A Dance for Three, 1979

The story goes like this:

And that’s it.

Ann Schweninger’s A Dance for Three (title “story” shown above) is a collection of 3 wordless tales. Key word: simple. And you could throw fanciful in there. But not straightforward. Definitely not straightforward.

Because, what happens to a picture book story when you take the words away? It’s still a story, as you can see above. But how does a reader get the story? Understand it? Each image is a puzzle piece to add to a bigger picture. A story is the whole of these pieces, a series of revelations ending with a moment where, hopefully, we “get it”. It’s only in retrospect that a story exists. Meaning is neither inherent nor obvious in its individual parts. In revisiting pictures, a reader can start to give meaning to individual moments, can understand each picture via the ultimate meaning of the story. At this point, concrete words can be given to each image. The wonder of the picture story is exactly how a reader must meander through finding a singular meaning and must entirely provide it themselves. Going through this process  provides a mirror where we can watch ourselves flounder through interpretation.

Since the problem with people is that we have to throw ourselves into everything we see, read, hear, experience, etc, a glimpse at this process of interpretation can be…enlightening. Don’t you think the words you find to tell this tale will be different than the ones I find? The picture story exposes subjective interpretation in the most obvious way.  Of course, it would be a mistake to think that this isn’t going on in any narration. Words are tricksters too. When we are given words to identify moments, we feel deceptively grounded in the fact of the moment. “His nose is growing.” That could mean anything. We don’t see where we’re going, but at least we think we know where we are. Shift the solidity of words a little bit, like Cortazar did with his Hopscotch (Rayuela), and meaning falls apart again and again. We the readers are the meaning makers. You and me, babe.

So, Ann Schweninger, what have you done with your little picture stories? Are you calling for the collapse of all singularity of interpretation? Are you raging against the monopoly of the written word and its solidity? Or, are you simply hearkening back to a time when it was alright for stories to change? To serve the subjective whimsy in the name of creativity, connection, and entertainment? Before the Truth and Righteous Concretization of the written word ruled the world…? Ah, but that is a rant for another date. Alsburg, the epic, and the oral tradition, soon to come, I promise…

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