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Emil and Intergenerational Solidarity
Malmö University, Faculty of Education and Society (LS), Department of Culture, Languages and Media (KSM).ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2818-3414
2018 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Children’s literature is built on a paradox: it should enable and empower the child reader; at the same time, it should maintain and inscribe the adult-child dichotomy on which the generational social order is constructed. Both of these (seemingly contradictory) aspects are foundational to children’s literature. Thus, juvenile reading is in itself potentially empowering – it makes it possible for children to learn and find things out by themselves, while the very content of children’s literature – from Robinson Crusoe to Harry Potter – regularly encourages child agency and independence. But the opposite is also true. Reading is a regulatory regime, teaching lessons and discipline, and childhood itself is all too often represented either as a place of exile, a nostalgic realm of fantasy, a Neverland, beyond the grasp of “real” life, or as a dystopian prison, regulated and authoritarian. The way in which children’s literature resolves (or fails to resolve) this paradox is the subject of a great deal of critical work – both because of the ideological and pedagogical-political implications, and because of the challenging complexity of the issue. Perry Nodelman’s work (most notably in The Hidden Adult) and Maria Nikolajeva’s concept of aetonormativity (the norm of adulthood), for instance, both show how adult desires and ideas about childhood ultimately shape children’s literature. My own position, exemplified in the anthology Child Autonomy and Child Governance in Children’s Literature, focuses more on the liberating and empowering potential of children’s literature. (Which of course, also can be the aim of the “hidden, aetonormative adult” lurking in the text, but if so, an adult who encourages it.) The aim in this chapter, however, is to bypass some of the problems involved by underplaying both the signs of adult agenda (aetonormativity), or examples of child subversiveness and autonomy. Instead, I will look at what goes on at a relational level between adult and child in some examples of children’s literature. My focus will be on representations of inter¬generational solidarity between children and adults, with the main examples taken from the Emil trilogy by Astrid Lindgren. “Solidarity” as a key critical term does not ignore the reality of two unevenly matched parties (in terms of power) – the adult and the child – but crosses the power divide between the two. The adult aids the child; the child helps the adult. Meaning is established in what happens in between, not in recognizing who is the stronger party. Theoretically, I also take my cue from Angela Nix whose work on the all ages-aspect of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books I find inspirational. Nix argues that regardless of a Moomin character’s age s/he can display characteristics that are unsynchronized with their status as a child or an adult. Moominpappa can be childishly petulant, Moomin can behave maturely and responsibly. Thus, the child-adult dichotomy is rendered rather meaningless. Instances of assertions of “adult” formal power, in the guise of officious hemulens, for instance, are regularly parodied and undercut. At the same time, the child-parent hub is supremely important. It is not a coincidence that Moomin has a Moominpappa and Moominmamma, and that they are squarely anti-authoritarian. What Nix’s reading of Jansson suggests further is that the parent-child relationship is meaningful, while the aetornormative adult-child situation is not, at least not in Jansson’s Moominverse. In any case, Nix’ shows that there are two dichotomies at work at the same time – the adult-child, and the parent-child. The former tends towards ageism and aetonormativity, the latter is relational and grounded in kinship and solidarity. Obviously, there is huge overlap and confusion, and much of what goes where is culturally determined. Nevertheless, I believe the distinction is important and useful. I will now use it to shed light on some acts of intergenerational solidarity in the Emil trilogy by Astrid Lindgren. I will also discuss the nature of Emil’s relationship to, primarily, his father Anton, and the farmhand Alfred.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018.
National Category
Humanities and the Arts
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:mau:diva-11962Local ID: 25623OAI: oai:DiVA.org:mau-11962DiVA, id: diva2:1409008
Conference
Intergenerational solidarity in children's literature, Cambridge, UK (28 April, 2018)
Available from: 2020-02-29 Created: 2020-02-29 Last updated: 2022-04-26Bibliographically approved

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https://www.academia.edu/35731454/Intergenerational_Solidarity_in_Childrens_Literature_conference

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Sundmark, Björn

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