Yesterday was a little weird, in that I managed to make cookies (cranberry/white chocolate chip and molasses spice) but didn't manage to do anything on my post-co paper until 11:30 at night. I had given up on getting anything done on it long before because I wasn't feeling well and was very mentally scattered. But somehow, after lying in bed for a while trying to get to sleep, I realized that what I really wanted to do was get up and scribble down some thoughts about it. And I did, and I felt better, and *then* I fell asleep.
I had planned on writing on Shyam Selvadurai; about some of the choices he makes in his writing, about ethnicity and authenticity and the right to representation. But the more I thought about him and his work, the more it came back to me (yes, yes, it's *all* about me :-). I didn't feel comfortable trying to assess what he was doing until I understood better what I was doing, and what I felt I had a right to do. So I started drafting a few thoughts on that. They went like this:
I am a hybrid, immigrant daughter of two high-caste Sri Lankan immigrants, adopted by America at age two, and thus some would expect that I would be able to speak for both Sri Lankans and Americans, to act as translator between them. There are few Sri Lankans, especially women, writing in English, and I find that when I speak of things Sri Lankan (or South Asian), when I create a fictional character who is Sri Lankan, an authenticity is assumed; I have great credibility by virtue of my background. And at the same time, my American audience feels empathy for my characters because their concerns are familiar to them; they are not so alien that that an American reader would put the book down, bewildered. Katie Coles recently said in workshop, of one of my stories, that it was obviously written for an American, not Sri Lankan, audience. This is true. So my ethnicity and cultural heritages have thrust me into the role of the hybrid translator; I am assumed to be the middle between two sides. (see Homi Bhabha and his thoughts on hybridity; also see Gayatri Spivak and her question of 'can the subaltern speak?')
This is already a complicated position -- hybrids actually speak their own language, not that of either originary speakers -- (problems of this, possibility for our function as a shattered lens/mosaic/bowl? getting enough insight from the pieces that are familiar to be able to make the mental leap to envision the strange piece of glass that made up the original? Or at least tell that it was a bowl, if not the actual shape of it?)
But what complicates it further is that I do not stand in the middle at all. I am on the fringes by anyone's definition -- bisexual, polyamorous, sexually explicit, unmarried, etc. What does that do to my perspective? How useful is it for translation between Sri Lankan and American? Is it at all? What am I trying to do with my Sri Lankan-American fiction, if not to serve as translator? For whom? (Americans only?) And what does my extreme outsider perspective give me, and what does it bar me from?
This is as far as I've gotten. I sent it to a few friends, and Jed and Kevin sent back some useful thoughts already. I'd appreciate more -- if any of you have any ideas -- however random and/or fragmented -- in response to the above, please e-mail me about it. I'm in class until 2, but from then 'til 7 I'll probably be working on this (or grading). Ditto tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday. :-) I suspect this paper will be taking over my brain for the next four days.
It does feel a little self-indulgent to be writing about myself in this paper. But there's a fairly long tradition of this kind of thing -- what's called auto-ethnography in the social sciences is similar, as is what Gloria Anzaldua does in her Borderlands. And it seems to suit my mind better, at the moment, than a dry critical analysis of some other writer. I also think I'd be able to do a better job on the Selvadurai piece, which I still want to write, *after* next semester, because by the end of next semester I will theoretically have a much stronger grounding in Sri Lankan history. That's the plan, anyway. I'm supposed to start that over break, actually -- I have to remember to find a copy of K.M. De Silva's A History of Sri Lanka, to read over Christmas. It's supposed to be good. If any of you want to read along with me in my directed readings course, giving yourself a familiarity with Sri Lankan history, let me know. I'm happy to keep posting titles here as I work through them. I'll probably read about ten books next semester on this.
Anyway, academic ramblings. Hope they don't bore you to tears. I would tell you about my exciting sex life except it's not that exciting these days. Well, not compared to when I was in college. Well, it is, but not in the same ways. It's much more stable. And even if it were exciting, I have to admit that I probably wouldn't tell you about it anyway. So I guess I'll just have to hope that you find my academic thoughts at least moderately exciting instead. :-)