Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Weekends are Difficult: Elephant & Piggie Edition

...& it represents postmodern death-denial
Over-thinking, over-analyzing, taking the fun out of reading. There are a lot of negative associations with intellectual, academic interpretation and deconstruction, with having to crank out a five-page paper about a book you love or feeling pressured to throw jargony words around in class, and I do agree, there is a lot of joy and value in just giving yourself over to a book, turning off the part of your brain that asks questions and submitting yourself to the events, images, and emotions of a book. That said, and maybe I'm just kind of a weirdo, but I think deconstructing and over-analyzing something can be, well, fun. To me, it's an exciting and challenging exercise to see just how far I can stretch the meaning of someone else's words. And, to be honest, I think there's a point where super literary critical language starts getting, well, funny. It can land in this very strange, and, to me at least, entertaining zone that is equal parts eye-rolling sarcasm and wide-eyed sincerity. You're able, simultaneously, to poke fun at and celebrate the almost limitless potential for meaning contained in even the simplest collections of words.

So last Saturday, a customer came in and said, "I don't know anything about the book I need, just the names 'Gerald' and 'Piggie.'" Of course, that was more than enough information for me to lead him to the section with Mo Willems' absolutely brilliant, staff favorite, Elephant and Piggie series. But the phrasing of the customer's question snagged in my brain, just enough to lead me to wonder on Twitter:

The real question is, Why is Gerald nominally self-actualized while Piggy is indelibly tethered to species-level identification?

Or to put it in a less Josh-sometimes-likes-to-write-about-silly-things-in-the-voice-of-an-over-the-top-literary-critic, why does the "Elephant" in "Elephant & Piggie" have a name, but the "Piggie" doesn’t? The exploration continues:

Paradoxically, identity-stability undergirds identity-fluidity
Or, is Piggy asserting a politics of identity fundamentalism that Gerald eschews, or objects to, through nomenclature?
Apparently, I wasn't the only one asking the question.:

Kazia Berkley-Cramer ‏@cateyekazia I have actually thought about that a LOT and still have no answer.
Nor was I the only one offering potential answers.

Alexander Danner ‏@alexanderdanner Piggy's rich internal life obviates such limitations (e.g. I Am a Frog). Gerald's human nomenclature masks deep insecurity.

Which lead me to speculate:

@alexanderdanner Gerald does experience anxiety in a way Piggie doesn't. Maybe he retreats to "Elephant" when "Gerald" becomes stressful.
Or perhaps it goes in the opposite direction: "Gerald" represents a permanent retreat from a traumatic event suffered as "Elephant."
Which raises the possibility of a pre-narrated "Elephant & Piggie," a "Gerald origin story," if you will, not shared, by Piggie or with us.
But I was far from finished mining this vein of consideration:

One could argue this has more to do with plot than anything, raising the possibility that there could be an "Elephant" that is not Gerald.
Although, as our friends at Politics & Prose point out, the opposite is, in fact, true.

P&P Kids and Teens ‏@KidsandProse This becomes even stranger when you consider we've met other pigs, but not a single other elephant.
P&P Kids and Teens ‏@KidsandProse  The pigs even have their own DAY, while Gerald has no elephant community at all.
The key to friendship is changing "on you" to "ennui."
P&P Kids and Teens ‏@KidsandProse Piggie claims a pig identity because she knows what it means, whereas Gerald has no frame of reference for elephant identity
And this all before leveraging any of the canonical interpretive structures and expanding the consideration to other works in the Willems canon, as Lynne Doncaster points out:
LynneDoncaster ‏@LynneDoncaster Are we going to explore a Freudian analysis of Pigeon's hot dog obsession?
Fear not! The Lacan reference did follow the Freudian question. (Who says I don't know how to have a good time!)
Actually, the hot dog functions as a Lacanian transcendental signifier, or as Freud said, Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Of course, as I described above, the point of this kind of intellectual exercise isn't necessarily to determine definitive answers to our questions but to explore possibilities. This is an act of free play in the void bounded by an agreed upon foundational text. That said, I think we made progress towards a more stable understanding--with its own interpretative potential--by borrowing terms from another critical lexicon.
One could easily also apply the Unified Theory of Muppets to Gerald & Piggie. Gerald=Order Muppet Piggie=Chaos Muppet.
Narrative requires conflict, conflict is a function of chaos, thus, Piggie almost always asserts agency as the subject in the titular phrase
The conflict is resolved through the interactions btw chaos & order, as Piggie interacts with Gerald. It is important to note…
...that this is an "interaction" not a "competition" so conflict is not resolved by the supplication of chaos to order but through…
...order & chaos finding accord in a dynamic yet stable relationship.
Duh Perhaps it's "Gerald the Elephant" & "Piggie" as in "Kermit the Frog" & "Miss Piggy." "Piggie" is just the child version of "Miss Piggy"

Yes, "Duh," is a high specialized, highly technical critical term derived from Deleuze & Guattari's Thousand Plateaus. (The fun! It just, it just won't stop!)

And, of course, the result is not some kind of finality, but rather, an impetus for further intellectual exploration, which means there was only one way to close out our discussion.

NO! Tear not the the veil from my blissful ignorance
Well, now it has become clear that someone needs to write the bildungsroman of Piggie becoming Miss Piggy. "Gerald, I want to be a star!

Sure, it's little ridiculous to use this kind of language in relation to a book designed to help teach literacy to young children, but I think that ridiculousness is exactly what makes this kind of thinking so much fun. And besides, exploring the identity politics of "Piggie" and "Gerald" as proper character names in the context of the series title "Elephant & Piggie" is way easier to teasing out the interpretive threads of author/reader relationships in the context of meta-fictive exercises in which the very concept of "talking back to the text" is inverted, present in We Are in a Book.

No comments:

Blog Archive