I have only ever introduced Tender Buttons to students after we've read and discussed Goodnight Moon, the book's project of nomenclature, the relationship between text and image and signifieds not signifying, as in the anthropomorphized, de-racialized rabbit meant to represent the story's "old lady," and, not least of all, that terrifying blank page of nothingness: "Goodnight nobody"! Now, after studying Nox with Joe and Ed (also preparing for exams), I've inserted Carson into my Brown & Stein lesson plan. The clear connection between Goodnight Moon and Nox has everything to do with the talking points outlined above, but also, of course, their shared struggle to reckon with the unknowability of night, and to reconcile its elusiveness with its allusiveness(es).
Regarding Tender Buttons, let us suppose, as Joshua Schuster does, that it may be a pedagogical misstep to teach "Objects" before "Food" or "Rooms":
It is common pedagogy to state that the first object, the carafe, in which the sentence 'The difference is spreading' appears, is meant as the flagship statement for the book when it was never meant to be so. . . .
Indeed, until now, I have participated in this pedagogical approach. On a more personal note, I even used the first subheading in "Objects" — "A carafe, that is a blind glass." — as the epigraph to my first book. So I am jarringly thrilled and inspired by the re-ording and expansion of my lesson plan:
- Goodnight Moon
- a brief return to Goodnight Moon
- and, finally, "Objects"
The move from Goodnight Moon into that first sentence of "Food" — "In the inside there is sleeping, in the outside there is reddening, in the morning there is meaning, in the evening there is feeling." — is almost unbelievably perfect, no? And the justification/excuse for mixing up the order of Tender Buttons becomes its own talking point, as Schuster suggests:
If 'Food' is first, the first sentence reads: 'In the inside there is sleeping [...].' If 'Rooms' is first, the opening sentence is: 'Act so that there is no use in a center.' Both sentences are about space, movement, and surrounding environs, rather than fixing central focus points. Furthermore, each of these three sentences implicitly argues that no sentence is primary or more titular than any other.
Leaving "Food" and its final subheading — "A centre in a table" — we would then enter Nox, where, fairly early on, Carson delivers this heartbreaking line: "We want people to have a center, an account that makes sense" (3.3).
This single utterance breaks open the book and provides several avenues into Nox's other concerns, its questions about the irretrievability of what is lost, lost in translation, lost in reading and interpretation, lost in life itself, and how elegy is history is night. And a mini-lecture, perhaps, on Derrida de-centering the center.
With this center-centered approach, we would then leave Nox and return to Tender Buttons, to "Rooms," which opens with: "Act so that there is no use in a center."
I know, right?
I think, too, it's a more seamless transition into "Objects," as we leave that final paragraph of "Rooms," which recalls Goodnight Moon as well:
A light in the moon the only light is on Sunday. What was a sensible decision. The sensible decision was that notwithstanding many declarations and more music, not even notwithstanding the choice and a torch and a collection, notwithstanding the celebrating hat and a vacation and even more noise than cutting, notwithstanding Europe and Asia and being overbearing, not even withstanding more cultivation and some seasoning, not even with drowning and with the ocean being encircling, not even with more likeness and any cloud, not even with terrific sacrifice of pedestrianism and a special resolution, not even more likely to be pleasing. The care with which the rain is wrong and the green is wrong and the white is wrong, the care with which there is a chair and plenty of breathing. The care with which there is incredible justice and likeness, all this makes a magnificent asparagus and also a fountain.
My God, I can't even begin to express how much I love that surprise ending, that "magnificent asparagus," oh, and "also a fountain," which feels like such an add-on, a lesser-than but equal-to strange afterthought, a possible amendment, perhaps due to the rhythmic insistence of the repetitions preceding it, the seeming force of sentences working together to build an argument. Rhetoric. Syntax. Meter. Play. Genre. Politics. Semantics. Hermeneutics. Historicism. And a whole shitload of assonance and consonance, and other Sonic Pleasures. We can talk about everything. Anything. Even nothing.
Especially nothing, as we return, briefly, to Goodnight Moon, to "Goodnight nobody"!, and to all those strange, defamiliarized and unconcealed objects we thought we knew so well. Recalling what it was like, long ago, to be actively learning language.
To be willing to unlearn, to be willing to try to learn again, anew, upon being presented with Stein's very different "Objects."
To turn objects into subjects.
To make it personal.
Are not all our buttons tender when pushed?
Tender, the care with which there is incredible justice and likeness.
. . . the choice and a torch . . .
Or a fountain of acceptance as we learn to appreciate difference.
. . . more cultivation and some seasoning . . .
Tender, then, our resignations to one another.
. . . terrific sacrifice . . .
. . . plenty of breathing. . .
Re-signifying why, and how, "The difference is spreading" is not simply a descriptive, declarative entrance into a confounding text, but a moral imperative for a new time, fraught with implications, bursting with possibilities, this source of optimism, this single sentence, a rallying force — a battle cry.