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Disruptions and Desire in Psychoanalysis and Children's Books: Adam Phillips and Chris Van Allsburg


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DISRUPTIONS AND DESIRE IN PSYCHOA NALYSIS AND CHILDRENS BOOKS: ADAM PHILLIPS AND CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG By BRINLY STANDRIDGE A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2003

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Copyright 2003 by Brinly L. Standridge

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank my advisors Dr. Kenneth Kidd and Dr. Robert Thomson for their patience and unwavering dedication to seeing this project through. They have been tremendously supportive and helpful on both an academic and personal level. I also thank my husband Noah, without whose encouragement and direction I could have completed this degree. Finally, I thank the God of heaven who follows through on all His promises, and who has fit this into his purpose for my life on earth. iii

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TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iii ABSTRACT.........................................................................................................................v CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION........................................................................................................1 2 DISRUPTIONS AND DESIRE IN PSYCHOANALYSIS AND CHILDRENS BOOKS: ADAM PHILLIPS AND CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG..................................4 3 CONCLUSION...........................................................................................................26 LIST OF REFERENCES...................................................................................................28 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................30 iv

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Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts DISRUPTIONS AND DESIRE IN PSYCHOANALYSIS AND CHILDRENS BOOKS: ADAM PHILLIPS AND CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG By Brinly L. Standridge August, 2003 Chair: Kenneth Kidd Major Department: English While psychoanalysis, an attempt to illuminate the workings of subjectivity and social experience, has also been used as a way to understand children, Phillips narrows the distinction between child and adult. This creates an interesting place for a discussion of childrens literature, the widely presumed impossible fiction shaped by the myriad interests of both child and adult. The picture books of Chris Van Allsburg almost exactly typify Phillips theories about the human psyche, offering context through which to discuss the interests of child and adult which contribute to our sufferings, pleasures, and desires. The stories that result from the interplay of text and image in his books are reflective of mental processes that Phillips discusses, making them particularly useful for understanding the usefulness and importance of Phillips theories. Although of unrelated genre, both authors seems to engage the ideas of the other. Van Allsburg in ways elaborates Phillips notions of boredom, escapism, and satisfaction, while Phillips helps to clarify the complexities Van Allsburg presents in his closures and v

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fantasies. Phillips and Van Allsburgs work both elicit disruptions in the psychoanalytic and picture book traditions. The importance of what they accomplish cannot be discussed without making specific their relation to the way we use languageto the nature of our symbolic world. Both authors seem to move between the symbolic and semiotic worlds. If, as Kristeva defines it, the semiotic can be seen as a pulsational pressure within language itself, in tone, rhythm, the bodily and material qualities of language, but also in contradiction, meaninglessness, disruption, silence, and absence then Phillips and Van Allsburg work within the semiotic, in efforts to fracture the common idealization of those images and signs which secure the status quo, and guarantee the establishment. This thesis explores the pressures placed by Phillips and Van Allsburg on the language of psychoanalysis and picture books through the contradiction, meaninglessness, disruption, silence, and absence, that these two otherwise very different narrative projects attempt to elicit. vi

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CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The consequences of reading literature, in so far as they can be discerned like the consequences of having an analysis are strikingly unpredictable. Adam Phillips from Promises, Promises (368) In the wake of Sigmund Freud and the subsequent century of interest in psychology, Adam Phillips has picked up the question of psychoanalysis but also questioned it. He is less interested in where it is going or what it is per se, than in how it is useful. For Phillips, this means searching for a kind of language that is significant to us, trying to find a way of talking about our sufferings, pleasures, and desires. He does not privilege psychoanalysis as comprehensive, however. While it can be helpful, it is merely one language through which we can understand ourselves. While psychoanalysis, an attempt to illuminate the workings of subjectivity and social experience, has also been used as a way to understand children, Phillips narrows the distinction between child and adult. This creates an interesting place for a discussion of childrens literature, the widely presumed impossible fiction (Rose) shaped by the myriad interests of both child and adult. The picture books of Chris Van Allsburg almost exactly typify Phillips theories about the human psyche, offering context through which to discuss the interests of child and adult, which contribute to our sufferings, pleasures, and desires. The stories that result from the interplay of text and image in his books are reflective of mental processes that Phillips discusses, making them particularly useful for understanding the usefulness and importance of Phillips theories. 1

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2 Most of Phillips work explores the traditional categories of operative and indicative, that is, life as we would like it, versus life as it is (Burke 4-7). Van Allsburgs work engages such categories as well, as all of his stories present situations that either contrast the two or otherwise make the reader question the reality of either. Although of unrelated genre, both authors seems to engage the ideas of the other. Van Allsburg in ways elaborates Phillips notions of boredom, escapism, and satisfaction, while Phillips helps to clarify the complexities Van Allsburg presents in his closures and fantasies. Phillips and Van Allsburgs work both elicit disruptions in the psychoanalytic and picture book traditions. Phillips, for example, writes himself in circles around his ideas, such that while parts of his presentations are very striking, he is not as conclusive as many readers might like or expect him to be. Van Allsburgs techniques create huge gaps between the meaning of corresponding text and image, often leaving readers perplexed. His narrative closures encourage the reader to question the meaning of his stories, challenging the common tradition of separation-initiation-return often present in fantasy or fantasy-like stories. The importance of what Phillips and Van Allsburg accomplish cannot be discussed without making specific their relation to the way we use languageto the nature of our symbolic world. Both authors seem to move between the symbolic and semiotic worlds. If, as Kristeva defines it, the semiotic can be seen as a pulsational pressure within language itself, in tone, rhythm, the bodily and material qualities of language, but also in contradiction, meaninglessness, disruption, silence, and absence (Eagleton 188) then Phillips and Van Allsburg work within the semiotic, in efforts to fracture the common idealization of those images and signs which secure the status quo, and guarantee the

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3 establishment (Smith 16). This thesis explores the pressures placed by Phillips and Van Allsburg on the language of psychoanalysis and picture books through the contradiction, meaninglessness, disruption, silence, and absencethat these two otherwise very different narrative projects attempt to elicit.

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CHAPTER 2 DISRUPTIONS AND DESIRE IN PSYCHOANALYSIS AND CHILDRENS BOOKS: ADAM PHILLIPS AND CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG Publishing about one book each year or two, Phillips has contributed much to the field of psychoanalysis. He began in 1989 with a biography of Winnicott, and has continued with On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life (), On Flirtation (), Terrors and Experts (), A Beast in the Nursery (8), Darwins Worms (), Monogamy (), Promises, Promises: Essays on Literature and Psychoanalysis (), Houdinis Box: The Art of Escape (), and Equals (), among other edited works and essays. Phillips seems to be most well known for his dual ability to separate and connect ideas alternatively. He looks for ideas not only in society or personal life, but in literature as well. The New York Observer quotes him as saying, I dont have a line on psychoanalysis and literature. For me for all sorts of reasons there has always been only one category, literature, of which psychoanalysis became a part." It is perhaps not surprising that while once Principal Child Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital in London, he is currently General Editor of Penguins new edition of Freuds works. The Observer suggests that Phillips is interested in Freud from neither a psychotherapeutic nor a literary critical standpoint, but from something in between and more, from one caught up in the question of how to think about, define, and live a good life. Influences of Freud on Phillips work resonate throughout the whole of his writing, as evidenced by endless references to Freuds life and theory. Terrors and Experts 4

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5 discusses fear as a fantasy of the future, rooting this idea to Freuds Outline of Psychoanalysis (1938). Freuds point that children fear of a loss of love from their parents becomes the place from which Phillips claims that in wanting a future we must suffer for it through such fears, but that this fear is also what keeps the future alive (50). Promises, Promises admits that Phillips reads Freud as poetry of a kind which [makes] us more vivid to ourselves in our mistakes than in our competence (370). It seems as if these mistakes are the places that allow Phillips to enter discussions about psychoanalysis. Much of his work centers around mistakesof sortsflaws in our competence and confidence. A listing of essay titles (not comprehensive) highlights this interest: On Being Laughed At, Superiorities, Against Inhibition, Around and About Madness, On What We Need, Making It Old, On Kissing, On Tickling, On Being Bored, and On Eating, and Preferring Not To. Though often using Freud as a starting point, Phillips is most interested in using such conversation to discuss the way we imagine our futures, making a connection between the life we are living and the life we desire to have. Childrens literature has always incorporated like conversation about our actual and desired lives, though it has not been until more recent decades that these ideas have been questioned and problematized. This is even more so the case with picture books. Probably one of the best known picture books, Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, first resulted in a shift in our thinking and a revision of our expectations concerning this art form (Cech 110). Its departure from previous forms really occurs in the perspective about childhood that it suggests, since it opened up a dramatic, even frightful fantasy world that (at the time) was questioned as to its appropriateness for

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6 children. That the childs world could be frightful was perhaps also suggested in earlier picture books like the German Struwwelpeter and certainly in traditional fairy tales, but the American picture book tradition did not commonly explore this theme. Where the Wild Things Are opened a discussion about preferences and fears in works for children that tie to the work of Phillips and Van Allsburg. Where the Wild Things Are is a story about a mischievous little boy named Max, who gets sent to his room (without dinner) for talking back to his mother. Here he enters a fantasy world in which he becomes a king of wild beasts. Eventually he misses home, and decides to leave. When he gets there, everything is back to normal, including a hot dinner. Phillips recent book, Houdinis Box: The Art of Escape discusses desire in the form of escapea similar kind of escape to what we see illustrated in Sendaks popular book. Using the case history of Houdini and others, Phillips looks at neuroticism, games like hide and seek, and magic tricks to uncover motivations to escape and be found. Hide and seek, he suggests, is a play between the fear and wish of never being found. If we are never found, we win, but if we are never found, the game encompasses a sense of failure. Escape, he contends, is always linked to a sense of failure, our fears arising out of what we want to escape. In this way he suggests that suffering can arise from what we want, because we are panicked by the thought of confronting it. This amounts to us not wanting (trying to escape) something that has in actuality captured our desire. Phillips asserts that we imagine our desire as something more real, and that by privileging it we prefer what we fear (more so than what we seem to desire by escape). That fear in turn gives its object power.

