University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Cambridge > The Case of Gulliver and Alice: the Impossibility of Children’s Literature and the Posthuman.

The Case of Gulliver and Alice: the Impossibility of Children’s Literature and the Posthuman.

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Helene Hoyrup is no longer speaking at this event.

My recent work has focused upon the potential of children’s literature to ask us to reconsider the boundaries and definitions of humanity, in a manner that aligns with much posthuman theory. Children’s fiction animates and gives voice to a host of imaginary, impossible and real creatures; by imagining “being” as operating beyond bodily or environmental constraint, children’s fiction can thus intervene into debates about what it means to be human and offer ethical imaginings of a “posthuman” world.

For this paper, however, I will explore the difficulties of bringing these same concerns to young audience, and in particular the ways by which editors and critics have variously “reduced” the posthuman potential of early children’s fantasy. I focus here on two “classic” texts that foreground, address and challenge the emergence of posthuman concerns in fiction directed at young readers: Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (1865, 1871). Although peppered with a variety of extraordinary beings that continually challenge the authority of their human protagonists, both books have been adapted or critically read so as to limit the extent to which young readers are exposed to blurred animal-human boundaries. This paper will argue that without the respective editorial tinkering (in the case of Gulliver) or misguided critical focus on a moral-free “play” for child readers (in the case of Alice – as if play is not radically subversive itself), the texts offer sophisticated interventions into debates about humanity’s relationship to other creatures and suggest that attempts to read or market them as “children’s books” have either deliberately or subconsciously removed or ignored their philosophical implications about being human. As such, I read these texts to foreground the complex relationship between children’s fiction and posthuman philosophy that is central to my wider work.

Zoe Jaques is a Research Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University and a Bye-Fellow at Homerton College. She also teaches on the MPhil in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature for the Faculty of Education at Cambridge. She recently complicated a co-authored book on Lewis Carroll’s Alice: A Publishing History (Ashgate, 2013), and her monograph on Children’s Literature and the Posthuman will be published with Routledge next year.

This talk is part of the Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Cambridge series.

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