Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self

Gish Jen. Harvard Univ., $18.95 (202p) ISBN 978-0-674-07283-1
In this thoughtful—and often witty—volume, Jen (Typical American) presents three essays that she originally delivered as lectures at Harvard University in 2012. Jen, whose novels often deal with questions of ethnicity and identity, has created a self-described “mix of memoir, cognitive studies, literary analysis, and reflection” that tackles the interplay of culture, writing, and the tension between the Western concept of the “independent, individualistic self,” and the Eastern concept of the “interdependent, collectivist self.” In the first essay, Jen uses her father’s autobiography (written when he was 85) as a lens through which to compare differences between Western and Eastern narratives of the self. The intriguing second essay more broadly addresses both cultures, and includes a fascinating scientific exploration about how the brain perceives and retains memories of events (the basis of the self-narrative), along with one of the book’s more lyrical moments as she discusses the Westchester library of her youth. The third essay focuses on her writing and development as a writer. Meant for an academic audience, there is some thorny jargon, but Jen raises important questions about how we fashion our own stories and how cultural differences influence that process. Jen’s humorous interjections throughout the text give a sense of how warm and engaging her lectures must have been. 22 halftones. Agent: Melanie Jackson Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/24/2012
Release date: 03/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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