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7 What does Max desire? Although Max had previously been in a state of anger and discontent (we see a mad and frowning face in each of the pictures as he nails the wall and chases the dog), when he returns, he has a smile on his face. During his fantasy, he is free from the world that upset him. After his fantasy, though returned to the same world, he is free from the feelings that plagued him. His relief and content is shown in the last picture, where he takes off the head of his wolf suit for the first time, smiling and putting his hand to the forehead as if he is grateful. Does Maxs escape suggest that he prefers his fantasy world of wild things, or does he really prefer the escaped world where somebody loved him best of all and his dinner is still hot? According to Phillips ideology, Max may have wanted to escape the reality of home life because he did not want to confront his mother or her expectations. He could have actually preferred the approval from his mother, but, panicked by the thought of confronting her or the wish of being found, he escapes to a place which allows all of that to disappear. Maxs return would suggest this case. While in his fantasy world, Max is living out his presumed desires of wildness and rage (presented at the beginning of the story where he is destroying the house and chasing the dog). Eventually the escaped world calls his memory, however, and he decides to return. Phillips would suggest that there is a link between his preferences and fears, and that the things Max feared the mostperhaps calmness, approval, lovewere actually the things that he preferred or was seeking, and that he attempted to escape because of his failure to attain those things. The way Phillips describes the mechanisms of desire complexify our conception of reality, making us question both what reality is and what we would like reality to be. In Sendaks work, the closure seems to validate the preference of reality (Maxs social

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8 conditions)over escape or fantasy, but questions still remain. Was the fantasy world only in his imagination, or was their something more real about it? And does that mean anything? The last page, absent of any visuals, reads and it was still hot (referring to his dinner), and seems to reinforce reality, yet leaves us wondering if his fantasy might have been part of a fantastic time-altered other reality. Visual clues like the plant on his table and the changing phases of the moon throughout the story make us question whether there might have been something more to his journey. Max is happy now, but he is still wearing his wolf suit. What will happen next time he gets angry? Will he always be curedthrough these kinds of fantasies? Van Allsburg speaks to such issues as well, doing so primarily through the interplay of text and image. Through illustrations, literally, he speaks to that sense of tension described by Phillips as between the fear and wish of never being found. Houdinis Box stresses Phillips point that we are always wanting to be in the very state of desiring. Houdini was an escape artist, someone always going back to the process of escape after being found, as if caught between the fear and wish of never being found. Houdini is described as someone who tries to get his audience to the moment of desire as quickly as possible, thus privileging what he escaped from (the trick, which created the desire) as more real than what he was escaping to (reality, which the trick was keeping him from). Phillips questions whether it may have been the actual act of escape the thing Houdini was escaping to in a kind of denial of reality. Many of Van Allsburgs picture books blur the distinction between fantasy and reality. The determination of what results from the idea of escape gives rise to multiple possibilities of meanings. Readers may wonder if Van Allsburgs characters desire the

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9 experience of their fantasy or reality. Is there necessarily a distinction between the two? Pascal once said, We are never living, but hoping to live. Could it be that Van Allsburg is hoping to live a more desired reality by merging actuality with imagined fantasy? A book by counselor John Eldredge suggests this case. Titled The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life Weve Only Dreamed Of it asserts that we are longing for a life within us that seems incongruent with the life we find around us (2). It suggests that we wish desired moments could go on forever, and that although they cant, not to search for them is the greatest tragedy. Phillips suggests that it is the very act of desiring we wish could go on, agreeing that the absence of desire equates to failure. Whether it is an object we are after or just the act of desiring it, Van Allsburgs books do capture a certain fascination and perpetual interest. He is like an escape artist of childrens literaturealways leaving room for more throughout his books, always leaving us wondering at the end, and always returning to do it again: a literary Houdini. In thinking about escapism as it relates to our identity or idea about what life should be like, Phillips also holds that we can only be captured by what we have once been or wanted to be. The way we question our identity, then, he also links to what we desirewhat we believe we can elude and what we perceive as inescapable. He addresses our preferences as a cover story for terrors (Houdinis Box 63), so that by escaping, we attempt to forget what we are escaping. Attempt to escape thus becomes the crime. What we are persuaded to believe is inescapable will be a fateful decision, (Houdinis Box 97) because it will be the thing which holds power. To be in a constant state of escape, then, is to be in a constant state of movement which Phillips concludes is essential. He closes with the dualism that skepticism is a refuge from conviction, but

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10 conviction is a refuge from skepticism, suggesting that we glamorize the risk (Houdinis Box 162) of either one to avoid taking it. He leaves the reader with the thought that there is no real freedom in actual escape, but that there is great exhilaration in the idea of escape, and only the life without it would be true failure and imprisonment. Van Allsburg, interestingly, engages such ideas about desire because of his talent for making the extraordinary rise out of the ordinary. His play between fantasy and reality is enabled by a combination of verbal and visual wit. His books work, as Ellen Handler Spitz in Inside Picture Books suggest about the imagination, as a gratification of (sometimes impossible) desires, as a provisional working through and mastery of basic fears by means of fantasy (Spitz 10). Peter Neumeyer labels Van Allsburgs feats as playful manipulation of the objective world (Neumeyer 4). Certain visual aspects like wide angles, high exaggeration, and eccentric linearity are present in his illustrations. Its almost as if his pictures create a kind of surreal plainness that takes readers off-guard or disorients them, as Neumeyer puts it. The illustrations dont stand alone, however. An almost mundane writing style, combined with puzzling visuals, elicit the wonder. It is as if his stories are trying to convince us to believe something that is unbelievableand are working. That his books hold the fascination of adult and child seems to come in the tension between his dull text and extraordinary images. The tension between the ordinary and the marvelous (Stanton 170) then itself becomes the central subject of most of his books. He draws us into his spaces with a gentle surrealism,and unexpected juxtapositions which create unsettling provocative elementskey moments when we enter their suspension in time.

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11 These moments in Van Allsburgs work become the gaps where the reader can move in and out of the symbolic world. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick very vividly illustrates how the silences and absences created by verbal and visual tension create a place for the reader to step into, or perhaps disrupt, the story. The images and captions estrange us from the way we understand reality, plunging us into a disruption, a semiotic realm of sorts, where we must make our own reality. Though operating through the existing mechanism of storybook, the book causes an absence of story which invites us to create one, and to take a role in its purposes. Mysteries is a collection of illustrations that, like Houdini, speak to our desire to be caught in the moment of endless suspense (Houdinis Box 129). Each with an accompanying title and caption, the drawings are ostensibly single representations of stories that have remained a mystery resulting from an unlocatable author. As the introduction suggests, it is hard to look at the drawings and their captions without imagining a story. The drawings are magnificent: most surreal, some very ordinary, but each containing a juxtaposition with title and caption that creates wonder and puzzlement. The suspense in Mysteries occurs as a result of the juxtaposition of pictorial and verbal elements, which undermine the credibility of either one as it stands alone. Consider the drawing and caption in Mysteries titled, A Strange Day in July. The picture shows two children at a lake or sea side. Bright light illuminates the girls dress and sparkles on the water, making the scene idyllic and ethereal. The boy is throwing stones in the water; all appears to be an ordinary day. The text, however, encourages the interpretation that it is anything but an ordinary day. He threw with all his might, it

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12 says, but the third stone came skipping back. Another drawing is titled The Seven Chairs. The caption tells us, The fifth one ended up in France. This is not alarming until we look at the picture. In a cathedral, two men are looking upward at a nun, who is sitting in a plain wooden chairand floating 50 feet in the air. The tension here stops the action of the story. We pause, going back and forth from text to image, asking questions. Why is the stone skipping back? Will the boy find out who or what is responsible? What is special about the seven chairs? How is the magical floating incurred? The possibilities of questions and answers are endless. These are perhaps qualities which reflect our need for fascination and our desire to be in a constant state of anticipation. As Houdini wanted people to always be wondering where they would find him next, Van Allsburg wants people to wonder how his fantastic stories will either lead or end. Like Houdini, he tries to get away with things people [cant] believe (Houdinis Box 21). If language, as Terry Eagleton suggests, always pre-exists us...is always already in place (Eagleton 174), picture books necessarily enter this language through story. They can disrupt language, however, by playing with sign systems. This kind of play happens at the level of image and text, and is easily observed in Mysteries between the relationship of the two. Each picture has an accompanying story, and yet the caption, the ostensible clue to that story, often disrupts what we might have otherwise generated as narrative. Neither the caption nor the picture might result in the same possibilities that the interaction between the two opens up. This space allows readers to question, to create, and to disruptto take part in the semiotic as a pressure within language.

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13 Phillips seems to be describing a sense of escape and of absence that is indeed a part of the human psyche, as Van Allsburgs work also attests. In his own writing Phillips leaves open the answers to many of the questions he poses, or plays with language, talking himself in circles around a topic rather than moving towards an end. Much of his work hinges on Freuds argument that there can never be an end, even to things which have passed, and that answers to questions are often as baffling as questions themselves. His books discuss the whys of everyday life, including our notions that we should or should not be doing or desiring certain things. His answers, while suggesting a better way for us to find our place in the world, do so only by talking around subjects of contradiction, meaninglessness, disruption, silence, and absencenot by trying to define them. In his introduction to On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored Phillips emphasizes the role of psychoanalysis as necessary for cure. He suggests that it is not the cure to problems, but necessary to allow a curing. He explains this by making an analogy between psychoanalysis and surgery. Surgery cannot equal, but does facilitate or allow healing. Similarly, psychoanalysis cannot equal, but can facilitate healing. As a surgeon must know what the body is supposed to look like, a psychoanalyst must already know what life is supposed to look like (On Kissing 2). He points out the irony that psychoanalysts are experts, but only to the end of purporting that there are no experts on life. Though the psychoanalyst may be an impossible expert, he nevertheless has a language of specialty. Psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts can help compare and mix culture in a way that can help make our lives more interesting, though those interests and culture are different for each person. It is less our specific interests than our desire for

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14 interest and fascination, however, which Phillips suggests fuels our decisions and actions. Phillips not surprisingly then chooses to focus on the mechanisms of desire rather than the mechanisms of particular neuroses or psychoses. Why do Phillips theories, not focused on mechanisms of desire found uniquely in childhood, so vividly connect to the way Chris Van Allsburg illustrates these mechanisms in picture books? Thinking of picture books, or any childrens literature for that matter, as items solely useful for the entertaining or understanding of children is a hindrance to the discussion of both child and adult identity. As Jacqueline Rose has pointed out, the idea that there is a unique body of literature for children is problematic. Certainly childrens literature is targeted for the child audience. But it is created out of the desires of the adult, and as a result links the adult identity to the said audience of the child. Virginia Blums chapter on The child of psychoanalysis in her book Hide and Seek discusses the availability of the child for observation and analysis, suggesting that the temporal and spacial location of childhood (Blum 29) make it difficult to understand the relationship between child and adult. This suggests that perhaps childrens literature and culture does not exist as a separate realm from adulthood, but rather functions as a kind of relay between stages of life. For the child, of course, it is the only way through which the world can be accessed. For the adult, however, it is an additional way of relating, one which perhaps provides connections necessary for working through childhood memories or experiences. The venues of communication (such as picture books) that childrens literature and culture make available are simply more understandable for children; they do not necessarily communicate different things than what happens or gets talked about in the adult world.

