This second week has been made up of reading about (among other things) the concepts of knowledge, Japanophilia and reconstructing memories. It’s also been a week of discovering cool things other people have done, things that are famous and celebrated but also things I’ve never heard of before.
First up, this description from a memoir I’m reading by Dave Eggers:
…it was staring out at them, at the doctors, like a thousand writhing worms under a rock, swarming, shimmering, wet and oily — Good God! — or maybe not like worms but like a million little podules, each a tiny city of cancer, each with an unruly, sprawling, environmentally careless citizenry with no zoning laws whatsoever. When the doctor opened her up, and there was suddenly light thrown upon the world of cancer-podules, they were annoyed by the disturbance, and defiant. Turn off. The fucking. Light. They glared at the doctor, each podule, though a city unto itself, having one single eye, one blind evil eye in the middle, which stared imperiously, as only a blind eye can do, out at the doctor. Go. The. Fuck. Away.
Apart from the fact it describes the author’s mother’s fatal stomach cancer, isn’t that passage just the most amazing use of personification? In the passage above, Eggers doesn’t refer directly to his older self — as other memoirists do — to justify his portrayal of the situation. He doesn’t even write in first person. He has instead, through initially metaphor and then ultimately personification, taken an experience that wasn’t even his — and he’s made it talk to us. We can hear the cancer talking. (What? Cancer doesn’t talk. Does it?) As the reader, we aren’t questioning his accuracy. Because we have been struck dumb by the cancer telling our observer-eyes to ‘Go. The. Fuck. Away.’ In a memoir. A disease is talking to us, and we are listening. In this week’s Nonfiction lab it was recommended that I read Eggers, because apparently he has a good way of dealing with the unavoidable subjectivity of memoir. Yeah, he does — he doesn’t give his readers a chance to think about it.
Why is Japanophilia on my list? To be clear, this research has to do with my subject ‘Media and Communication Futures’, where we are exploring alternative cultures in Western society. I’ve chosen to look at Japanophilia — that is, people of Western background who have developed an obsession or a fetish with all things Japanese. I’ve picked this culture as I’m interested in constructions of identity, as well as the effects of international pop culture and media. Having read a few papers so far on this cultural development, I’m starting to understand the way the Internet has provided a new kind of communal space for subcultures that wouldn’t otherwise flourish, due to the participants’ personality types resisting face-to-face gatherings.
Having read too many research papers this week to remember, I think the one worth reflecting on is ‘The place of beauty in scholarly writing‘, in which Katina Rogers compares the content versus the presentation of creative research. ‘[Beauty] may be a core value to our scholarly enterprise; it may be a pleasant ancillary; or it may be a risky distraction,’ Rogers writes. She argues that true beauty will be ‘one part substance and one part signal’; the presentation will be aesthetically beautiful, but it also help the work affect the reader in exactly the way it was intended to. I think this is important to consider when writing both my project and my exegesis — I should continue to align my language use and literary techniques to the overall purpose of the project, and consider how it will affect an audience’s interpretations.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction, Lee Gutkind
The First Stone, Helen Garner
Our Father Who Wasn’t There, David Carlin
‘The Ecology of Identity: Memoir and the Construction of Narrative’, Luanne Aileen Armstrong
‘The Known World’, Ross Gibson
‘On Japanophilia: Collecting, Authenticity, and Making Identity’, Morgan Pitelka
‘Alternative Spiritualities, New Religions, and the Reenchantment of the West’, Christopher Partridge
‘Colonial Reminiscence, Japanophilia Trend, and Taiwanese Grassroots Imagination in Cape No.7′, Ivy I-chu Chang
‘An Apology for Form: Or, Who Took the Form out of the Process?’, Richard M. Coe
‘Ambiguity, the Literary, and Close Reading’, David Brooks
‘The place of beauty in scholarly writing’, Katina Rogers