Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self

Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self

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by Gish Jen

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Drawing on a rich array of sources, including her father’s striking account of his childhood in China, Tiger Writing not only illuminates Gish Jen’s work but explores the aesthetic and psychic roots of the independent and interdependent self—each mode of selfhood yielding a distinct way of observing, remembering, and narrating the world.See more details below


Drawing on a rich array of sources, including her father’s striking account of his childhood in China, Tiger Writing not only illuminates Gish Jen’s work but explores the aesthetic and psychic roots of the independent and interdependent self—each mode of selfhood yielding a distinct way of observing, remembering, and narrating the world.

Editorial Reviews

Junot Díaz
Gish Jen is the Great American Novelist we're always hearing about, and in Tiger Writing she delivers a profound meditation on the divergent roles that storytelling, artmaking, and selfhood take on across the East-West divide. Penetrating, inspired, and, yes, indispensable.
Maxine Hong Kingston
In a magnificent feat of integration, Tiger Writing honors the becoming of the Chinese American writer. I am proud, proud, proud to share ancestors-and the novel and the world-with Gish Jen. Oh, and the wonderful faith-that the novel can be learned!
David Damrosch
Blending family memoir, cultural criticism, and reflections on her own life as a writer, Gish Jen makes a compelling case for the novel as a meeting-ground of typically American themes of independence with classically Asian ideals of interdependence. Tiger Writing is a rare case of a book on writing that itself is a joy to read.
Amanda Claybaugh
How to balance the competing claims of social order and self-determination? It's a question that all novelists must grapple with, and Jen, drawing on extensive research in the social sciences as well as her own vividly-rendered biography, gives us an entirely new answer. The result is a strikingly original--and compellingly personal--account of the novel as a genre.
Gary Shteyngart
Tiger Writing is both precise and intimate, a terrific contribution to our understanding of the artist's lot in the East and in the West.
The Hindu - Murali Sivaramakrishnan
Tiger Writing is a remarkable achievement on account of its sobriety and unique perception of difference between what Gish Jen considers as the West and Asian narratives...Her sensitivity to her own roots and the transparency with which she focuses on these textures is what makes Tiger Writing remarkably interesting...Gish Jen's translucency as a novelist with an astute critical sense is that which leads us through the pages of this extremely interesting narrative. Tiger Writing is thus at once a text of critical exploration and a manifesto.
Boston Globe - Kate Tuttle
Probing, precise, and extremely thought-provoking, this is a small volume about big ideas.
Shelf Awareness (starred review) - Jeanette Zwart
Gish Jen's elegant and wide-ranging Tiger Writing...explores the differences between Eastern and Western ideas of the self in fiction and culture, and why they matter...Tiger Writing is physically beautiful--printed on ivory paper with photos throughout, intimate in the hand and a pleasure to touch and hold. It seems fitting that a book about writing, connection and culture provides such a full sensory experience. It is a perfect metaphor for its contents.
Choice - M. L. Jackson
Jen weaves together examples of the interdependent views that influenced her and how she came to be a novelist--an independent thing. She addresses the notion of culture with a small c and a capital C. In addition, she discusses the blurring of inter/independence in negotiating narrative and life. The notes following the lectures are well worth reading for their nuggets of information.
Library Journal
Novelist Jen (Mona in the Promised Land) compiles three pieces originally delivered as special lectures in 2012 at Harvard. She compares the Western with the Eastern interdependent self, and in her first essay, uses her father's autobiography to demonstrate this contrast and its implications for self-narrative. To a Westerner, her father's description of his childhood home contains many seemingly trivial details about the structure itself, with scant information about the individuals living there. But for him, Jen notes, the power structure of his world, as defined by the structure of his house, was most important. In her second essay, Jen discusses studies that measured perceptual differences between Easterners and Westerners. The studies found that, when presented with a passage to read or a photo to view, Easterners typically remember things holistically, whereas Westerners tend to focus on distinct aspects. Jen's third essay discusses her own writing and provides a look inside the mind of a writer who must often navigate between Western and Eastern thought. VERDICT These pieces are as entertaining as they are insightful. Jen's readers will undoubtedly love them, and those new to her work should consider them as well.—Mark Manivong, Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC

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Product Details

Publication date:
The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization, #2012
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.50(w) x 7.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Lecture 1: My Father Writes His Story

In 2005, when he was 85, my father sat down to write a personal narrative. This begins simply: “It is few days before my 86th birthday. I am writing my personal history for my family.” As for what follows, it is not elaborate. And written over the period of a month, and totaling 32 pages, it does not begin à la David Copperfield with “I was born”; in what we will come to recognize as true interdependent style, my father does not, in fact, mention his birth at all. We do not hear how much he weighed or whether he peed on the nurse or anything of the “the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously” sort. In fact, he does not even give his birth date until page 8, when he includes “Norman Chao-Pe Jen, June 26, 1919” in parentheses.

Instead he begins: “(1) Ancient History,” drawing his information from his family genealogy book. This is an item those of you who have read my novel, The Love Wife, may recognize as the bait with which Carnegie Wong’s mother, Mama Wong, gets Carnegie to take in a woman who appears to be a second wife. It is the sort of genealogical record that was traditionally kept by any family who could afford to do so, and was of course always prized – but never more so than now, what with every book that survived the Cultural Revolution having done so by a miracle. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s family genealogy book, for example, long hidden inside a wall, was found during a home renovation; and my mother’s was found when Shanghai families whose things had been confiscated during the Cultural Revolution were allowed inside a warehouse with the idea that if you could find what was taken from you, you could reclaim it. I don’t think you have to be a novelist to imagine the piles of stuff, and the crowds and the chaos, and the despair with which people like my aunts pored through the heaps. Finally, though, my youngest aunt simply stopped and, closing her eyes, prayed to our ancestors to help; and when she opened her eyes and turned around, there, right at eye level, was the family genealogy book.

My father’s family was less lucky; the physical book itself did not survive. A copy of it, though, did, thanks to the Japanese, who for reasons perhaps related to their use of the Jen family compound as their regional headquarters during their occupation of China, preserved one in a Japanese library.

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