I am the concerned mother of our curious little five-year-old imp, Neno. Our Neno is in that age when he soaks up the world around him like a sponge. He has an infinite number of questions about everything—Mommy, why is this? Daddy, how is that? He is interested in everything! As hard as his father and I try, we do not have the answers to many of his questions, and, I'm sure you'll agree, some questions—usually about politics—are inappropriate for his age so we avoid answering those.
We became aware of the problem the day that his kindergarten teacher phoned us and said quite in panic that our Neno, the apple of his mother's and father's eye, was sitting in the corner reading a novel by Balzac. Needless to say, we hurried to the kindergarten and sat Neno over a cup of hot chocolate. To our gentle probing on who gave him that book, he confessed that he started reading Balzac at the suggestion of Lukacs, a Hungarian marxist criticist. In his little voice, he explained that Lukacs showed how literature can (I swear, those were his exact words) expose the truth about reality and that Balzac is one of the best at it. I swallowed hard and glanced at Daddy—none of the books on creative parenting had prepared me for this kind of situation.
From this day forward, his Daddy and I have been trying to entertain him away from those questions about reality. We take him to the movies, to sports practice, and Daddy even took him to an ice hockey game last weekend. Neno had fun and ate a hot dog. (We believe in allowing him to have some junk food occasionally.) But just as I was kissing him goodnight, Neno confided in me that he hadn't enjoyed hockey. Already falling asleep, he whispered to me that those kind of Anglo-Saxon capitalist spectacles do not entertain him in the least. (As you can see, his language level is far above his age.) I tucked him in and sat down to discuss it with his Daddy immediately. After a sleepless night, we decided to seek professional help.
However, our family pediatrician has never heard of these authors and is at a loss as to what to do. I suggested that we let Neno read Lukacs' works from his earlier, Hegelian phase, but his Daddy is against it because “it's all the same bunch of crap.” (I do not condone of this kind of language, and of course, I would never allow it in front of the child, but I chose not to censor it because it really illustrates the state we are in.)
Neno is due to start school next year and there is really no need for him to start spending his time in the unwholesome company of leftist literary critique already. If he's reading Lukacs now, who knows what's next? Marquis de Sade? Doctor, what should we do?
The concerned mother of Neno
Dear Mrs. Concerned Mother,
From both my professional and my own parental experience, I can confirm that your worry about the child of this age is the most natural thing in the world! Indeed, children start thinking about the world around them at the age of approximately five. They become interested in how the world works and they begin to ask endless questions, both to their mommy and daddy, to other figures of authority (daycare teacher, the friends in his daycare group who are older than him, social philosophers... ).
This is exactly the age when parents are faced with the problems of literary realism: children do not want to be read Andersen's fairytales, but insist on their parents reading them Realist novels and related literary criticism. Despite the large number of such cases, many pediatricians and educators are still not even familiarized with Lukacs, Bahktin, or even Dostoevsky. Yet another disgrace of our health system!
As far as Neno and his proclivity to the Marxist literary critique, there is really no point in forbidding this type of philosophy. Even though it is not “the same bunch of crap.” there are still countless theorists who are either Marx's predecessors, or have inherited Marx's theoretical apparatus. Given the situation, it may indeed be best that Neno is reading Lukacs, a well-mannered Marxist who has never made a reference to de Sade, Stalin, or to bad literature in general.
However, even if you allow Neno to read Lukacs, you must exercise caution! Lukacs believes that Realist novels portray reality through “types,” characteristic personas. Therefore, when reading Neno these books, try to avoid passages that might introduce him to some shady and nasty types!
Furthermore, Lukacs uses dialectical materialism in his analysis of literature. Dialectics is fine, but under no circumstances should you allow Neno to use it after 8 p.m. and without parental supervision. After 8 p.m., dialectics can only be tolerated if it comes in the form of vanilla and chocolate pudding.
Do not forget that your role as a parent is twofold: you must help your little son make sense of the world around him, but you also need to protect him from being faced with more truth than he can handle. So let Neno read Lukacs, but keep an extra eye on him while he is being introduced to reality through Marxist optics.