Beyond the metaphor : conceptualizing children's literature as (part of) a rhizomatic network
If, as George E.P. Box puts it, >> all models are wrong, but some are useful << (Box in Ahnert et al. 2020, 79), what then, would be the merit and concrete gains of such an ambivalent model in the field of literature? This article stems from a hunch: that the use of the network metaphor to describe children's literature (in the broad sense as referring to any cultural product developed for children) is not insignificant. Starting from that postulate, the goal of this article is to look beyond the metaphor and explore how the rhizomatic network could serve as a concrete model, supplementing the current toolbox used to study children's literature. Indeed, many characteristics of the rhizomatic network - namely its unlimited, simplified, non-hierarchical, random-access, and visual nature - lend themselves to a broader and more inclusive conceptualization of children's literature. Translator study scholar Rebecca Walkowitz makes a strong case for this approach, stating that >> n the future, we will need to read comparatively, by which I mean reading across editions and formats and also recognizing that any one edition and format contributes to the work rather than exhausts it << (Walkowitz 2015, unpag.). Concretely, I argue for the use of the rhizomatic network as a visual model of multimodal children's literature at three levels: 1) a given storyworld as a network of interconnected versions; 2) the context of any given version of the storyworld as a network; and 3) the text (or multimodal ensemble) of any given version of the story world as a network of meaning-making resources (modes). I illustrate the network model at these three levels through two case studies: We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Rosen/Oxenbury 1989) and the Gruffalo (Donaldson/Scheffler 1999). In Cathlena Martin's words, children's texts >> refuse << to stay confined (Martin 2009, 87), whether it be to one medium, or to one language. As a result, any story world of children's literature can be conceptualized as a network of interconnected works, each of which expands it in a different direction depending on its features.This approach thus emphasizes the multidirectionality of influences between works and the >> new set of relations << whereby >> something unique is produced << (Cartmell/ Whelehan 2010, 22). These new sets of relations involve not only the features of the work, but also its context, which can too be contextualized as a network of interconnected agents and organizations involved in the production and reception of the work. At the level of the multimodal ensemble, the model aims to map out the combinations of modes within any product of children's literature. Since multimodality is inherently hierarchical, as it consists of modal categories, modes, and sub-modes, I propose a hybrid model (after Ban-Yam 2002) that combines the tree (hierarchy) structure and the rhizome structure (lateral connections). While it is important to keep in mind that the audience experiences meaning as a whole, as a synergy of modes and sub-modes (Sipe 2012), breaking down this synergy into its constituents is a useful way to better understand how children's literature makes meaning, and how meaning is reshaped through medial and/or linguistic transformations. While the rhizome model undoubtedly has numerous benefits, it also comes with limitations. To begin, the concrete representations of the rhizome inherently carry a positioning bias, which stems from the researcher's background and focus. Furthermore, these visuals tend to be text-centered. Although presenting information as a network adds a visual dimension, the content of the nodes (text) could be replaced by images or sounds when possible, in order to accentuate the multi modal and intermedial dimensions of network representations. However, using text is still the easiest, fastest, and most effective way to create a network representation that fits the space and format of an academic article. Another limitation is that the network arguably does not help dissipate the theoretical fuzziness surrounding the nature of the actual transformations undergone by children's literature products (e. g., translation, transduction, localization, adaptation, parody, abridgment, rewriting, transcreation). Instead of proposing yet another set of terms, I contextualize the networks of versions within the broader context of >> intertextual dialogism << (Stam 2000) and use Klaus Kaindl's typology of translation (used by Kaindl to encompass adaptation) to focus on what changes between versions rather than what they are. The typology classifies translations according to two parameters: modes and culture. To this, I propose adding a third dimension, namely medium, to account for the specific affordances of the new product and their influence on the multimodal ensemble. This typology, together with the broader production and reception context, sheds light on the new product's specificities and relations to other products. This article does not aim to avoid these limitations, but rather chooses to embrace them as stimulating signposts that the discussion surrounding the merit of the rhizomatic network model in (children's) literature has only just begun.
Source (journal)
Journal of literary theory. - Berlin, 2007, currens
Berlin : De Gruyter , 2023
1862-5290 [print]
1862-8990 [online]
17 :2 (2023) , p. 241-260
Full text (Publisher's DOI)
Full text (open access)
Research group
Project info
The translation and intermedial adaptation of multimodal children's literature.
Publication type
Publications with a UAntwerp address
External links
Web of Science
Creation 02.10.2023
Last edited 06.10.2023
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