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15 Picture books, which often work to disrupt the temporal and spacial location of language through the dialectic of text/image, are perhaps framed for children because they help fill this temporal and spacial location of childhood, making it easier for the child and adult to understand one another. It is also possible that this temporal and spacial location of childhood is precisely why modes of fantasy proliferate in childrens literature. The temporal and spacial location of text and image in picture books particularly contributes to the development of fantasy, which enters the narrative at gaps and absences between the two. If fantasy, an escape of sorts, allows entrance to the previously unseeable or the unspeakable, picture books could play an integral part of the development of the human psyche. Lawrence Sipe, in his article, How Picture Books Work: A Semiotically Framed Theory of Text-Picture Relationships, suggests that text-picture relations are based on the semiotic concept of transmediation (Sipe 98). He discusses Barthes and Nodelmans metaphor of relaying, the idea that each takes on unique meaning because of its relation to the other. This is dependent on both their temporal and spatial relation to each other, which creates phenomenological dynamics, as we relate to the verbal and visual texts. Because of this, the picture book invokes multiplicities of meaning that are not often present in other narrative forms. Sipe defines this transmediation,quoting Charles Suhor, as the translation of content from one sign system into another (Sipe 101). It is precisely the movement between sign systems that allows multiple sequences of meaning. These triadsof object, picture, and text, allow us to analyze the creation of meaning in any given story.

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16 Although Sipe deems this mental process phenomenological, it is perhaps more poignant to emphasize his resulting conclusion that in engaging us, picture books give children the opportunity to engage in an unending process of meaning...[allowing them] to have multiple experiences as they engage in creating new meanings and constructing new worlds (Sipe 107). This is perhaps true for adults as well, acting as either reader or writer. The constant state of movement that Phillips asserts is essential to the human psyche seems to drive the creation of the diverse meanings in Van Allsburgs work. The play between reality and escape/fantasy happens at the level of text/image juxtaposition, but also at the level of plot through the complexities of closure. A discussion of Van Allsburgs fantasies perhaps more clearly explains this play. Almost all of Van Allsburgs work walks on the line between the real and the fantastic. Even in the stories that explicitly separate the two, a kind of interchange happens, leaving open the possibility that a crossover has taken place. Bens Dream for example, clearly displays that the young boy has fallen asleep, and is dreaming. This is confirmed when a friend comes by to wake him up. However, when recounting that their geography book had put her to sleep too, and that she had, the funniest dream, his friend said, youll never guess who I saw there. The boy Ben replies, Me, standing on my front porch, waving. When the girl is amazed, asking how he knew, he simply states, Because I saw you there! (31). Readers are now unsure as to the solidarity of the dream world. Was there just some kind of mental connection? Or is the geography book really magical? Perhaps they were experiencing an alternate reality? The two friends shared memory at the end of the book crosses the gap between what is perceived

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17 as the real and the unreal. But what do we do with this information? Taking examples from the children in the book, Van Allsburg seems to be encouraging readers to accept this merging, or reconstruct ideas about what is possible. On the last page, we see the girl, Margaret, standing with her bicycle, and staring at Ben, who has nonchalantly headed down the hill. Additionally, while Margaret had been amazed that Ben knew about the dream, Ben did not seem surprised with the knowledge that they shared it. Why the discrepancy? Perhaps it is a kind of display of the puzzlement we feel in many of Van Allsburgs books, in the face of odd bridges and new possibilities. Perhaps Margaret, the outsider, is like the reader, trying to come to terms with Ben, the insider, who seems to have access to an understanding of the strange connections and dislocations of the dream. Another book about dreams, Just a Dream uses the dream/reality sequence to a different end. Still puzzling, still leaving the reader to wonder how much of the dream was real, Just a Dream adds the moment of satisfaction. Here, a wasteful boy named Walter discovers what a world without attention to the environment is like. He scoffs at his next door neighbors birthday presenta treeand refuses to sort out recyclables from the garbage. In a dream, however, his bed takes him to the future, where he sees a huge dump where his street used to be. He sees smog instead of a Grand Canyon, a hotel on top of Mt. Everest, and medicine factory that makes people sick, among other things. He keeps hoping to return home, telling himself it is just a dream, and finally wakes up in the present. Making a turnaround, he sorts out the garbage and picks a tree as his own birthday present. Finally, he has another dream. Returning him to a different future, this dream has blue sky, flapping laundry, motorless lawn mowers, and two large comforting

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18 treesthose he and his friend had planted years before. Here there is no endless moment of suspense, though the tension between the real and unreal creates the element of desire. The merging of the two is what seem to create satisfaction. Accordingly, Walter says, I like it here at the end of the story, and drifts back off to sleep. The tension between the real and the unreal both incites curiosity and allows desire to be realized. In these worlds, preferences and fears are explored through fantasy (in these cases dreams), providing movement through which desire can be played out. Perhaps this is why Phillips suggests that there can be no desire without the idea of escape (though it would also follow there can be no desire in only the idea of escape). If this is so, then the truly desired thing can emerge as a result of our knowledge about reality and escape. What does satisfaction have to do with the closures of these fantasies? Phillips suggests that satisfaction provides the comfort which serves as cure. What are we being cured from, however, and does narrative satisfaction equate to curing? Houdinis Box asserts that we can actually suffer from what we want. In that sense, perhaps curing is a remedy for this suffering. Consider Van Allsburgs Two Bad Ants where characters face the dilemma of desire and face the choice of escape. The two bad ants reason with each other, asking Why go back? This place might not feel like home, but look at all these crystals. Youre right, we can stay here and eat this tasty treasure every day, forever. Their decision proves treacherous. After surviving a boiling cup of coffee, hot toaster oven, rushing faucet, garbage disposal, and electric socket, they manage to find their way back to the group. This time they decide to do their part in carrying a sugar crystal back to the

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19 hive. The story concludes, They knew how grateful their mother queen would be when they gave her their crystals. At that moment, the two ants felt happier than theyd ever felt before. This was their home, this was their family. This was where they were meant to be. While comforted by the return, the ants did seem to suffer, however, as a result of trying to escape the thing they really wanted. Comfort equates to cure, as the ants discovered something in the link between curiosity and release. Phillips suggests that the realizations that happen between curiosity and release make such closures effective, providing knowledge as cure for our potentially demonic nature (Houdinis Box 59). Phillips does not theorize the idea of closure, but seems in his own writing to privilege curiosity over release, as he rarely gives readers a chance to abandon curiosity. What do we do with desire, if, in closure, there lies a deep satisfaction of the psyche? Does satisfaction end curiosity and questioning? Does it always reinscribe us in known reality? Does it end the act of desire? Van Allsburgs books very keenly illustrate Phillips sometimes confusing open-endedness. In Just a Dream desire fuels the story, but comfort only comes when the desire is attained, the life weve only dreamed of, (Eldredge). This could be why Phillips describes the link between curiosity and release as knowledge, a cure for our potentially demonic nature. (Houdinis Box 59). Why potentially demonic? Because desire which is unrealized or never satisfied can drive us crazy. We become frantic, irrational, and even murderous. Like an itch which never gets scratched, if it will not subside, it leaves us delirious. Van Allsburgs work accentuates the aha realization of what is preferred as a comfort to characters and readers, while leaving open space for further curiosity and questions.

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20 The idea of escape can arise out of a dialogue between known or unknown preferences and fears. Phillips describes times during which the desire simply to know, to gain a clue as to where we begin to fit (to find this curiosity or desire for release), as boredom. Bored children are the direct topic of conversation in his essay On Being Bored in On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored. Certainly we are all familiar with childhood spells of what we call boredom, described by Phillips as a state of suspended anticipation, diffuse restlessness...for an absurd and paradoxical wish, the wish for a desire (On Kissing 68). When we think of the childs world, both how we perceive it and what is taking place internally, we realize that it so often associates significance with intensity that there is (theoretically) little room for more subtle feelings and moods that much of our lives consist of(On Kissing 68). Phillips contends that boredom is a contention with the possibility of a childs own desire. It is being preoccupied by lack of preoccupation (On Kissing 69). He extends this to the relationship of the child to himself and others, since in growing up a child has the two-fold project of becoming self-sufficient while developing through the use of others. But adults perplexingly often do not know how to respond to boredom pleas, and disapprove of boredom with some notion that the childs life should always be interesting. Phillips discusses this ideology of interest and desire during the rest of the essay, and suggests that perhaps such absences are times when our minds can be freed to find an object of yet undeveloped desire and interest. Asking the question of why people want to escape, and what they do after they escape, Phillips suggests that the very hardest thing to escape is the wish to escape. Van Allsburg answers these questions, at the same time showing how hard it is to resist the

PAGE 27

21 wish to escape in his book Jumanji In seeking release from boredom, the childrens fear of it becomes their excitement. Running outside to the park (while parents are away), they discover a board game that later comes to life. Here again Van Allsburg captures the tension between ordinary and unexpected; the picture shows a very ordinary looking game with two very ordinary looking children facing it on opposite sides of a card table. The text, however, reads in large print, VERY IMPORTANT: ONCE A GAME OF JUMANJI IS STARTED IT WILL NOT BE OVER UNTIL ONE PLAYER REACHES THE GOLDEN CITY. As readers, we are not sure what to make of it. It fascinates us because we cannot know what degree of strangeness is being suggested. In cases like what these children face, when we wish to improve our position, Phillips says the wish itself is like a transgression we commit in order to discover if we can actually escape. This seems the case in Jumanji although the end is ambiguous. The children are very relieved to be able to quit the game-made-reality and settle back into the quiet home. Other children (who never read the directions) are later seen running off with the game. There seems to be some transgression in seeking the game, since they got themselves into trouble, and since a sense of foreboding follows the children who have found the game in the end, but there is also an ambiguity as to whether the children liked its solution to their boredom and if they would ever play the game again. Whatever the case, Jumanji fits well with Phillips assertion that there is exhilaration in the idea of escape. Although he insists that the idea of escape reinforces our belief in the real and its limitations, we are left by Van Allsburg with the sense that there could still have been some feeling of freedom in the act. In Jumanji as in Two Bad Ants without the picture of escape there is no story.

