Reinhard Kuhn: Corruption in Paradise: The Child in Western Literature; Boston University Press/University Press of New England; Hanover, NH.

Presumably, since every adult was once a child, all adults should understand childhood. Somehow, however, the child remains a profound mystery to anyone who has left childhood. Trying to wrest understanding and utilitarian control out of that mystery, sociologists, psychia­trists, and pedagogues have amassed endless statistics, charts, graphs, theories, and tabularized parameters for chil­dren’s behavior. Only the most childishly gullible suppose that these reductive methodologies actually fathom the meaning of life in the nursery.

In Corruption in Paradise the late Reinhard Kuhn pours well­-deserved scorn on those who use a phony “model of the child constructed and dissected by scientific discourse” often linked to “a radical political vision in which the family structure…is destined for abolition.” A better approach to understanding child­hood, Professor Kuhn believes, is one “that resolutely asserts the primacy of literature as a cogni­tive tool. “Not that the view of children that literary artists offer is clear-cut or precise. On the contrary, childhood in literature remains an enigma; poetry and fiction explore but cannot finally resolve its ambiguities. A few writers, Kuhn acknowledges, have simplistically asserted the absolute goodness of children, have demonized civilized maturity, and have invoked “the platitudinous pieties of lib­erationism,” but most have been more cognizant of the uncertain­ties and perplexities surround­ing the young person. What Kuhn finds almost the whole tradition of Western literature saying unitedly, however, is that “the child has always been more or less central to human con­cerns.” The disturbing exception to that generalization is the modern novel in which “a door has indeed been closed on children.” If, as Scripture avers, children miraculously help point the way to the kingdom of God, then adults who create such child-excluding works must be enroute to some other destina­tion. (BC)