muchabstracted: (trickster)
muchabstracted ([personal profile] muchabstracted) wrote2009-11-29 09:18 pm
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Maria Tatar notes

As promised (months ago), notes from Maria Tatar's talk from Harvard Book Store.

Maria started by showing us a photo from Pan's Labyrinth -- I couldn't find it online, but this comes closest. She pointed out that there are two portals in the photo: the open window behind the girl, and the open book she is reading.

She talked about reading being an escape from reality: comfort and consolation. Immediately afterwards, much to my relief and validation, she discussed the idea of reading “as if for life”. Specifically, she called it “deep reading” -- a term from Tim Wynne Jones -- as a way to help navigate the real world.

Later, she talks about "empathic imagination", which strikes me as a related idea. She described it as the use of beauty and horror to hook child, and arouse curiosity. This gets the readers inside to look, explore, and examine perils and possibility. I believe that she means the way we can, while reading, mentally try on the different emotions and reactions we see in the characters. She characterized reading as an act that leads to emotional knowledge about the self, and labeled reading as having two different functions: escape and development of empathy.

When she reads, she is investigating the characters -- not identifying with them.


She talked about the somatic experience of reading -- “spine tingling”, for example, is a real physical phenomenon that occurs while reading. I suspect there were awesome places she could have gone with this, but if she elaborated, I didn't write it down.


Children and the author mutually construct the world of the book.


When Lucy reads the Magician’s Book, she sees herself. She is dazzled by the image*; at this point, she can’t go back to reread past pages. This is similar to how we can’t go back to childhood once we have passed it. She referenced J.M. Barrie, who as an adult played pirates with boys; and Lewis Carroll, who took sketchy photos of girls. Both of them, she states, understood the child’s mind well.

*(Possibly the image is how others see her, but is neither more nor less real than how she sees herself. Though it is more dazzling.) [I have no idea if this was my thought, Maria Tatar's, or some combination thereof. Just to be precise in terms of citing.]

She suggested reading with a child as a way to try to recapture the vanished sense of wonder. At this point, I will suggest that you all read Anne Fadiman's introductory essay in Rereadings, of book of essays that she edited.


We worry about stereotypes in fairy tales, and their effect on children, but beauty is described very abstractly. If I am recalling the argument correctly, she means that we don't need to worry about kids developing an over-dependence on the idea of physical beauty or developing body image problems from fairy tales because of how abstract the descriptions of beauty are. If I am not recalling the argument correctly, I have no idea of where she was going with this. :)

"Radiant ignition" is beauty, described with light and sparkle; it has an abstract quality. Horror, on the other hand, is described with specific details and instructions. I suspect she talked about Pan's Labyrinth again here, as that had fabulous examples of detailed horrifying images. (But was the beauty abstract or detailed? But I suppose the beauty in Pan's Labyrinth had a tinge of the grotesque and horror, so it might not be the best example.)


Tatar's book, Enchanted Hunters, is named after the lodge where Humbert Humbert seduces Lolita. Tatar feels that, by the end of the book, it describes us as readers, who have fallen under the spell of the language and become investigators. (See use of investigator above.) He is a pedophile who makes us bibliophiles.
--I'm pretty sure that last sentence is a direct quote, as it doesn't seem like the kind of thing I'd come up with on my own, and I'm finding myself feeling somewhat horrified by it.


Maria also spent time answering questions. This was my favorite:

Q: With the kind of immigration we have now, are there children's stories around migration, displacement, immigration, or refugees? [The man asking the question tells us he is an Indian (not Native American) who grew up on stories of colonialism.]
A: “Literature makes immigrants of us all. A child setting out in stories is often imperialist, master of all they survey.”
Q [greatly paraphrased]: No, really. Are there stories SPECIFICALLY for immigrants?
A [even more paraphrased]: Oh. Um. Not that I know of. But there’s always a shock effect; they can still use these stories to think about how to navigate the real world.

I can write out my notes from the rest of the question/answer session as well, if anyone is interested; but I found it less interesting than the talk, and I feel this is as much of an information dump as one LJ entry can handle.

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