else. But the phrase is often code for something else – a refusal to think about children’s interior lives, but just erect barriers of behaviour.
      When your mother was caring for the sick you what I guess she was demonstrating was an ability to think about you, to show you that you were actively present in her mind. That’s what children (and everybody else) needs. The wonder to me is that as adults, we often settle for so much less.
      BTW, this version of SofM is much more accurate I think.

      • Cheers Stephen. thanks for the explanation but I was kidding with the why Maria question — I’ve lived that narrative a couple of times in earlier attempts at “being a woman”.

        So agree that we all want to be held – lovingly, intelligently and if we are, we can hold lovingly and intelligently. Now I’m thinking of Anne of Green Gables and how children’s fantasy life wasn’t really the concern of adults, unless it landed them in trouble — but the difference in the way Marilla handled Anne as compared to Matthew! Though Anne managed to conquer her emotionally damaged adopter in the end. I lament the loss of freedom modern Australian children have — even compared to my daughter (now 19). She and her little friends were allowed to climb trees and play by themselves for hours in the nearby forest – at risk of being trampled by deer or drowned in the freezing creek or sucked dry by leeches (or the myriad other dangers other adults accusing me of being irresponsible about feared: not the co-parents, of course). They built amazing cubbies and had adventures that lasted days and there were monsters and terrifying moments, and scraped knees, near misses, etc. If I had tried in any way to enter those games, I would immediately have destroyed them, however well meaning and aware of their inner life… they are indeed ‘tottering’- those spaces where children and adults meet, especially when it comes to play. We also built lots of cubbies in the house too, where my help was invaluable: and then, so was my absence (with the occasional appearance bearing food).

        That horror-trailer is great, except for the bit of song at the end: there is just something irrepressibly cheerful about Julie Andrew’s voice (and her self, if her auto-biography means anything — even her darkest moments are delivered with immense cheer and wholesomeness). I think there is one or two mentions of the children’s grief: but yes, it is all about daddy.

        • That’s Hollywood all over. It’s always about Daddy.
          I guess the reason why your daughter could build cubbies in the forest and not get drowned, was because she felt thought about. You didn’t have to be actively present, just mentally. And turn up with food from time to time.
          Of course, accidents can happen, as accidents, but the toddler who walks off toward the highway is very often the one who feels very unsafe.

          • At the time, I honestly felt the forest was less dangerous than television and video games (which is what a lot of other children were in danger of drowning in).

            It’s kind of tears-on-toast how sensitive you are to this stuff, Stephen. Wonderful writing.

          • There’s also ‘the way things are’ – a friend’s daughter skipped off across the road against her mother’s will and running back, caused an inescapable tragedy for her family and another family driving to school. Danger and death is a condition of life.

            I did hold the kids — and we were also all very lucky (and remain so).

          • Tears on toast? I’m not sure I know that expression. But Google will no doubt tell me. Sounds soggy.
            Probably not sensitivity, just being saturated in the culture and lives of very young children for a lot of years. If you do it with attention it’s hard not to come out of it with a ‘Holy-fuck-most-adults-don’t-even-know-why-we-do-what-we-do’ attitude. and a huge respect for the lives young children lead.

  4. On the subject of liminal spaces, there was a blackly hilarious slide show on the Guardian website of terrifying French children’s books. It certainly made me think about different child-reading attitudes, the French being much more traditionally authoritarian and, in the case of these books, far less ‘sensitive’ . You can check it out here:


    • Hi Rjurik
      Yes, I saw this a few months back. Someone pointed out to me the other day that European children’s books are often much less didactic and patronising than Australian ones.
      The French books at the Guardian all looked really interesting I have to say. Certainly the illustrations were pretty schmick.
      The blogger who posted the images wrote, ” “I don’t know why so many French children’s books are so bafflingly, needlessly frightening.” Perhaps because it’s a baffling, frightening world for a lot of children?

  5. I really liked this post, Stephen. So much food for thought – if I tried to talk about all the things it made me think about, I suspect I’d swamp you!

