Order and the literary rendering of chaos : children’s literature as knowledge, order, and social foundation, Layla AbdelRahim

Ever since the human animal devised a system of technologies for abstract thought through language, the war on wilderness has become a one way path towards alienation, civilisation and literature. In this work, I examine how the civilised narrative orders experience by means of segregation, domestication, breeding, and extermination; whereas, I argue that the stories and narratives of wilderness project chaos and infinite possibilities for experiencing the world through a diverse community of life. One of my goals in conducting this study on children’s literature as knowledge, culture and social foundation has been to bridge the gap between science and literature and to examine the interconnectedness of fiction and reality as a two-way road. Another aim has been to engage these narratives in a dialogue with each other as I trace their expression in the various disciplines and books written for both children and adults as well as analyse the manifestation of fictional narratives in real life. This is both an inter- and multi-disciplinary endeavour that is reflected in the combination of research methods drawn from anthropology and literary studies as well as in the content that traces the narratives of order and chaos, or civilisation and wilderness, in children’s literature and our world. I have chosen to compare and contrast three fictional children’s books that offer three different real-world socio-economic paradigms, namely, A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh projecting a civilised monarcho-capitalist world, Nikolai Nosov’s trilogy on The Adventures of Dunno and Friends as presenting the challenges and feats of an anarcho-socialist society in evolution from primitivism towards technology, and Tove Jansson’s Moominbooks depicting chaos, anarchy, and wilderness that contain everything, including encounters with civilisation, but most of all an infinite love for the world. Stemming from the basic question in research methodology on how we know the world, I first examine the construction, transmission, and acquisition of knowledge, particularly through the lens of Bourdieu’s theory of praxis, as well as the critique of language and literacy through Zerzan’s, Ong’s, and Goody’s studies on the links between literacy, debt and oppression. Regarding children’s literature depicting the three socio-economic paradigms, I chose three books with which I have been familiar since childhood, i.e. in whose narratives I have “native fluency” and, in this sense, this work is also about “anthropology at home”. Moreover, I compared and contrasted the underlying premises not only in the three books, but also with the unfolding narratives of wilderness and civilisation in real life, that I inserted in the form of ethnographic/journal entries throughout the dissertation. As I examine the very nature of literature, culture, and language and the civilised structures that domesticate the world through the threat of death and the expropriation of food, I also trace the presence of these narratives in the scientific (the Malthusian-Darwinian narrative), religious, and other cultural expressions and the challenges provided by anarchist science and theory (Kropotkin) as well as wild children’s books such as Jansson’s Moomintrolls.


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