On the Tolerance of Children’s Literature Criticism: A Missed Reply to David Rudd

Neil Cocks

Graduate Centre International Research Childhood, Literature, Culture, Media

University of Reading


On the Tolerance of Children's Literature Criticism (final)
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Attached is an oblique reply to David Rudd’s recent article on ‘The Reading Critics’ of children’s literature. The reply is necessary, in so far as the critics in question - Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, Sue Walsh, and myself - are described in this work as engaging in ‘a particularly futile form of theory war’ (Rudd 2020, 96). Although Rudd makes clear he wishes to move away from some of the more unpleasant language utilised against us, my sense is that a figuring of our work as both sterile and surpassed should expect - and, indeed, probably wants - a response. The reply is oblique because (O, boy!) we have been here before. In my assessment, when The Reading Critics and certain other children’s literature scholars meet, the result is an analysis that is interminable. This is why, for the most part, all three of us have moved on to different areas of research, although thinking about the child as construction remains at the heart of our practice. If any reader is looking for a detailed answer to any aspect of Rudd’s commentary, I would suggest reading our previous books.

Rather than a point by point refutation, then, the attached document stages a reading of Winnie-the-Pooh. I do this, firstly, to offer a sense of how I, as one of The Reading Critics, approach children’s literature texts) This will, however, also allow me to introduce Rudd’s work on that text, to suggest differences between our responses, and, finally, to enable a focus on, what for me, are two of the more problematic aspects of Rudd’s scholarship: his celebration of ‘dynamic’ reading, and his account of Lacanian approaches to Children’s Literature. My interest is in working through Rudd’s celebration of approaches to Children’s Literature that are tolerant of opinions from which they diverge, ‘hieratic and more eclectic’ approaches to theory that are ‘healthily eclectic and tolerant while avoiding calcification’ (Rudd 2020, 101, 102). Certainly, I understand this celebration of tolerance to open up some difficult questions. What, I would ask, are the limits of tolerance? Is what Rudd forwards merely a tolerance of the tolerable? Is his forgiving attitude to the work of 'The Reading Critics', as he mourns our passing, tolerance also? What if we object to such tolerance, or read a violence or erasure within it? More significantly, for this article, at least, I am puzzled as to how such tolerance, and the celebration of an open (non-interpretive) community, fits within the ‘broadly Lacanian framework’ that Rudd elsewhere champions (Rudd 2013, 80). It all sounds very neighbourly. Well, perhaps not, although, as we shall see, whichever way this goes, we will find ourselves in a rather dark place.

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