    • Maybe you would Stephanie. But I’m reasonably unswampable these days. Comes from living in a wet climate.
      If you feel like discussing or de-swamping, by all means do so.

  6. Hi Stephen.

    Firstly, your comments suggest the maxim… Parenting: just be mentally present, and turn up with food from time to time. This is like far more and far less than what I’m often told (messaged, hinted at etc… ) to be as a parent.

    I was actually physically present a lot today with the two youngest of my kids. And two moments especially seemed like dream-scapes:

    I’m laid out on a lounge, reading on iPad (Eugen Gendlin on implicit intricacies), and suddenly I notice Mr E shouts “It’s cold!” and Mr L is standing on a nearby bed, slowing turning on a fan. And Mr E is now jumping up and down on another nearby bed and shouts out “I found snot!” and seeks to hand out a big fleck to me and Mr L, .

    Then I’m sweeping sand off the back pavement, and I suddenly notice that nearby Mr L has a half-burnt stick in hand, which he is rubbing back and forth over and over again like a saw on a small tree. And Mr E has a long-handled spade (handle longer than him) digging up dirt and chucking it elsewhere, again and again.

    This happened.
    That’s it.

    I’m sensing this dream-scaping is seriously linked to your post and comments, but maybe you’d like to comment on that…

  7. ‘Be mentally present and turn up with food from time to time’ would need the exegesis around ‘mentally present’ and ‘food’ I think.
    Being physically present is not the same as being physically intrusive. I guess there’s any number of ways of being physically present with children, but maybe they are often reified under some kind of injunction to be doing some thing. There’s a lot to be said for hanging out. If anyone can remember how to do that.
    Dream association: It’s as if your son was saying ‘I fond snot! What did you find in the iPad Dad Anything better?’
    BTW, last night I was reading Sylvia Townsend Warner’s brilliant novel ‘Summer Will Show’ (why she isn’t a Lit icon of the Left I have no idea). Anyway, there’s this nearly unbearable scene where the mother of 2 gravely ill children realises that if they die people will console her by saying truthfully that she was a devoted mother, but that being ‘devoted’ is just a way of avoiding thinking about the children in any kind of real way.

  8. Intrusive, quite.
    I think that’s why relayed this story of what felt like a dream. Stuff, weird or at least intense, was happening but without interference, intrusion, or justification. Like poetry. Like it doesn’t need/require association but strongly provokes it in multiple ways.
    That’s probably what actively present means?

    What I wished for after reading this blog was more on what the Rosen and Sendak books were about, and how they achieve this space for a tottering that you speak of. It’s probably partly the content/plot but I’m guessing it’s partly the grammar and mode of address? And pics?


  9. First page of Rosen’s book: “This is me being sad. Maybe you think I’m being happy in this picture. Really I’m being sad but pretending I’m being happy. I’m doing that because I think people won’t like me if I look sad.”

    I was hoping that people might read the books themselves and/or go check out some tottering spaces.

  10. Being An Interesting Blogger is probably a lot like being A Devoted Mother. The affirmation forgets the children, what’s birthed, what lived, what died, what moved and shook and changed things forever. A version of That’s-Nice-Dear.

    Maybe lots of literature is like that. You read it. A plot is described. A beginning has an end. That’s nice dear.

  11. In regards to literature – definitely. As far as blogging goes, I’m just offering jelly babies.

  12. I remember the jelly babies from before thank you Stephen.

    There is an English WWII safety goggle poster warning the “GREMLINS LOVE TO PITCH THINGS AT YOUR EYES.” http://www.faenation.com/2012/01/11/gremlins/gremlins/

    We’re talking Dahl here of course but I’ve never seen a copy of Gremlins. From Wiki: In Dahl’s book, the gremlins’ motivation for sabotaging British aircraft is revenge of the destruction of their forest home, which was razed to make way for an aircraft factory. The principal character in the book, Gus, has his Hawker Hurricane fighter destroyed over the English Channel by a gremlin, but is able to convince the gremlins as they parachute into the water that they should join forces against a common enemy, Hitler and the Nazis, rather than fight each other.