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22 Escape can reinforce belief in the real and its limitations, but it can also complexify our interpretation of reality, depending on how it is presented. Sarah Gilead, in her article, Magic Abjured: Closure in Childrens Fantasy Fiction, theorizes that the closure of a fantasy can work to either reinforce or undo the narrative work of the opening (Gilead 278). Closure is a formal expectation (Gilead 277) of sorts, particularly in fantasy. If a character experiences a type of fantasy, we expect there to be a return to realityelse the fantasy no longer functions as an escape. Gilead draws attention to the aspect of closure, trying to identify what function the return might have (aside from the traditional notion of return as part of the progression in initiation-separation-return). She suggests that the return might establish the hierarchy of realities, but that it can also challenge them. Gilead acknowledges one function of return as the point at which the text most dramatically turns on itself to reveal its duplicities and discords(Gilead 289). The idea of escape or fantasy, then, may work more to explore reality than to define it. This is certainly the case with Van Allsburgs work, when, even after return, we are still not sure of the distinctions between realities that the characters have experienced. Because return can reveal discords of the text, even the presence of satisfaction does not eliminate the possibility of desire. The idea of escape remains, even after the presence of it is gone, which of course is necessary to create new fantasies. Van Allsburgs work acknowledge the reality-ordering and reality-disrupting power of fantasy which, both at the level of plot and through the juxtaposition of text/image, allows the character or reader to explore desires and life possibilities.

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23 Many of Van Allsburgs books seem to work against the notion of completeness or satiation, even though they contain returns from fantasy. How about Just a Dream ? Its surrealistic qualities and blurred distinction between dreams and waking are certainly like Van Allsburgs other work. But what about the ending? Just a Dream unlike others of Van Allsburgs work, seems to reveal the knowledge that the character has discovered about himselfthe knowledge of desirein which he is able to find comfort. The same is the case of the mischief makers in Two Bad Ants Perhaps the author is comfortable enough with the message of the desired object to be able to be able to reveal it as desired. In this sense, Just and Dream and Two Bad Ants are perhaps more didactic than the rest of Van Allsburgs books. We might still ask, Was Walters experience just a dream? Was it really okay for the ants to be stealing all that sugar?, but these uncertainties are inherent in all of Van Allsburgs books. The experience of complete satisfaction, however, seems to be unique to these two books. In others of Van Allsburgs books like Jumanji or The Mysteries of Harris Burdick the tension which creates intrigue is never fulfilled. Chris Van Allsburg, like Adam Phillips, does not deny that fulfillment is possible, nor disregard the possibility of a clear moral lesson. He acknowledges that the tension needed to create knowledge allows for fulfillment. In most of his books, however, he does not seem comfortable with defining satiation or morality for his characters. These tendencies make sense if, as according to Phillips, we are always desirous of being in the process of desiring, wanting to be in anticipation of something. Van Allsburg, a Houdini of sorts, has become successful through knowing his readers like anticipation, and continuing to produce it according to his abilities. If we never see

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24 Houdini escape, however, what happens to our interest? Although we might always be intrigued by his show, what would happen if he stopped escaping, leaving us without resolution? Desire, as a process of both anticipation and release, then, is represented well both in Houdinis final escape, and in Van Allsburgs peaceful closures. If we are always in either anticipation or fulfillment, desire cannot exist, yet if we never access either, desire tumbles upon itself, having little momentum. Van Allsburg, in portraying the to come through the fulfillment of realized desire, reflects the contentment that is manifest when we exist in that fulfillment. Like Houdini, and as Phillips theorizes, however, he returns again and again to the idea of anticipation, knowing that fascination and desire waiting to be fulfilled provides the most intrigue to readers. Does fantasy simply provide the escape necessary to create fascination or to realize desire? Gilead asserts that fantasy channels rage into aesthetic or symbolic forms...[and] replace[s] violent emotion, [turning] destructive force into narrative energy(Gilead 280). Could we extend this possibility to other emotions? Although most of the examples seen in Van Allsburgs work indeed deal with negative emotions like anger, boredom, or frustration, there are certainly examples within the genre of childrens fantasy that suggest the same could be true of other neutral or even positive emotions. We might ask the question of whether this is the case, but more importantly, we might wonder exactly what purpose this narrative energy has. Gilead goes on to discuss this energy using the example of Maxs transformations in Where The Wild Things Are. Here, narrative energy is the means through which Max is able to conjure his fantasy world to begin with. In other words, his very desire for escape, fueled by his emotion, allows the escape to take place. He then, through the

PAGE 31

25 escape, is able to tame his transgressive desires(Gilead 281). His fantasy encourages the self-confrontation and exploration(Gilead 281) necessary for him to order his reality. Fantasy not only provides the means for him to explore his place in the system of reality, but gives rise to an emotional release needed to work through fears and preferences, building the identity and knowledge that will perhaps save him from his demonic nature. The mechanics of closure in fantasy help us to consider the multiple ways we work through emotion and desire to deal with our world. Picture books, in addressing life tensions through the unique interplay of words and text, can provide access to these multiple pathways, allowing us to better understand our place in the world.

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CHAPTER 3 CONCLUSION The fantasy or escape in these stories is often the point at which the story takes on a sense of recklessness. Interestingly, this place, outside the ordered world or language of the ordinary world, becomes a place that demands interpretation. Characters and readers are forced to take control over new sign systems, which results in new meaning for their world. The gaps in meaning created by the contradictions, disruptions, silences, or absences of the narrative become sides where the character and reader can move in and out of the symbolic world. Escape serves as a mode through which we access the semiotic (those contradictions, disruptions, silences, and absences which we have no language for), challenging the limits of the symbolic world. Psychoanalysis typically aims to find meaning, coherence, patterning, and links within an individuals life, and language does the same, trying to add these things to our existence. Phillips, however, talks about meaninglessness, incoherence, and disjunction that we experience in attempts not to add the completeness of these things to us, but to help us understand what place they have and encourage us to discover the meanings they are pushing us toward. Van Allsburgs books provide the same exploratory purpose, creating unique ways to access these functions by working between the symbolic and semiotic worlds. Phillips and Van Allsburgs disruptions seem to allow readers to inscribe themselves in the language of psychoanalysis and picture books, rather than try to define what this place should be. In exploring the disruptions, readers are taken outside the symbols of the world as we know it to find meaning in the world as we would like it 26

PAGE 33

27 to be, and even to discover the place of their desire, which may fall at any place between the two. Adam Phillips cannot answer to all questions about desire, but he does draw out the significance of gaps between preferences and fear (discrepancies in what we want, essentially). The movement between the two that he concludes is essential proliferates in Van Allsburgs picture books, which perhaps even add something to Phillips ideas. Through Van Allsburgs examples, it appears that the suffering we experience as a result of what we want can indeed be cured by the comfort we gain in the knowledge of fears and preferences. Escape, or the idea of it, is a type of narrative energy that enables knowledge. Once attained, however, though it comforts us, knowledge does not end the cycle of desire. It may act as closure, which the cycle depends on, but it must also allow a pathway for further exploration and meaning if the cycle is to continue. The questions that Van Allsburgs picture books raise provide pathways for continuing interest and desire. Phillips theories leave questions that may at times be frustrating for readers, but if we can turn the analysis around, using literature to interpret psychoanalysis, it may be precisely this technique which provides the space for further discussion and possibility. It should be acknowledged that readers perhaps are not always interested in possibility, and can be set on attaining knowledge and very definitive closure. It should also be acknowledged, however, that the human psyche thrives on a continual cycle of desire which, if explored, can lead to previously unrealized pleasures and meaning.

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LIST OF REFERENCES Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form New York: Vintage Books, 1957. Blum, Virginia. The child of psychoanalysis. Hide and Seek: The Child Between Psychoanalysis and Fiction Oxford University Press, 1995. Cech, John. Angels and Wild Things Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. Eagleton, Terry. Ch. 5, Psychoanalysis. Literary Theory: An Introduction University of Minnesota Press, 1983. 151-193. Eldredge, John. The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life Weve Only Dreamed Of. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. Inc, 2000. Futrelle, David. Rev. of The Beast in the Nursery by Adam Philips. Salon.com 11 Feb 1998. Gilead, Sarah. Magic Abjured: Closure in Childrens Fantasy and Fiction. Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 106.2 (1991): 277-293. Promises,Promises: Essays on Literature and Psychoanalysis by Adam Phillips. The New York Observer 26 March 2001: 27 Neumeyer: Peter. How Picture Books Mean: the Case of Chris Van Allsburg. Childrens Literature Association Quarterly 15.1 (1990): 1-8. Phillips, Adam. Darwins Worms Great Britain: Faber and Faber, 1999. Phillips, Adam. Equals New York: Basic Books, 2002. Phillips, Adam. Houdinis Box: The Art of Escape New York: Pantheon Books, 2001. Phillips, Adam. On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993. Phillips, Adam. Promises, Promises: Essays on Literature and Psychoanalysis Great Britain: Faber and Faber, 2000. Phillips, Adam. Terrors and Experts Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Childrens Literature University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. 28

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29 Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are Harper Collins, 1963. Sipe, Lawrence. How Picture Books Work: A Semiotically Framed Theory of Text-Picture Relationships. Childrens Literature in Education 29.2 (1998): 97-108. Smith, Anne-Marie. Julia Kristeva: Speaking the Unspeakable. Pluto Press, 1989. Spitz, Ellen Handler. Inside Picture Books New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. Stanton, Joseph, The Dreaming Picture Books of Chris Van Allsburg. Childrens Literature 24 (1996): 161-179. Van Allsburg, Chris. Bens Dream Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982. Van Allsburg, Chris. Jumanji Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. Van Allsburg, Chris. Just a Dream Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Van Allsburg, Chris. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984. Van Allsburg, Chris. Two Bad Ants Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Brinly L. Standridge graduated with a bachelors degree in English from the University of Florida in 2000. Continuing at UF to receive a masters degree in English in 2003, she specialized in childrens literature and rhetoric and composition. Mrs. Standridge plans to continue her writing and teaching career throughout her life. She is happily married to Noah Standridge and has one child. 30


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Title: Disruptions and Desire in Psychoanalysis and Children's Books: Adam Phillips and Chris Van Allsburg
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Copyright Date: 2008

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DISRUPTIONS AND DESIRE IN PSYCHOANALYSIS AND CHILDREN'S BOOKS:
ADAM PHILLIPS AND CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG















By

BRINLY STANDRIDGE


A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2003



























Copyright 2003

by

Brinly L. Standridge















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I thank my advisors Dr. Kenneth Kidd and Dr. Robert Thomson for their patience

and unwavering dedication to seeing this project through. They have been tremendously

supportive and helpful on both an academic and personal level. I also thank my husband

Noah, without whose encouragement and direction I could have completed this degree.

Finally, I thank the God of heaven who follows through on all His promises, and who has

fit this into his purpose for my life on earth.
















TABLE OF CONTENTS


A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ......... ................................................................................... iii

AB STRA C T ................................................................... .. ..... ......... .v

CHAPTER

1 IN T R O D U C T IO N ............................................................................. .............. ...

2 DISRUPTIONS AND DESIRE IN PSYCHOANALYSIS AND CHILDREN'S
BOOKS: ADAM PHILLIPS AND CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG ..............................

