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Crossover literature

October 8, 2012

I don’t generally enjoy the psychoanalytic approach, but there are a couple of interesting points from this article on crossover literature (in which Rachel Falconer draws on psychoanalytic theory and Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness to consider the nature of crossover):

explaining crossover literature

In a footnote on p.36, Falconer explains: “‘Crossover’ in this context refers to literature written for children which crosses over to substantial numbers of adult readers (Falconer, 2004). The term gained currency from c. 2001, and has frequently been employed in media, book publishing and marketing circles to refer to novels targeted at dual audiences. ‘Crossover’ children’s books are sometimes published in dual editions, stocked in two sections of a bookshop, adapted as family feature films, or submitted for adult as well as children’s literary prizes.”

Consequently, in the body of the essay, Falconer writes: “Like other contemporary crossover novels such as Lian Hearn’s Otori trilogy, Stuart Hill’s The Cry of the Icemark, Peter Dickinson’s The Cup of the World and Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, McCaughrean’s The White Darkness creates an imaginary world in which an adolescent (of indeterminate age) explores different identities, moving fluidly across the traditional boundaries of age, gender, race, class and even species. What these contemporary crossover fantasies share, however, is an openness to confronting scenes of extreme violence, suffering, torture and death. Thus the Imaginary provides a gateway for the adolescent subject to cross over into the Real.” (p.38)

NOTE that Falconer has more recently published a book on this phenomenon: Rachel Falconer The Crossover Novel: Contemporary Children’s Fiction and its Adult Readership(2009); Table of Contents:

Series Editor’s Foreword Acknowledgments Introduction A Decade of Border Crossing Chapter 1 Kiddults at Large Chapter 2 Harry Potter, Lightness and Death Chapter 3 Coming of Age in a Fantasy World: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Chapter 4 Seeing Things Big: Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Chapter 5 Adolescence and Abjection: Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness Chapter 6 The Search for Roots: David Almond’s Clay Chapter 7 Re-reading Childhood Books: C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair Conclusion Crossing Thresholds of Time Notes Bibliography Index

the abjection of adolescence

“As Karen Coats (2004) argues convincingly in Looking Glasses and Neverlands, young adult fiction has always had a particular interest in abjection, the doubled sense of horror in which psychic identity is both threatened and reaffirmed. The reaffirmation comes when the threatened subject ‘expels’ the horrifying object from its boundaries, as Julia Kristeva (1982) explains in Powers of Horror.[1] Drawing on Kristeva, Coats writes, [-p.37] ‘adolescence, like abjection, breaches and challenges boundaries’; in this ‘in-between time’, what we believe about both children and adult maturity is challenged.’ Kristeva defines adolescence not as a specific span of years between child and adulthood, but as ‘an open psychic structure,’ to which the subject may return whenever it ‘opens itself to that which has been repressed’ (Kristeva, 1990. ‘The Adolescent Novel’, 136). The activities of writing and reading fiction, she argues, tend to create such a ‘state of incompleteness’ (139) and thus reproduce in adults the conditions of teenage adolescence. Kristeva goes so far as to claim that novel-writing is ‘the work of a perpetual subject-adolescent’ (139).” (pp.36-37: footnote reproduced as per original)


[1] “According to Julia Kristeva, ‘abjection’ is the feeling of horror produced by (for example) the sight of a corpse, rotten food, faeces, skin on milk, etc. The horror has a double force: on one hand, it produces a sense of helplessness and fear of psychic annihilation; on the other hand, it generates the energy to expel the horrifying object, thus securing the boundaries of identity.”