    I quite like the idea that instead of policing troubling gremlins we wear safety specs to see them better. I imagine a bit of company on the munitions assembly line might be a good thing. But you go further and probably rightly so. Perhaps The Gremlins needs a post-1945 sequel where Gus joins forces with the gremlins against his own industrial-military-educational complex to save their forest home.

  13. Gus, thanks for the gremlins specs metaphor. I’m definitely very over any attempts at policing things. It’s so exhausting for one thing.
    A bit like blogging – as Luke mentioned, one could find oneself trying to turn into An Interesting Blogger. I’d be policing myself policing myself.

  14. No everyone has access to these book at the drop of a hat, or trip to library, or torrent download… but I did get Sendak’s book, with various approaches to narration on youtube (as audio books with slide show).

    The beginning of Sendak reminds me of the beginning of The Labyrinth (starring David Bowie) and the beginning of Rosen’s Sad Book reminds me of the prose/grammar of The Little Prince… here I am, however I am, aware that the world may or may not want me to be how I am…

    It’s like quote of the Rosen book is saying, hang out with me. Whereas the Sendak is saying, home – that which shelters you and comforts you – also sets up the structure of elsewhere which is exciting (exotic) and scary (unknown) and beautiful (unmanaged). But Sendak (like Where the Wild Things Are) is also parading the great structure of the major novel: home-away-home. Sure home is different (Dad has gone, big sister is now in charge) but home it is. So the outside remains as an outside. For me, this feels like the tottering space is closed down again. The that’s-nice-dear hollywood ending.

  15. In 2011 Obama signed The Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 giving tax credits for “Returning Heroes and Wounded Warriors”. This ultimately leans on the home-away-home topos indigenous not to Hollywood nor even bourgeois novels but to oral epic poetry and folk tales. But Luke I just don’t see how the outside and the other can ever be anything else but outside and other. Nor would I wish them to be. Imagine if it was just Max making his home among the wild things end of story. Making that vivid but still returning to home and another reality creates a tottering space don’t you think? Thanks for the tip on accessing audio books through youtube.
    My boys and I were lucky to read Outside Over There and The Sad Book.

  16. Agreed that the home-away-home trope is not just in novels and movies. Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces is the classic testament to this.

    Your comments here Stephen brings us to a deep crux in your blogging/thinking, I think. Which is that you seem to both want and don’t want the home-away-home.

    As a power centre, home-away-home is about ratifying the power centre such that journeys out into the margins are (1) only possible from a home/centre, and (2) are santified under the premise of coming home/returning to centre, where (3) the margin is either brought into the centre (assimilation) or else the margin gets noticed enough to be oppressed/persecuted.

    This is perhaps the great narrative of agricultural, sedentary human being (ie, last 10,000 years or so). Over and above the mobile nomads and even prior to this the foragers.

    But you’ve also said that there is another way, where the margins/peripheral/cracks are rather a ‘wide open space’ that is viewed as a margin/away from the power centre/home, but is just a wide ambient field of possibilities without homes/centre, or rather with in infinite number of different, temporary homes/centres.

    So you yourself have suggested “how the outside and the other can ever be anything else but outside and other”.

    Think of all this as arboreal vs rhizomic; sedentary vs nomadic; majoritarian vs minoritarian; repetition vs difference; and all the other dyads of Deleuze, if you like… (he was the great cataloguer of this idea in multiple arenas in the late 20th century).

    I’d suggest your critiques of the novel / creative writing / literature are critiques of this meta-narrative of home-away-home. All the things you write against in your blogs are versions of this: dominant politics, dominant views and relations with indigenous peoples, gender oppression, modern warfare, ipads/kindles and the voyeurism of ebooks, education and hang-ups over children etc etc.