3 C O N C L U SIO N ......... ...................................................................... .. .......... ..... .. 26

LIST OF REFEREN CES ........................................ ............................. ............... 28

B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E TCH ..................................................................... ..................30















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

DISRUPTIONS AND DESIRE IN PSYCHOANALYSIS AND CHILDREN'S BOOKS:
ADAM PHILLIPS AND CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG

By

Brinly L. Standridge

August, 2003

Chair: Kenneth Kidd
Major Department: English

While psychoanalysis, an attempt to illuminate the workings of subjectivity and

social experience, has also been used as a way to understand children, Phillips narrows

the distinction between child and adult. This creates an interesting place for a discussion

of children's literature, the widely presumed "impossible fiction" shaped by the myriad

interests of both child and adult. The picture books of Chris Van Allsburg almost exactly

typify Phillips' theories about the human psyche, offering context through which to

discuss the interests of child and adult which contribute to our sufferings, pleasures, and

desires. The stories that result from the interplay of text and image in his books are

reflective of mental processes that Phillips discusses, making them particularly useful for

understanding the usefulness and importance of Phillips' theories.

Although of unrelated genre, both authors seems to engage the ideas of the other.

Van Allsburg in ways elaborates Phillips' notions of boredom, escapism, and satisfaction,

while Phillips helps to clarify the complexities Van Allsburg presents in his closures and









fantasies. Phillips' and Van Allsburg's work both elicit disruptions in the psychoanalytic

and picture book traditions. The importance of what they accomplish cannot be

discussed without making specific their relation to the way we use language-to the nature

of our symbolic world. Both authors seem to move between the symbolic and semiotic

worlds. If, as Kristeva defines it, the semiotic can be seen as a "pulsational pressure

within language itself, in tone, rhythm, the bodily and material qualities of language, but

also in contradiction, meaninglessness, disruption, silence, and absence" then Phillips and

Van Allsburg work within the semiotic, in efforts to "fracture the common idealization of

those images and signs which secure the status quo, and guarantee the establishment".

This thesis explores the pressures placed by Phillips and Van Allsburg on the language of

psychoanalysis and picture books through the "contradiction, meaninglessness,

disruption, silence, and absence," that these two otherwise very different narrative

projects attempt to elicit.














CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION

The consequences of reading literature, in so far as they can be discerned- like the
consequences of having an analysis- are strikingly unpredictable. Adam Phillips
from Promises, Promises (368)

In the wake of Sigmund Freud and the subsequent century of interest in

psychology, Adam Phillips has picked up the question of psychoanalysis but also

questioned it. He is less interested in where it is going or what it is per se, than in how it

is useful. For Phillips, this means searching for a kind of language that is significant to

us, trying to find a way of talking about our sufferings, pleasures, and desires. He does

not privilege psychoanalysis as comprehensive, however. While it can be helpful, it is

merely one language through which we can understand ourselves.

While psychoanalysis, an attempt to illuminate the workings of subjectivity and

social experience, has also been used as a way to understand children, Phillips narrows

the distinction between child and adult. This creates an interesting place for a discussion

of children's literature, the widely presumed "impossible fiction" (Rose) shaped by the

myriad interests of both child and adult. The picture books of Chris Van Allsburg almost

exactly typify Phillips' theories about the human psyche, offering context through which

to discuss the interests of child and adult, which contribute to our sufferings, pleasures,

and desires. The stories that result from the interplay of text and image in his books are

reflective of mental processes that Phillips discusses, making them particularly useful for

understanding the usefulness and importance of Phillips' theories.









Most of Phillips' work explores the traditional categories of operative and

indicative, that is, life as we would like it, versus life as it is (Burke 4-7). Van Allsburg's

work engages such categories as well, as all of his stories present situations that either

contrast the two or otherwise make the reader question the reality of either. Although of

unrelated genre, both authors seems to engage the ideas of the other. Van Allsburg in

ways elaborates Phillips' notions of boredom, escapism, and satisfaction, while Phillips

helps to clarify the complexities Van Allsburg presents in his closures and fantasies.

Phillips' and Van Allsburg's work both elicit disruptions in the psychoanalytic and

picture book traditions. Phillips, for example, writes himself in circles around his ideas,

such that while parts of his presentations are very striking, he is not as conclusive as

many readers might like or expect him to be. Van Allsburg's techniques create huge gaps

between the meaning of corresponding text and image, often leaving readers perplexed.

His narrative closures encourage the reader to question the meaning of his stories,

challenging the common tradition of separation-initiation-return often present in fantasy

or fantasy-like stories.

The importance of what Phillips and Van Allsburg accomplish cannot be discussed

without making specific their relation to the way we use language-to the nature of our

symbolic world. Both authors seem to move between the symbolic and semiotic worlds.

If, as Kristeva defines it, the semiotic can be seen as a "pulsational pressure within

language itself, in tone, rhythm, the bodily and material qualities of language, but also in

contradiction, meaninglessness, disruption, silence, and absence" (Eagleton 188) then

Phillips and Van Allsburg work within the semiotic, in efforts to "fracture the common

idealization of those images and signs which secure the status quo, and guarantee the









establishment" (Smith 16). This thesis explores the pressures placed by Phillips and Van

Allsburg on the language of psychoanalysis and picture books through the "contradiction,

meaninglessness, disruption, silence, and absence"that these two otherwise very different

narrative projects attempt to elicit.














CHAPTER 2
DISRUPTIONS AND DESIRE IN PSYCHOANALYSIS AND CHILDREN'S BOOKS:
ADAM PHILLIPS AND CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG

Publishing about one book each year or two, Phillips has contributed much to the

field of psychoanalysis. He began in 1989 with a biography of Winnicott, and has

continued with On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the

Unexamined Life ('93), On Flirtation ('94), Terrors and Experts ('96), A Beast in the

Nursery ('98), Darwin's Worms ('99), Monogamy ('99), Promises, Promises: Essays on

Literature and Psychoanalysis ('00), Houdini's Box: The Art of Escape ('01), and Equals

('02), among other edited works and essays. Phillips seems to be most well known for

his dual ability to separate and connect ideas alternatively. He looks for ideas not only in

society or personal life, but in literature as well. The New York Observer quotes him as

saying, "I don't have a line on psychoanalysis and literature. For me for all sorts of

reasons there has always been only one category, literature, of which psychoanalysis

became a part." It is perhaps not surprising that while once Principal Child

Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital in London, he is currently General Editor of

Penguin's new edition of Freud's works.

The Observer suggests that Phillips is interested in Freud from neither a

psychotherapeutic nor a literary critical standpoint, but from something in between and

more, from one caught up in the question of how to think about, define, and live a good

life. Influences of Freud on Phillips' work resonate throughout the whole of his writing,

as evidenced by endless references to Freud's life and theory. Terrors and Experts









discusses fear as a fantasy of the future, rooting this idea to Freud's Outline of

Psychoanalysis (1938). Freud's point that children fear of a loss of love from their

parents becomes the place from which Phillips claims that in wanting a future we must

suffer for it through such fears, but that this fear is also what keeps the future alive (50).

Promises, Promises admits that Phillips reads Freud as poetry of a kind which "[makes]

us more vivid to ourselves in our mistakes than in our competence" (370). It seems as if

these "mistakes" are the places that allow Phillips to enter discussions about

psychoanalysis. Much of his work centers around "mistakes"of sorts-flaws in our

competence and confidence. A listing of essay titles (not comprehensive) highlights this

interest: "On Being Laughed At," "Superiorities," "Against Inhibition," "Around and

About Madness," "On What We Need," "Making It Old," On Kissing," "On Tickling,"

"On Being Bored," and "On Eating, and Preferring Not To." Though often using Freud

as a starting point, Phillips is most interested in using such conversation to discuss the

way we imagine our futures, making a connection between the life we are living and the

life we desire to have.

Children's literature has always incorporated like conversation about our actual and

desired lives, though it has not been until more recent decades that these ideas have been

questioned and problematized. This is even more so the case with picture books.

Probably one of the best known picture books, Where The Wild Things Are, by Maurice

Sendak, first resulted in a "shift in our thinking and a revision of our expectations

concerning this art form" (Cech 110). Its departure from previous forms really occurs in

the perspective about childhood that it suggests, since it opened up a dramatic, even

frightful fantasy world that (at the time) was questioned as to its appropriateness for









children. That the child's world could be frightful was perhaps also suggested in earlier

picture books like the German Struwwelpeter and certainly in traditional fairy tales, but

the American picture book tradition did not commonly explore this theme. Where the

Wild Things Are opened a discussion about preferences and fears in works for children

that tie to the work of Phillips and Van Allsburg.

Where the Wild Things Are is a story about a mischievous little boy named Max,

who gets sent to his room (without dinner) for talking back to his mother. Here he enters

a fantasy world in which he becomes a king of wild beasts. Eventually he misses home,

and decides to leave. When he gets there, everything is back to normal, including a hot

dinner.

Phillips' recent book, Houdini's Box: The Art of Escape, discusses desire in the

form of escape-a similar kind of escape to what we see illustrated in Sendak's popular

book. Using the case history of Houdini and others, Phillips looks at neuroticism, games

like hide and seek, and magic tricks to uncover motivations to escape and be found. Hide

and seek, he suggests, is a play between the fear and wish of never being found. If we are

never found, we "win," but if we are never found, the game encompasses a sense of

failure. Escape, he contends, is always linked to a sense of failure, our fears arising out of

what we want to escape. In this way he suggests that suffering can arise from what we

want, because we are panicked by the thought of confronting it. This amounts to us not

wanting (trying to escape) something that has in actuality captured our desire. Phillips

asserts that we imagine our desire as something more real, and that by privileging it we

prefer what we fear (more so than what we seem to desire by escape). That fear in turn

gives its object power.









What does Max desire? Although Max had previously been in a state of anger and

discontent (we see a mad and frowning face in each of the pictures as he nails the wall

and chases the dog), when he returns, he has a smile on his face. During his fantasy, he is

free from the world that upset him. After his fantasy, though returned to the same world,

he is free from the feelings that plagued him. His relief and content is shown in the last

picture, where he takes off the head of his wolf suit for the first time, smiling and putting

his hand to the forehead as if he is grateful. Does Max's escape suggest that he prefers his

fantasy world of wild things, or does he really prefer the escaped world where

"somebody loved him best of all" and his dinner is "still hot"?

