Exploring Un-Memories

I attended my first supervisory meeting yesterday with Francesca Rendle-Short, who is an Associate Professor at RMIT. She is the author of two books (a novel and a novel/memoir) and various papers. You can check out her work here. Anyway, we had our first meeting yesterday and I came away from it with a more tangible (and slightly changed) direction to my research. We discussed my desire to write the story of my subject, and Francesca suggested that exploring this desire, rather than simply doing the project and quashing my own thoughts about it for the sake of facts, might be a worthy project in itself and provide a sturdier, more ethical base on which to build the larger project of telling someone else’s story. She pointed out that if I really wanted to tell this story and have it published, it would be a project more than a year in the making, and the background aspect would be a valuable place to start.

I was initially resistant to this suggestion, wondering how it would be more ethical to start a project about someone else without asking them for their story? Upon reflection, though, it makes sense. The question I’d been asking myself was how could I tell this story truthfully. It would make sense to explore this question further and fully understand my own subjectivity before trying to apply it to circumstances involving ethical responsibilities.

SO, my slightly altered research question is something along the lines of:

In March 2011, there was an earthquake in Japan of magnitude 9.03, followed by a tsunami of 40 metres that travelled 10km inland, followed by the slow leak of a nuclear disaster. There was a consequent earthquake on social media documenting the events unfolding; a fragmented retelling. From the media’s silence in the aftermath, individual stories began to emerge from the rubble. Experiences, trauma. Due to a family connection to one particular survivor of this disaster who left for Japan ten years ago, I am interested in retelling this story of an earthquake. However, creative nonfiction is impossible to detach from subjectivity, fragmentation of truth and personal interest. My project will explore the implications (and ethics) of telling someone else’s story.

The idea is, in the context of my Honours project, I would explore my own subjectivity relating to the experiences of my subject and how they have formed the expectations and presumptions that I would take into our interview process and project together. Currently, I am caught in the state of not knowing. What are my memories of my subject, and what have I imagined in these past ten years of no communication? My project will form a memoir of sorts, in that it will be a collection of memories and the un-memories that come from silence and consequent projected images of someone I haven’t seen in the flesh since I was small. It will explore where our subjectivity comes from and how it can change our perceptions of other people. How our minds reassemble fragments of someone and the implications of this on the truth.

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