    And yet… you like the home, especially as Bachelard might describe it. But is Bachelard describing a central home, or homes as temporary anywhere shelters?…

    If the tottering space is to be this non-power-centre, then it is not a margin, but a slice of the wide open space. I think Sendak starts to get us there, but retreats. Many of us do. A lot of the time. The Rosen book (from the various quotes I can get online, not the full-text yet) is not a home-away-home text. He had a home, with his son. Then his son died. Rosen is thus away. The grief of home destroyed. I’m not sure how it ends, but my understanding of grief is that there never really is a return home. Maybe a new home is created, which will be some way away from the previous home. But it is not a return. An attempted return would be sublimate grief. Would it not? (Your more up on this pyscho stuff than me, so let us know).

    I notice this home-away-home trope a lot in children’s books, including many of the one’s we have at home. It’s just so disappointing to me when this happens (over and over again). And yet… I have a home, the books are in my home, clearly. But is my home a power-centre (home as empire?), or just a nook in the wide open space (home as portal?). That’s the question for me, I guess. And you?

  17. Luke – Bachelard describes home as an intermediate space I think. I haven’t got my copy of Poetics of Space with me, but in there he has his famous description of the home, the home whose purpose is to provide a shelter for the dreamer.
    In my MFU seminar last week I talked about what happens for children when the concept of a ‘haven’ is compromised (and what that means politically to have such things and so on). The haven is a political space where human-ness becomes possible, and it seems to me that in modern times such a space is denied for nearly everyone. I’d argue that for many people there’s always a sense of unease, a lack of existential rest, and that even when (or because) they’re at home, most people don’t feel at home.
    If you look at Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ home is a radical space, that both has Bachelard’s qualities and where a radical human-ness is possible.
    A couple of weeks back in The Guardian there was a list of greatest last lines in literature (Ulysses, Great Gatsby etc). WTWTA’s last line (‘And it was still hot’) was quoted but misquoted as ‘And it was still warm’. This is like misquoting the last word of Ulysses (‘Yes’) as ‘maybe’.
    I think there is a lot of utopian thinking on the Left, and it is still driven by utopian and apocapyptic ideas. I don’t go for utopias myself. If we get a fragile haven, riven with marginal identities, that’s good enough for me.

  18. Ahh – looks like I have somehow fused comments from both Stephen and Gus. Which might explains some of my thoughts/questions, and also apologies to you both, if needed! ;-o … But it has led to some interesting ideas and further discussion…

    So looks like we could have home-away-home as either centre-margin-centre or haven-dream-haven. ?? home as centre or home as middle (intermediary). ??

    Stephen, I think I can see what you are saying for Where The Wilds Things Are. In that that boy’s bedroom is a haven for his dreaming, regardless of what mum and dad think about it, and whether they know about it or (most likely) not. But Sendak’s Outside Over There is different for me. In this book the outside creatures aren’t dream-ed up by the child, but exist bigger than the child. And they have all the hallmarks of the other as told by colonials, empire and war propagandists. They are monsters, mean, and the only creature outside to be shown in a normal affectionate light is the baby from the inside, who was taken away. Even the ending of Dad not being at home reminds me of the war-time condition of men leaving to fight off the enemy whilst women are left to keep things together on the home front. And I’m sure the goblins have german, or asian or arabic or african accents! 😉 Just like Lord Of The Ring, Starwars and Lion King movies teach us.

    Gus, interesting that your story about seeing the gremlins better (through a protective layer of goggles) is actually couched in another war story.

    Stephen, any comments on the Rosen book as (not) a home-away-home text?

  19. BTW, the story goes that Sendak’s publisher wanted him to water down the ‘hot’ to ‘warm’ but he stubbornly won through. So interesting this is turning up in quotes. I wonder if there is a publisher’s edit that does have the ‘warm’ in print?

  20. There was also some thought among parents or critics or whoever that Max should have come home to no supper, or to a cold supper. In other words WTWTA should have been a narrative of punishment.

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