According to Phillips' ideology, Max may have wanted to escape the reality of

home life because he did not want to confront his mother or her expectations. He could

have actually preferred the approval from his mother, but, panicked by the thought of

confronting her or the wish of "being found," he escapes to a place which allows all of

that to disappear. Max's return would suggest this case. While in his fantasy world, Max

is living out his presumed desires of wildness and rage (presented at the beginning of the

story where he is destroying the house and chasing the dog). Eventually the escaped

world calls his memory, however, and he decides to return. Phillips would suggest that

there is a link between his preferences and fears, and that the things Max feared the

most-perhaps calmness, approval, love-were actually the things that he preferred or was

seeking, and that he attempted to escape because of his failure to attain those things.

The way Phillips describes the mechanisms of desire complexity our conception of

reality, making us question both what reality is and what we would like reality to be. In

Sendak's work, the closure seems to validate the preference of reality (Max's social









conditions)over escape or fantasy, but questions still remain. Was the fantasy world only

in his imagination, or was their something more real about it? And does that mean

anything? The last page, absent of any visuals, reads "and it was still hot" (referring to

his dinner), and seems to reinforce "reality," yet leaves us wondering if his fantasy might

have been part of a fantastic time-altered other reality. Visual clues like the plant on his

table and the changing phases of the moon throughout the story make us question

whether there might have been something more to his journey. Max is happy now, but he

is still wearing his wolf suit. What will happen next time he gets angry? Will he always

be "cured"through these kinds of fantasies?

Van Allsburg speaks to such issues as well, doing so primarily through the

interplay of text and image. Through illustrations, literally, he speaks to that sense of

tension described by Phillips as between the fear and wish of never being found.

Houdini's Box stresses Phillips' point that we are always wanting to be in the very state

of desiring. Houdini was an escape artist, someone always going back to the process of

escape after being found, as if caught between the fear and wish of never being found.

Houdini is described as someone who tries to get his audience to the moment of desire as

quickly as possible, thus privileging what he escaped from (the trick, which created the

desire) as more real than what he was escaping to (reality, which the trick was keeping

him from). Phillips questions whether it may have been the actual act of escape the thing

Houdini was escaping to in a kind of denial of "reality."

Many of Van Allsburg's picture books blur the distinction between fantasy and

reality. The determination of what results from the idea of escape gives rise to multiple

possibilities of meanings. Readers may wonder if Van Allsburg's characters desire the









experience of their fantasy or reality. Is there necessarily a distinction between the two?

Pascal once said, "We are never living, but hoping to live." Could it be that Van

Allsburg is hoping to live a more desired reality by merging actuality with imagined

fantasy? A book by counselor John Eldredge suggests this case. Titled The Journey of

Desire: Searching for the Life We've Only Dreamed Of, it asserts that we are "longing

for a life within us" that "seems incongruent with the life we find around us" (2). It

suggests that we wish desired moments could go on forever, and that although they can't,

not to search for them is the greatest tragedy. Phillips suggests that it is the very act of

desiring we wish could go on, agreeing that the absence of desire equates to failure.

Whether it is an object we are after or just the act of desiring it, Van Allsburg's books do

capture a certain fascination and perpetual interest. He is like an escape artist of

children's literature-always leaving room for more throughout his books, always leaving

us wondering at the end, and always returning to do it again: a literary Houdini.

In thinking about escapism as it relates to our identity or idea about what life

should be like, Phillips also holds that we can only be captured by what we have once

been or wanted to be. The way we question our identity, then, he also links to what we

desire-what we believe we can elude and what we perceive as inescapable. He addresses

our preferences as a "cover story for terrors" (Houdini's Box 63), so that by escaping, we

attempt to forget what we are escaping. Attempt to escape thus becomes the crime.

"What we are persuaded to believe is inescapable will be a fateful decision," (Houdini's

Box 97) because it will be the thing which holds power. To be in a constant state of

escape, then, is to be in a constant state of movement which Phillips concludes is

essential. He closes with the dualism that skepticism is a refuge from conviction, but









conviction is a refuge from skepticism, suggesting that we "glamorize the risk"

(Houdini's Box 162) of either one to avoid taking it. He leaves the reader with the

thought that there is no real freedom in actual escape, but that there is great exhilaration

in the idea of escape, and only the life without it would be true failure and imprisonment.

Van Allsburg, interestingly, engages such ideas about desire because of his talent

for making the extraordinary rise out of the ordinary. His play between fantasy and

reality is enabled by a combination of verbal and visual wit. His books work, as Ellen

Handler Spitz in Inside Picture Books suggest about the imagination, as a "gratification

of (sometimes impossible) desires," as a "provisional working through and mastery of

basic fears by means of fantasy" (Spitz 10). Peter Neumeyer labels Van Allsburg's feats

as "playful manipulation of the objective world" (Neumeyer 4). Certain visual aspects

like wide angles, high exaggeration, and eccentric linearity are present in his illustrations.

It's almost as if his pictures create a kind of surreal plainness that takes readers off-guard

or disorients them, as Neumeyer puts it. The illustrations don't stand alone, however.

An almost mundane writing style, combined with puzzling visuals, elicit the wonder. It

is as if his stories are trying to convince us to believe something that is unbelievable-and

are working. That his books hold the fascination of adult and child seems to come in the

tension between his dull text and extraordinary images. The "tension between the

ordinary and the marvelous" (Stanton 170) then itself becomes the central subject of most

of his books. He draws us into his spaces with a "gentle surrealism,"and unexpected

juxtapositions which create "unsettling provocative elements"-key moments when we

enter their suspension in time.









These moments in Van Allsburg's work become the gaps where the reader can

move in and out of the symbolic world. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick very vividly

illustrates how the silences and absences created by verbal and visual tension create a

place for the reader to step into, or perhaps disrupt, the story. The images and captions

estrange us from the way we understand reality, plunging us into a disruption, a semiotic

realm of sorts, where we must make our own reality. Though operating through the

existing mechanism of storybook, the book causes an absence of story which invites us to

create one, and to take a role in its purposes.

Mysteries is a collection of illustrations that, like Houdini, speak to our desire to be

caught in the "moment of endless suspense" (Houdini's Box 129). Each with an

accompanying title and caption, the drawings are ostensibly single representations of

stories that have remained a mystery resulting from an unlocatable author. As the

introduction suggests, "it is hard to look at the drawings and their captions without

imagining a story." The drawings are magnificent: most surreal, some very ordinary, but

each containing a juxtaposition with title and caption that creates wonder and

puzzlement.

The suspense in Mysteries occurs as a result of the juxtaposition of pictorial and

verbal elements, which undermine the credibility of either one as it stands alone.

Consider the drawing and caption in Mysteries titled, "A Strange Day in July." The

picture shows two children at a lake or sea side. Bright light illuminates the girl's dress

and sparkles on the water, making the scene idyllic and ethereal. The boy is throwing

stones in the water; all appears to be an ordinary day. The text, however, encourages the

interpretation that it is anything but an ordinary day. "He threw with all his might," it









says, "but the third stone came skipping back." Another drawing is titled "The Seven

Chairs." The caption tells us, "The fifth one ended up in France." This is not alarming

until we look at the picture. In a cathedral, two men are looking upward at a nun, who is

sitting in a plain wooden chair-and floating 50 feet in the air. The tension here stops the

action of the story. We pause, going back and forth from text to image, asking questions.

Why is the stone skipping back? Will the boy find out who or what is responsible? What

is special about the seven chairs? How is the magical floating incurred? The possibilities

of questions and answers are endless.

These are perhaps qualities which reflect our need for fascination and our desire to

be in a constant state of anticipation. As Houdini wanted people to always be wondering

where they would find him next, Van Allsburg wants people to wonder how his fantastic

stories will either lead or end. Like Houdini, he tries to "get away with things people

[can't] believe" (Houdini's Box 21).

If language, as Terry Eagleton suggests, "always pre-exists us...is always already

'in place'" (Eagleton 174), picture books necessarily enter this language through story.

They can disrupt language, however, by playing with sign systems. This kind of "play"

happens at the level of image and text, and is easily observed in Mysteries between the

relationship of the two. Each picture has an accompanying story, and yet the caption, the

ostensible clue to that story, often disrupts what we might have otherwise generated as

narrative. Neither the caption nor the picture might result in the same possibilities that

the interaction between the two opens up. This space allows readers to question, to

create, and to disrupt-to take part in the semiotic as a "pressure" within language.









Phillips seems to be describing a sense of escape and of absence that is indeed a

part of the human psyche, as Van Allsburg's work also attests. In his own writing,

Phillips leaves open the answers to many of the questions he poses, or plays with

language, talking himself in circles around a topic rather than moving towards an end.

Much of his work hinges on Freud's argument that there can never be an end, even to

things which have passed, and that answers to questions are often as baffling as questions

themselves. His books discuss the whys of everyday life, including our notions that we

should or should not be doing or desiring certain things. His answers, while suggesting a

better way for us to find our place in the world, do so only by talking around subjects of

contradiction, meaninglessness, disruption, silence, and absence-not by trying to define

them.

In his introduction to On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored, Phillips emphasizes

the role of psychoanalysis as necessary for cure. He suggests that it is not the cure to

problems, but necessary to allow a curing. He explains this by making an analogy

between psychoanalysis and surgery. Surgery cannot equal, but does facilitate or allow

healing. Similarly, psychoanalysis cannot equal, but can facilitate healing. As a surgeon

must know what the body is supposed to look like, a psychoanalyst must "already know

what life is supposed to look like" (On Kissing 2). He points out the irony that

psychoanalysts are experts, but only to the end of purporting that there are no experts on

life. Though the psychoanalyst may be an 'impossible' expert, he nevertheless has a

language of specialty. Psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts can help compare and mix

culture in a way that can help make our lives more interesting, though those interests and

culture are different for each person. It is less our specific interests than our desirefor









interest and fascination, however, which Phillips suggests fuels our decisions and actions.

Phillips not surprisingly then chooses to focus on the mechanisms of desire rather than

the mechanisms of particular neuroses or psychoses.

Why do Phillips' theories, not focused on mechanisms of desire found uniquely in

childhood, so vividly connect to the way Chris Van Allsburg illustrates these mechanisms

in picture books? Thinking of picture books, or any "children's literature" for that

matter, as items solely useful for the entertaining or understanding of children is a

hindrance to the discussion of both child and adult identity. As Jacqueline Rose has

pointed out, the idea that there is a unique body of literature for children is problematic.

Certainly "children's literature" is targeted for the child audience. But it is created out of

the desires of the adult, and as a result links the adult identity to the said "audience" of

the child. Virginia Blum's chapter on "The child of psychoanalysis" in her book Hide

and Seek discusses the availability of the child for observation and analysis, suggesting

that the "temporal and spacial location of childhood" (Blum 29) make it difficult to

understand the relationship between child and adult. This suggests that perhaps children's

literature and culture does not exist as a separate realm from adulthood, but rather

functions as a kind of relay between stages of life. For the child, of course, it is the only

way through which the world can be accessed. For the adult, however, it is an additional

way of relating, one which perhaps provides connections necessary for working through

childhood memories or experiences. The venues of communication (such as picture

books) that children's literature and culture make available are simply more

understandable for children; they do not necessarily communicate different things than

what happens or gets talked about in the "adult" world.









