I’m looking at the research point in Part 2, Project 2. However, before answering the research points I felt I really had to think about and work out what postmodern approaches to narrative are so I read Roland Barthes, and then decided to read Maurice Sendak instead because it’s a bit easier.

Looking at Roland Barthes essay ‘The Death of the Author’, when talking about the author Barthes says that ‘the explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it.’ His ideal seems to be to write in such a way where only language acts, not the Author. The Author is suppressed in the interests of writing, which will then restore the place of the reader. In removing the author, the temporality of the text is  also changed – there is no longer the Author, like a god, who exists before and after the text and who creates it, but rather a ‘scriptor’ who is always writing the text in the here and now. In removing the Author, ‘the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile’. He then goes on to say that, “to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases – reason, science, law.”

I think the whole feel of the idea, for me at least, is summed up in a few sentences Barthes wrote: 

’We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The place where these texts are bought together is in the reader, rather than the author.’ And later, “A text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.”  

An Aside About ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

Reading Barthes essay reminded me of the ideas behind the Surrealist movement, and I was reminded of a book or magazine I had heard of that was produced by the surrealists where images and text were totally unrelated – I couldn’t recall what it was called and so I Googled it using the phrase “surrealist book where image and text did not fit”. I couldn’t find an answer to what the surrealist book was, but that search led me to an article about surrealism in children’s literature. 

https://www.encyclopedia.com/children/academic-and-educational-journals/surrealism-childrens-literature

This was interesting to me as I am a huge fan of Maurice Sendak who is mentioned in this article. I have a lot of Sendak images in my house; I particularly like ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and I cut up (much to the outrage of my children) a copy of it to frame some of the images so they would see them every day; it’s not only the illustrations but also the ideas and text that I like. Particularly the ideas about sailing ‘in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are’.

I justify this destruction of a book because I still have a copy unhurt, I got a new one just to do this, and I don’t think Sendak would mind. He replied to a letter from a child by sending the child a card with a drawing; the child loved it so much he ate it – Sendak said that was the best compliment he’d ever had. 

Sendak separated his images and text on the page and I haven’t included the text in the framed versions and the images suffer for it. I had originally planned to, but there is not room, and putting the text under the images changes the reading of it. I didn’t know why until I looked at the presentation of the images and how they work with the story in a more thoughtful way. 

First, there is less physical space between text and image and so somehow there is less mental space in which the story can unfold. However, in Where the Wild Things Are Sendak uses a device of gradually increasing the size of each image as the story unfolds; at first Max is in a small box when he is in his bedroom, eventually the environment in which Max finds himself takes up the entire page, then spills into the next page, then moves across two pages with the text underneath. It’s a great device to add to the meaning of the images – as Max’s dream world expands the images expand to match. In the wildest part of his dream, when the wild rumpus has begun, there is no relay text but still the feeling Sendak seeks to impart is clear to any child that reads it. There are three double page images that go right to the edges of the pages during the wild rumpus. Children can make the noise of the wild rumpus, they can all hear it through the image alone, even though at that point as an adult narrating the text you are completely silent as there is no text to narrate on those pages. The text begins again as Max’s adventure winds down, the size of the images mirrors that and so they shrink, until Max is back in his box at the end of the book. So perhaps thinking about the size of images as part of a narrative is also important? Obviously, this narrative is linear but a child alone won’t always read it as such; they won’t usually start at the beginning, but will go straight to the bits they want to see – the freedom that Max has and the power he has over the wild things as their king. 

Anyway, children’s books really are a great example of the use of text and image together. I have read so many; I was fortunate enough that I used to be in a position where I could spend at least two hours a day reading to my children. I have seen hundreds of children’s books over and over again where image and text and the relation between them is expressed both as anchor and relay. This is in contrast to the way the course text is asking me to think about anchor and relay in terms of newspapers and magazines, and is obviously usually about illustrations rather than photographs, but still it seems relevant. Of course, we don’t read an illustration, especially one for a story, in the same way we read a children’s picture book. At least, we shouldn’t. 

However, as soon as a photograph becomes involved we sometimes behave like children in our reading of it (actually, that sentence demeans young children who ask hundreds of questions about everything and want to understand anything you put in front of them and a lot of things you didn’t – like what your second favourite monster is or what your third favourite dinosaur is or what orange coloured food you ate last). 

I suppose what I mean is that we accept the photograph without question, much like children accept the information we give them if they have no reason to doubt us. We don’t ask the questions we should, we don’t think to seek the information we need to, and in an age of fake news and propaganda this is dangerous. I think memes are particularly adept at fooling us because they seem so trivial. Of course this isn’t always the case; a lot of them are a deadly combination of both image and text, the text usually acting as anchor rather than relay if we are looking at memes that are subtly (or not so subtly) pushing a political message. There is no room for ambiguity in the text; often humour in memes is produced by changing the expected anchor text. The fact that there is such a narrow meaning inherent in the images themselves allows for this.

 

Bibliography

Featured Image by Seth Anderson from Wikimedia Commons here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:I%27ll_Awyays_Be_a_Wild_Thing_-_RIP_Maurice_Sendak.jpg

Barthes, R. and Heath, S. (1977). Image, music, text. Glascow: Fotana/Collins.

Sendak, M. (1963). Where the wild things are. 50th ed. London: Red Fox Books.

Encyclopedia.com. (2019). Surrealism in Children’s Literature | Encyclopedia.com. [online] Available at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/children/academic-and-educational-journals/surrealism-childrens-literature [Accessed 4 Mar. 2019].