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  • 1. A is for Alphabet Books Traditional and Postmodern
  • 2. Discussion question : What are alphabet books for ?
  • 3. But what do alphabet books do ?
    • reflect cultural values
    • teach a philosophy or an ideology of language
  • 4. Alphabet books transmit cultural values. This illustration from Mary Azarian’s A Farmer’s Alphabet uses woodcuts, a nostalgic way to produce graphic art, to reinforce the nostalgia of the picture itself.
  • 5. Discussion question: What cultural values do your books seem to communicate?
  • 6. What do we mean by a philosophy of language? Does language tell and describe reality and the world? Or does it create and change that reality? Can thought exist independently of language?
  • 7. Two views of language
    • Constative or authoritative
      • describes reality
      • words are found to fit the world
      • precision in language is most important
      • author’s intention is “behind” the words
    • Performative
      • creates reality
      • the world conforms to fit the words used to “describe” it
      • success of the utterance is most important
      • author’s intention is “in” the words
  • 8. J.L.Austin, in How to Do Things with Words , at first suggested that constatives and performatives were opposites. But later, he began to think of them as an historical continuum.
  • 9. Traditional alphabet books offer no challenge to the words-to-world direction of fit. The world is objectively there, and we just need to find words to name the things we discover. For instance, look at these two images from John Burningham’s ABC. No surprises here.
  • 10. Characteristics of Traditional Alphabet Books
    • Reinforce the fact that the world is objectively there by using realistic, familiar objects
    • language is a tool for naming and describing
    • pictures are also tools for identifying and idealizing objects
    • language is also a tool for sorting and categorizing
    • generate a desire for order and mastery
  • 11. Postmodern Beginnings Postmodern alphabet books seek to disturb a ready relationship between words and the world. P ostmodern books seek to show the materiality of language in the world. This means that instead of a being simply a pointer to something beyond itself, or an transparent medium through which we learn about other things, language itself is a presence in the world and must be thought of as an actual part of the thing it describes .
  • 12. Dr. Seuss, always an innovator
    • Dr. Seuss’s ABC Book shows how language and imagination go together.
    • On Beyond Zebra challenges the possibilities of our present alphabet, showing how it limits our imagination.
    • The Cat in the Hat Comes Back makes an even stronger statement about the insufficiency of language.
  • 13. After invoking the help of all of the letters of the alphabet to no avail, the Cat finally releases a sound beyond the alphabet to achieve the effect he needs.
  • 14. Remember this? Two views of language
    • Constative or authoritative
      • describes reality
      • words are found to fit the world
      • precision in language is most important
      • author’s intention is “behind” the words
    • Performative
      • creates reality
      • the world conforms to fit the words used to “describe” it
      • success of the utterance is most important
      • author’s intention is “in” the words
  • 15. Since language can be said to do all those things, and have all those effects, we call it material--that is, it has its own density and presence in the world .
  • 16. Different authors portray the materiality of language in different ways:
    • Some playful, as if language were literally a space of play
    • Leslie Tryon, Albert’s Alphabet
  • 17. Others emphasize language’s performativity, and vulnerability: Chris Van Allsburg, The Z Was Zapped
  • 18. Other author/illustrators are more inventive, and pose a greater challenge to traditional views of language’s relationship to the world. Mitsumasa Anno, for instance, in Anno’s Alphabet: An Adventure in Imagination, presents language itself as material puzzle, or impossibility .
  • 19.  
  • 20. A technique that shows that language is in fact a part of what it describes can be found in Mary Beth Owen’s A Caribou Alphabet. This technique also de-emphasizes the nature/culture dichotomy .
  • 21. In Suse MacDonald’s Alphabatics, the letters materialize into things in the world:
  • 22. Language, freed of its primary function of referring to things outside itself, is thought of as self-referential.
  • 23. Characteristics of Postmodern Alphabet Books
    • Language is presented as material.
    • Language creates, rather than describes, the world.
    • Words and letters do things; language is performative.
    • Generate a desire for open-ness and self-fashioning, for ordering the world according to personal preferences.
  • 24. Get into groups and look at your alphabet books. How does your book present the relationship between words and the world? Would you characterize it as modern or postmodern?