Picture books, which often work to disrupt the temporal and spacial location of

language through the dialectic of text/image, are perhaps framed for children because

they help fill this "temporal and spacial location of childhood," making it easier for the

child and adult to understand one another. It is also possible that this "temporal and

spacial location of childhood" is precisely why modes of fantasy proliferate in children's

literature. The temporal and spacial location of text and image in picture books

particularly contributes to the development of fantasy, which enters the narrative at gaps

and absences between the two. If fantasy, an escape of sorts, allows entrance to the

previously unseeable or the unspeakable, picture books could play an integral part of the

development of the human psyche.

Lawrence Sipe, in his article, "How Picture Books Work: A Semiotically Framed

Theory of Text-Picture Relationships," suggests that text-picture relations are based on

the "semiotic concept of 'transmediation'" (Sipe 98). He discusses Barthes' and

Nodelman's metaphor of "relaying," the idea that each takes on unique meaning because

of its relation to the other. This is dependent on both their temporal and spatial relation to

each other, which creates phenomenologicall dynamics," as we relate to the verbal and

visual texts. Because of this, the picture book invokes multiplicities of meaning that are

not often present in other narrative forms.

Sipe defines this "transmediation,"quoting Charles Suhor, as "the translation of

content from one sign system into another" (Sipe 101). It is precisely the movement

between sign systems that allows multiple sequences of meaning. These "triads"of object,

picture, and text, allow us to analyze the creation of meaning in any given story.









Although Sipe deems this mental process phenomenologicall," it is perhaps more

poignant to emphasize his resulting conclusion that in engaging us, picture books "give

children the opportunity to engage in an unending process of meaning... [allowing them]

to have multiple experiences as they engage in creating new meanings and constructing

new worlds" (Sipe 107). This is perhaps true for adults as well, acting as either reader or

writer.

The constant state of movement that Phillips asserts is essential to the human

psyche seems to drive the creation of the diverse meanings in Van Allsburg's work. The

play between reality and escape/fantasy happens at the level of text/image juxtaposition,

but also at the level of plot through the complexities of closure. A discussion of Van

Allsburg's fantasies perhaps more clearly explains this play.

Almost all of Van Allsburg's work walks on the line between the real and the

fantastic. Even in the stories that explicitly separate the two, a kind of interchange

happens, leaving open the possibility that a crossover has taken place. Ben's Dream, for

example, clearly displays that the young boy has fallen asleep, and is dreaming. This is

confirmed when a friend comes by to wake him up. However, when recounting that their

geography book had put her to sleep too, and that she had, "the funniest dream," his

friend said, "you'll never guess who I saw there." The boy Ben replies, "Me, standing on

my front porch, waving." When the girl is amazed, asking how he knew, he simply

states, "Because I saw you there!" (31). Readers are now unsure as to the solidarity of

the dream world. Was there just some kind of mental connection? Or is the geography

book really magical? Perhaps they were experiencing an alternate reality? The two

friends' shared memory at the end of the book crosses the gap between what is perceived









as the real and the unreal. But what do we do with this information? Taking examples

from the children in the book, Van Allsburg seems to be encouraging readers to accept

this merging, or reconstruct ideas about what is possible. On the last page, we see the

girl, Margaret, standing with her bicycle, and staring at Ben, who has nonchalantly

headed down the hill. Additionally, while Margaret had been amazed that Ben knew

about the dream, Ben did not seem surprised with the knowledge that they shared it.

Why the discrepancy? Perhaps it is a kind of display of the puzzlement we feel in many

of Van Allsburg's books, in the face of odd bridges and new possibilities. Perhaps

Margaret, the outsider, is like the reader, trying to come to terms with Ben, the insider,

who seems to have access to an understanding of the strange connections and dislocations

of the dream.

Another book about dreams, Just a Dream uses the dream/reality sequence to a

different end. Still puzzling, still leaving the reader to wonder how much of the dream

was "real," Just a Dream adds the moment of satisfaction. Here, a wasteful boy named

Walter discovers what a world without attention to the environment is like. He scoffs at

his next door neighbor's birthday present-a tree-and refuses to sort out recyclables from

the garbage. In a dream, however, his bed takes him to the future, where he sees a huge

dump where his street used to be. He sees smog instead of a Grand Canyon, a hotel on

top of Mt. Everest, and medicine factory that makes people sick, among other things. He

keeps hoping to return home, telling himself it is "just a dream," and finally wakes up in

the present. Making a turnaround, he sorts out the garbage and picks a tree as his own

birthday present. Finally, he has another dream. Returning him to a different future, this

dream has blue sky, flapping laundry, motorless lawn mowers, and two large comforting









trees-those he and his friend had planted years before. Here there is no endless moment

of suspense, though the tension between the real and unreal creates the element of desire.

The merging of the two is what seem to create satisfaction. Accordingly, Walter says, "I

like it here" at the end of the story, and drifts back off to sleep.

The tension between the real and the unreal both incites curiosity and allows desire

to be realized. In these worlds, preferences and fears are explored through fantasy (in

these cases dreams), providing movement through which desire can be played out.

Perhaps this is why Phillips suggests that there can be no desire without the idea of

escape (though it would also follow there can be no desire in only the idea of escape). If

this is so, then the truly desired thing can emerge as a result of our knowledge about

reality and escape.

What does satisfaction have to do with the closures of these fantasies? Phillips

suggests that satisfaction provides the comfort which serves as cure. What are we being

cured from, however, and does narrative satisfaction equate to curing? Houdini's Box

asserts that we can actually suffer from what we want. In that sense, perhaps curing is a

remedy for this suffering.

Consider Van Allsburg's Two Bad Ants, where characters face the dilemma of

desire and face the choice of escape. The two "bad" ants reason with each other, asking

"Why go back? This place might not feel like home, but look at all these crystals."

"You're right, we can stay here and eat this tasty treasure every day, forever." Their

decision proves treacherous. After surviving a boiling cup of coffee, hot toaster oven,

rushing faucet, garbage disposal, and electric socket, they manage to find their way back

to the group. This time they decide to do their part in carrying a sugar crystal back to the









hive. The story concludes, "They knew how grateful their mother queen would be when

they gave her their crystals. At that moment, the two ants felt happier than they'd ever

felt before. This was their home, this was their family. This was where they were meant

to be." While comforted by the return, the ants did seem to suffer, however, as a result of

trying to escape the thing they really wanted. Comfort equates to cure, as the ants

discovered something in the link between curiosity and release. Phillips suggests that the

realizations that happen between curiosity and release make such closures effective,

providing "knowledge as cure for our potentially demonic nature" (Houdini's Box 59).

Phillips does not theorize the idea of closure, but seems in his own writing to

privilege curiosity over release, as he rarely gives readers a chance to abandon curiosity.

What do we do with desire, if, in closure, there lies a deep satisfaction of the psyche?

Does satisfaction end curiosity and questioning? Does it always reinscribe us in known

reality? Does it end the act of desire? Van Allsburg's books very keenly illustrate

Phillips' sometimes confusing open-endedness. In Just a Dream, desire fuels the story,

but comfort only comes when the desire is attained, the "life we've only dreamed of,"

(Eldredge). This could be why Phillips describes the link between curiosity and release

as knowledge, a "cure for our potentially demonic nature." (Houdini's Box 59). Why

potentially demonic? Because desire which is unrealized or never satisfied can drive us

crazy. We become frantic, irrational, and even murderous. Like an itch which never gets

scratched, if it will not subside, it leaves us delirious. Van Allsburg's work accentuates

the "aha" realization of what is preferred as a comfort to characters and readers, while

leaving open space for further curiosity and questions.









The idea of escape can arise out of a dialogue between known or unknown

preferences and fears. Phillips describes times during which the desire simply to know,

to gain a clue as to where we begin to fit (to find this curiosity or desire for release), as

boredom. Bored children are the direct topic of conversation in his essay "On Being

Bored" in On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored. Certainly we are all familiar with

childhood spells of what we call boredom, described by Phillips as a state of "suspended

anticipation, diffuse restlessness...for an absurd and paradoxical wish, the wish for a

desire" (On Kissing 68). When we think of the child's world, both how we perceive it

and what is taking place internally, we realize that it so often associates significance with

intensity that there is (theoretically) little room for "more subtle feelings and moods that

much of our lives consist of'(On Kissing 68). Phillips contends that boredom is a

contention with the possibility of a child's own desire. It is being "preoccupied by lack

of preoccupation" (On Kissing 69). He extends this to the relationship of the child to

himself and others, since in growing up a child has the two-fold project of becoming self-

sufficient while developing through the use of others. But adults perplexingly often do

not know how to respond to boredom pleas, and disapprove of boredom with some notion

that the child's life should always be interesting. Phillips discusses this ideology of

interest and desire during the rest of the essay, and suggests that perhaps such absences

are times when our minds can be freed to find an object of yet undeveloped desire and

interest.

Asking the question of why people want to escape, and what they do after they

escape, Phillips suggests that the very hardest thing to escape is the wish to escape. Van

Allsburg answers these questions, at the same time showing how hard it is to resist the









wish to escape in his book Jumanji. In seeking release from boredom, the children's

"fear" of it becomes their excitement. Running outside to the park (while parents are

away), they discover a board game that later comes to life. Here again Van Allsburg

captures the tension between ordinary and unexpected; the picture shows a very ordinary

looking game with two very ordinary looking children facing it on opposite sides of a

card table. The text, however, reads in large print, "VERY IMPORTANT: ONCE A

GAME OF JUMANJI IS STARTED IT WILL NOT BE OVER UNTIL ONE PLAYER

REACHES THE GOLDEN CITY." As readers, we are not sure what to make of it. It

fascinates us because we cannot know what degree of strangeness is being suggested. In

cases like what these children face, when we wish to improve our position, Phillips says

the wish itself is like a transgression we commit in order to discover if we can actually

escape. This seems the case in Jumanji, although the end is ambiguous. The children are

very relieved to be able to quit the game-made-reality and settle back into the quiet home.

Other children (who never read the directions) are later seen running off with the game.

There seems to be some transgression in seeking the game, since they got themselves into

trouble, and since a sense of foreboding follows the children who have found the game in

the end, but there is also an ambiguity as to whether the children liked its solution to their

boredom and if they would ever play the game again. Whatever the case, Jumanji fits

well with Phillips' assertion that there is exhilaration in the idea of escape. Although he

insists that the idea of escape reinforces our belief in the real and its limitations, we are

left by Van Allsburg with the sense that there could still have been some feeling of

freedom in the act. In Jumanji, as in Two Bad Ants, without the picture of escape there is

no story.









