, Volume 44, Issue 3, pp 264-279
Date: 25 Nov 2012

Critiquing Calypso: Authorial and Academic Bias in the Reading of a Young Adult Novel

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Abstract

The position of authors of fiction in relation to critical discussion of their work is an unsettled one. While recognized as having knowledge and expertise regarding their texts, they are typically regarded as unreliable sources when it comes to critical analysis, and as partial witnesses whose personal association with the text is liable to influence their judgement. This article reconsiders that position, not by arguing that authors lack bias but by showing that bias is the normal condition of all critical reading and writing, whether by authors of fiction or by academic critics. I take as a case study my novel Calypso Dreaming (2002), comparing my own understanding of the text with a recent discussion by four influential critics. I argue that the rhetorical and methodological framing of critical discussion is a necessarily procrustean exercise, that may yield insights into texts but is also characterized by distortion and selectivity. Moreover, the conventional positioning of critics as “disinterested,” in contrast to “biased” authors, disguises the extent to which academic discussions are subject to the same personal and professional influences as those of other writers.

Catherine Butler is Associate Professor in English Literature at the University of the West of England. Her critical books include Teaching Children’s Fiction (edited, Palgrave, 2006), Four British Fantasists (Scarecrow/ChLA, 2006), Reading History in Children’s Books (with Hallie O’Donovan; Palgrave, 2012), and Roald Dahl: A New Casebook (co-edited with Ann Alston; Palgrave, 2012). Her critical work has been honored with a ChLA Article Honor Award, and a Mythopoeic Scholarship Award (for Four British Fantasists (Scarecrow/ChLA, 2006)). Catherine has so far produced six novels for children and teenagers, as well as some shorter works. She is an Associate Editor of Children’s Literature in Education.