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Labyrinthine literacies : navigating cultural agency in the arrival and requiem for a beast

Hateley, Erica (2011) Labyrinthine literacies : navigating cultural agency in the arrival and requiem for a beast. In Fear and Safety in Children's Literature : 20th Biennial Congress of the International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL)., 4-8 July 2011, Queensland University of technology, Brisbane, QLD. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

The OED reminds us as surely as Ovid that a labyrinth is a “structure consisting of a number of intercommunicating passages arranged in bewildering complexity, through which it is it difficult or impossible to find one’s way without guidance”. Both Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (2006) and Matt Ottley’s Requiem for a Beast: A Work for Image, Word and Music (2007) mark a kind of labyrinthine watershed in Australian children’s literature. Deploying complex, intercommunicating logics of story and literacy, these books make high demands of their reader but also offer guidance for the successful navigation of their stories; for their protagonists as surely as for readers. That the shared logic of navigation in each book is literacy as privileged form of meaning-making is not surprising in the sense that within “a culture deeply invested in myths of individualism and self-sufficiency, it is easy to see why literacy is glorified as an attribute of individual control and achievement” (Williams and Zenger 166). The extent to which these books might be read as exemplifying desired norms of contemporary Australian culture seems to be affirmed by the fact of Tan and Ottley winning the Australian “Picture Book of the Year” prize awarded by the Children’s Book Council of Australia in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

However, taking its cue from Ottley’s explicit intertextual use of the myth of Theseus and from Tan’s visual rhetoric of lostness and displacement, this paper reads these texts’ engagement with tropes of “literacy” in order to consider the ways in which norms of gender and culture seemingly circulated within these texts might be undermined by constructions of “nation” itself as a labyrinth that can only partly be negotiated by a literate subject. In doing so, I argue that these picture books, to varying degrees, reveal a perpetuation of the “literacy myth” (Graff 12) as a discourse of safety and agency but simultaneously bear traces of Ariadne’s story, wherein literacy alone is insufficient for safe navigation of the labyrinth of culture.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 45646
Item Type: Conference Paper
Keywords: picture books
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > LITERARY STUDIES (200500) > Australian Literature (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature) (200502)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > LITERARY STUDIES (200500) > Literary Studies not elsewhere classified (200599)
Divisions: Past > Schools > School of Cultural & Language Studies in Education
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2011 Erica Hateley
Deposited On: 01 Sep 2011 08:21
Last Modified: 01 Sep 2011 08:21

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