Elizabeth Freeman Elizabeth Freeman

Keynote Speaker
The Book of Love is Long and Boring: Reading Aloud, Care Work, & Contemporary Children’s Literature
May 22, 2021

Professor of English
University of California at Davis

Key Note Address Description | The Book of Love is Long and Boring: Reading Aloud, Care Work, and Contemporary Children’s Literature

This talk considers reading aloud to children as a form of maternalized care that is coercive on both sides: coercive to mothers who are in charge of their child’s phonic education, and coercive to children for whom phonics necessarily closes off other hermeneutic possibilities. Through analyses of children’s picture books such as Go the Fuck to Sleep and The Cat in the Hat series, I take up Friedrich Kittler’s argument in Discourse Analysis 1800/1900, that children are “alphabetized” through a phonic discipline that leashes sound to the heterogendered maternal body as a source of wholeness and plenitude—and I extend this proposition to consider reading aloud as a scene of primal seduction, one that regulates the messy energies of the pictorial. But through On Beyond Zebra, I also explore what resistance to the alphabetic and to phonics might look like: not only like that book’s pictographic array “beyond” the alphabet but like a real child reader’s madcap, anti-phonic, potentially queer pairing of letter and sound.

Elizabeth Freeman specializes in American literature and gender/sexuality/queer studies, and her articles have appeared in numerous scholarly journals. She has written  The Wedding Complex: Forms of Belonging in Modern American Culture (Duke UP, 2002), Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Duke UP, 2010), and Beside You in Time: Sense-Methods and Queer Sociabilities in Nineteenth-Century America (Duke UP, 2019). She edited a special issue of GLQ, "Queer Temporalities" (2007), and edited that journal from 2011-2017. She is currently working on a book project examining the reading practices accompanying care work, a co-edited anthology, "Queer Kinship" (with Tyler Bradway, SUNY Cortland), and a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly, "Crip Temporalities" (with Ellen Samuels, U Wisconsin, Madison).

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