Escape can reinforce belief in the real and its limitations, but it can also complexity

our interpretation of reality, depending on how it is presented. Sarah Gilead, in her

article, "Magic Abjured: Closure in Children's Fantasy Fiction," theorizes that the

closure of a fantasy can work to either reinforce or undo the "narrative work of the

opening" (Gilead 278). Closure is a "formal expectation" (Gilead 277) of sorts,

particularly in fantasy. If a character experiences a type of fantasy, we expect there to be

a return to "reality"-else the fantasy no longer functions as an escape. Gilead draws

attention to the aspect of closure, trying to identify what function the "return" might have

(aside from the traditional notion of return as part of the progression in initiation-

separation-return). She suggests that the return might "establish the hierarchy of

realities," but that it can also challenge them.

Gilead acknowledges one function of return as the "point at which the text most

dramatically turns on itself to reveal its duplicities and discords"(Gilead 289). The idea

of escape or fantasy, then, may work more to explore reality than to define it. This is

certainly the case with Van Allsburg's work, when, even after return, we are still not sure

of the distinctions between "realities" that the characters have experienced. Because

return can reveal "discords" of the text, even the presence of satisfaction does not

eliminate the possibility of desire. The idea of escape remains, even after the presence of

it is gone, which of course is necessary to create new fantasies. Van Allsburg's work

acknowledge the reality-ordering and reality-disrupting power of fantasy which, both at

the level of plot and through the juxtaposition of text/image, allows the character or

reader to explore desires and life possibilities.









Many of Van Allsburg's books seem to work against the notion of completeness or

satiation, even though they contain returns from fantasy. How about Just a Dream? Its

surrealistic qualities and blurred distinction between dreams and waking are certainly like

Van Allsburg's other work. But what about the ending? Just a Dream, unlike others of

Van Allsburg's work, seems to reveal the knowledge that the character has discovered

about himself-the knowledge of desire-in which he is able to find comfort. The same is

the case of the mischief makers in Two Bad Ants. Perhaps the author is comfortable

enough with the message of the desired object to be able to be able to reveal it as desired.

In this sense, Just and Dream and Two Bad Ants are perhaps more didactic than the rest

of Van Allsburg's books. We might still ask, "Was Walter's experience "just" a dream?

Was it really okay for the ants to be stealing all that sugar?," but these uncertainties are

inherent in all of Van Allsburg's books. The experience of complete satisfaction,

however, seems to be unique to these two books.

In others of Van Allsburg's books like Jumanji or The Mysteries of Harris Burdick,

the tension which creates intrigue is never fulfilled. Chris Van Allsburg, like Adam

Phillips, does not deny that fulfillment is possible, nor disregard the possibility of a clear

moral lesson. He acknowledges that the tension needed to create knowledge allows for

fulfillment. In most of his books, however, he does not seem comfortable with defining

satiation or morality for his characters.

These tendencies make sense if, as according to Phillips, we are always desirous of

being in the process of desiring, wanting to be in anticipation of something. Van

Allsburg, a Houdini of sorts, has become successful through knowing his readers like

anticipation, and continuing to produce it according to his abilities. If we never see









Houdini escape, however, what happens to our interest? Although we might always be

intrigued by his show, what would happen if he stopped escaping, leaving us without

resolution? Desire, as a process of both anticipation and release, then, is represented well

both in Houdini's final escape, and in Van Allsburg's peaceful closures. If we are always

in either anticipation or fulfillment, desire cannot exist, yet if we never access either,

desire tumbles upon itself, having little momentum. Van Allsburg, in portraying the "to

come" through the fulfillment of realized desire, reflects the contentment that is manifest

when we exist in that fulfillment. Like Houdini, and as Phillips theorizes, however, he

returns again and again to the idea of anticipation, knowing that fascination and desire

waiting to be fulfilled provides the most intrigue to readers.

Does fantasy simply provide the escape necessary to create fascination or to realize

desire? Gilead asserts that "fantasy channels rage into aesthetic or symbolic forms... [and]

replaces] violent emotion, [turning] destructive force into narrative energy"(Gilead 280).

Could we extend this possibility to other emotions? Although most of the examples seen

in Van Allsburg's work indeed deal with negative emotions like anger, boredom, or

frustration, there are certainly examples within the genre of children's fantasy that

suggest the same could be true of other neutral or even positive emotions. We might ask

the question of whether this is the case, but more importantly, we might wonder exactly

what purpose this "narrative energy" has.

Gilead goes on to discuss this energy using the example of Max's transformations

in Where The Wild Things Are. Here, narrative energy is the means through which Max

is able to conjure his fantasy world to begin with. In other words, his very desire for

escape, fueled by his emotion, allows the escape to take place. He then, through the









escape, is able to tame his transgressivee desires"(Gilead 281). His fantasy encourages

the "self-confrontation and exploration"(Gilead 281) necessary for him to order his

reality. Fantasy not only provides the means for him to explore his place in the system of

reality, but gives rise to an emotional release needed to work through fears and

preferences, building the identity and knowledge that will perhaps save him from his

"demonic nature." The mechanics of closure in fantasy help us to consider the multiple

ways we work through emotion and desire to deal with our world. Picture books, in

addressing life tensions through the unique interplay of words and text, can provide

access to these multiple pathways, allowing us to better understand our place in the

world.














CHAPTER 3
CONCLUSION

The fantasy or escape in these stories is often the point at which the story takes on a

sense of recklessness. Interestingly, this place, outside the ordered world or language of

the ordinary world, becomes a place that demands interpretation. Characters and readers

are forced to take control over new sign systems, which results in new meaning for their

world. The gaps in meaning created by the contradictions, disruptions, silences, or

absences of the narrative become sides where the character and reader can move in and

out of the symbolic world. Escape serves as a mode through which we access the

semiotic (those contradictions, disruptions, silences, and absences which we have no

language for), challenging the limits of the symbolic world.

Psychoanalysis typically aims to find meaning, coherence, patterning, and links

within an individual's life, and language does the same, trying to add these things to our

existence. Phillips, however, talks about meaninglessness, incoherence, and disjunction

that we experience in attempts not to add the completeness of these things to us, but to

help us understand what place they have and encourage us to discover the meanings they

are pushing us toward. Van Allsburg's books provide the same exploratory purpose,

creating unique ways to access these functions by working between the symbolic and

semiotic worlds. Phillips and Van Allsburg's disruptions seem to allow readers to

inscribe themselves in the language of psychoanalysis and picture books, rather than try

to define what this place should be. In exploring the disruptions, readers are taken outside

the symbols of the world as we know it to find meaning in the world as we would like it









to be, and even to discover the place of their desire, which may fall at any place between

the two.

Adam Phillips cannot answer to all questions about desire, but he does draw out the

significance of gaps between preferences and fear (discrepancies in what we want,

essentially). The movement between the two that he concludes is essential proliferates in

Van Allsburg's picture books, which perhaps even add something to Phillips' ideas.

Through Van Allsburg's examples, it appears that the suffering we experience as a result

of what we want can indeed be cured by the comfort we gain in the knowledge of fears

and preferences. Escape, or the idea of it, is a type of narrative energy that enables

knowledge. Once attained, however, though it comforts us, knowledge does not end the

cycle of desire. It may act as closure, which the cycle depends on, but it must also allow

a pathway for further exploration and meaning if the cycle is to continue.

The questions that Van Allsburg's picture books raise provide pathways for

continuing interest and desire. Phillips' theories leave questions that may at times be

frustrating for readers, but if we can turn the analysis around, using literature to interpret

psychoanalysis, it may be precisely this technique which provides the space for further

discussion and possibility. It should be acknowledged that readers perhaps are not

always interested in possibility, and can be set on attaining knowledge and very definitive

closure. It should also be acknowledged, however, that the human psyche thrives on a

continual cycle of desire which, if explored, can lead to previously unrealized pleasures

and meaning.















LIST OF REFERENCES

Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form. New York: Vintage Books, 1957.

Blum, Virginia. "The child of psychoanalysis." Hide and Seek: The Child Between
Psychoanalysis and Fiction. Oxford University Press, 1995.

Cech, John. Angels and Wild Things. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.

Eagleton, Terry. Ch. 5, "Psychoanalysis." Literary Theory: An Introduction. University
of Minnesota Press, 1983. 151-193.

Eldredge, John. The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We've Only Dreamed Of.
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. Inc, 2000.

Futrelle, David. Rev. of The Beast in the Nursery by Adam Philips. Salon.com 11 Feb
1998.

Gilead, Sarah. "Magic Abjured: Closure in Children's Fantasy and Fiction." Publications
of the Modern Language Association of America. 106.2 (1991): 277-293.

Promises,Promises: Essays on Literature and Psychoanalysis by Adam Phillips. The
New York Observer 26 March 2001: 27

Neumeyer: Peter. "How Picture Books Mean: the Case of Chris Van Allsburg."
Children's Literature Association Quarterly. 15.1 (1990): 1-8.

Phillips, Adam. Darwin's Worms. Great Britain: Faber and Faber, 1999.

Phillips, Adam. Equals. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Phillips, Adam. Houdini's Box: The Art of Escape. New York: Pantheon Books, 2001.

Phillips, Adam. On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored. Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1993.

Phillips, Adam. Promises, Promises: Essays on Literature and Psychoanalysis. Great
Britain: Faber and Faber, 2000.

Phillips, Adam. Terrors and Experts. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children's Literature.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.









Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are. Harper Collins, 1963.

Sipe, Lawrence. "How Picture Books Work: A Semiotically Framed Theory of Text-
Picture Relationships." Children's Literature in Education. 29.2 (1998): 97-108.

Smith, Anne-Marie. Julia Kristeva: Speaking the Unspeakable. Pluto Press, 1989.

Spitz, Ellen Handler. Inside Picture Books. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.

Stanton, Joseph, "The Dreaming Picture Books of Chris Van Allsburg." Children's
Literature. 24 (1996): 161-179.

Van Allsburg, Chris. Ben's Dream. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982.

Van Allsburg, Chris. Jumanji. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981.

Van Allsburg, Chris. Just a Dream. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

Van Allsburg, Chris. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

Van Allsburg, Chris. Two Bad Ants. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.















BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Brinly L. Standridge graduated with a bachelor's degree in English from the

University of Florida in 2000. Continuing at UF to receive a master's degree in English

in 2003, she specialized in children's literature and rhetoric and composition. Mrs.

Standridge plans to continue her writing and teaching career throughout her life. She is

happily married to Noah Standridge and has one child.