Further on in the essay, Falconer writes: “As Coats suggests, adolescent literature has always been preoccupied with the psychic upheaval produced by scenes of violence. What seems to be new is that the adult readers are also now interested in narratives of adolescent apocalypse. Coats herself assumes that ‘most young-adult novels have a relatively short shelf life’, even amongst teenager readers (138). Well evidently not any more. If children’s literature was once read by adults for its ability to generate self-contained, parallel worlds, there is now a substantial number of children’s books that are read precisely to shatter these and other adult illusions. A further striking feature of such narratives is that psychic breakdown is represented within the generic parameters of fantasy fiction.” (p.39)

A section of Falconer’s analysis

Having discussed McCaughrean’s tribute to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and to the stories of Scott’s expedition in this novel, Falconer writes the following on the elements of fantasy in the novel… and this thread appealed to me in some way…

It is “…a narrative that might have been like Verne’s: a fantasy adventure in which male explorers defy mortal limits to discover new worlds. In contrast, McCaughrean presents the explorers in a rather satirical light. Film directors, journalists and entrepreneurs are all fantasists, one might suggest, of a characteristically postmodern type. Instead of the professional soldiers and naval officers of Scott’s historical expedition, the adult-adolescents who make up Sym’s [the protagonist’s] company are thrill-seeking individualists. Their hubristic dreams reveal how inescapably fantastic is the reality we experience in a postmodern, capitalist world. As David Harvey (1990) has argued in The Condition of Postmodernity, postmodern economics are driven by fantasy; in a post-industrial society, capitalism works by producing desire for the inessential and immaterial. In our fantasized world, children and adults have equal access to the same, unceasing circulation of images and desires. However, control of this circulation is not in the least equal. What Sym considers to be her private, auto-generated fantasy turns out to be an obsession carefully fostered by her uncle, as part of his fanatical scheme to colonise Antarctica’s lost underworld. Even Titus isn’t really hers. Expressed in psychoanalytic terms, the Imaginary cannot provide sufficient purchase on, or productive distance from ‘real life’, because in a contemporary, postmodern context, ‘real life’ is already thoroughly fantasized. This is one reason, I would suggest, why adolescent novels (or at least those novels that not only reflect, but resist these social and economic pressures) have to push beyond fantasy, to an encounter with the Real.” (p.40)

[NB Titus is “the imaginary friend that she created following the death of her father…. He is the historical explorer Titus Oates, who functions at once as a father-substitute and as a projected ideal image of herself. / Despite the fact that he makes life difficult for Sym at school, the imaginary Titus is presented in an entirely positive light to the reader. Sym’s conversations with this 125-year-old ghost are sparky and witty.” (Falconer, p.39)]

Ref: Rachel Falconer (2007) ‘Crossover literature and abjection: Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness Children’s Literature in Education. 38: 35-44

FYI: Abstract: “This article provides a close reading of Geraldine McCaughrean’s award-winning novel, The White Darkness. It argues that this is a key text in the increasing debate about ‘crossover’ literature. Whereas, traditionally, adolescent books were seen to offer compensatory fantasies to the adolescent reader, mcCaughrean’s text goes beyond this, exploring adolescence in deeper terms: not simply as an age-defined period but as a time when the traditional coordinates of the self are thrown into crisis, or become destabilized (as an ‘open psychic structure’, as Kristeva puts it). Adopting such a psychoanaltical approach, it is argued, we can begin to understand this book’s appeal (and others like it) to adolescent and adult alike; that is, it stages a shift from an imaginary identification with a stable self to a more realistic, albeit less secure recognition of the flimsiness of identity. The white wastes of Antarctica provide the perfect backdrop for this confrontation with the ungraspable Real.” (p.35)

NOTE: reference is made to: Coats, K (2004) Looking Glasses and Neverlands: Lacan, desire, and subjectivity in children’s literature. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press: London: Eurospan.    Falconer, R. (2004) Crossover literature. In P. Hunt (Ed.), The international companion encyclopedia of children’s literature (2nd ed., 2 vold, pp.556-575). London: Routledge.    Kristeva, J. (1990) The adolescent novel. In New maladies of the soul (135-153). tr. R. Guberman. New York: Columbia University Press.   Kristeva, J (1982) Powers of horror: an essay on abjection. tr. L. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.   Harvey, D (1990) The condition of postmodernity: an inquiry into the origins of cultural change. Oxford: Blackwell.

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