Further Reading: spring 10

Further Reading Presentations

We are focusing in this course on the art and craft of autobiography. This is a genre not just about the self, but about writing the self, crafting the self in a text. In the tradition we are exploring, all of the autobiographers are writers and are in some form stories about becoming a writer.

Our studies into the craft of these autobiographies can be enhanced by doing some further reading into these writers and their craft outside the book we are reading.  You will present in class some basic research into the writer you have been assigned; you will also initiate discussion into some element of this writer’s biography and/or craft that is of interest and that might provide some context for the book we are reading.

Here are the guidelines:

  • Find and provide a brief summary of an additional text by the author: a story, essay, or chapter from a larger book, an interview with the author.
  • Make note of any elements of style or craft or particular topics in this further reading that might compare/contrast with the text we are reading: further evidence of how the writer writes and thinks that we can apply to our reading.  Identify an element or passage in the class text that you want to highlight for comparison in class discussion.
    • For example: you read a short story by Wolff, or perhaps a chapter from his Vietnam memoir, or an interview–where the issue of violence and attraction to guns comes up; you make and show us some connections you see with This Boy’s Life, how he writes about and around this issue, thinks about it as a writer.
  • Sketch out some questions or points to raise for discussion.  Write this up into a 1 page overview and post to this Further Reading page (click ‘leave a comment’ and copy your sketch into the comment box); post before your class presentation. The presentation/discussion will be around 5 minutes. If you desire, you can combine your efforts with another person also scheduled to present on the same day.

Schedule for the Presentations:

2/3 (Wolff, This Boy’s Life):

Kevin, Jordan, Brendan, Kate C.

2/24 (Cary, Black Ice):

Danielle, Melissa, Steve E., Kristen

3/5 (Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely):

Lisa, Ryan, Jackie, Travis

3/29 (Momaday, The Names):

Tory, Dave, Paige, Kelsey

4/7 (Shelley Jackson or other versions of digital autobiography):

Sara M., Mike P., Kat, Gussie

4/14 (Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted):

Laura, Kristine, Sarah T., Chelsea, Stephanie

Advertisements

19 thoughts on “Further Reading: spring 10

  1. Hunters in the Snow
    By: Tobias Wolff

    What is Wolff searching for? In his short story Hunters in the Snow the main characters go on a hunting trip and an accident occurs, ending up in one of the hunters acts out in anger and embarrasment shooting another out of “self defense”. After apologizing for the misunderstanding, Tub (the shooter) and Frank drive Kenny (the shot) to the hospital. Along the way, with Kenny bleeding on their lap, Frank and Tub have a heart to heart in the beat up junker of a truck. “Nobody knows. That’s the worst of it, Frank. Not the being fat, I never got any big kick out of being thin, but the lying. Having to lead a double life like a spy or a hit man. This sounds strange but I feel sorry for those guys, I really do. I know what they go through. Always having to think about what you say and do. Always feeling like people are watching you, trying to catch you at something. Never able to just be yourself. Like when I make a big deal about only having an orange for breakfast and then scarf all the way to work. Oreos, Mars Bars, Twinkies. Sugar Babies. Snickers.” Tub glanced at Frank and looked quickly away. “Pretty disgusting, isn’t it?”
    It seems a similar pattern is found in the autobiography This Boy’s Life. In this story Toby is lost, his identity unknown and undefined. He acts out and steals things for the thrill of being someone he is not. “I hid the things I stole. Now and then I took them out and turned then over in my hands, dully considering them. Out f the store they did not interest me, except for the jackknives, which I threw at the trees until the blades broke off.” (p 62) It seems Wolff finds both Tub and Toby to be at totally separate stages of life, but in the same undefined state of being. Toby and Tub both must lie to themselves and others and feel compelled to create alternate egos to satisfy a personality that they cannot define themselves.
    My question is what is it that Wolff is trying to demonstrate through these two characters? Why are these to people so lost that they feel more comfortable creating a new persona than finding and defining their own? Perhaps it is because if the would reflect on their own personality and life they both know they would hate who they are, for example a fat middle aged man who has never been in love, or a young and homeless boy without a father. In other words, Wolff could be displaying the internal struggle each character undergoes to come to terms with their identity. Wolff may be displaying the ultimate search for ones identity in this way, which leads me to ask, is Wolff also in search of himself through his lost characters?

  2. In reading, Black Ice, Lorene Cary has explained to us that she is an advocate for black rights and wants to become a part of the “unruly” conversation about being black in America. She continues to become a part of the “unruly” conversation through her website where she has several articles that she submitted and that were published in Newsweek, and Inquirer Magazine. One of her articles called, THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE: The journeys of a black prep-school graduate. In this article she talks more about her experience going to St. Pauls and how it was a personal journey that was mentally trying because she had to let go of the “the ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ view of American culture where the really important ethics like cigarette lndians wait behind separate doors” .She explains that she learned about the conflicts between herself and her classmates and teachers but she could not express her frustrations clearly until she read what a famous Swiss psychoanalyst, Alice Miller, had to say about writers. Lorene tells us that, “In order to draw on their store of unconscious aspiration, Miller wrote, some writers tap a cup of poison at the source, which they take to be the wide ocean beyond”, and she realizes that only she can tap into this poison, that no one can help or guide her through it. She doesn’t tap into her poison until she has graduated and is separated from St. Pauls. The inspiration for writing Black Ice, is obvious, but I wonder where her inspiration comes from to write her other stories about embracing the history of slavery, and a little girl who recalls her brave story about escaping slavery and the underground railroad? And how can she further add to the “unruly” conversation in other ways other than her website? Does she lecture about her views on race and race equality?

  3. Jackie Kelly
    Further Reading

    I read an interview that was between Jennifer Fleischer and Robert Caspar and Claudia Rankine. The interview was very interesting. She is asked many questions about herself as a writer such as how she feels as a woman writer, or how she feels as a black writer. She is asked various questions about her books and writing, but the question that caught my eye the most, and that seemed to keep popping up, was this question of form and content. Rankine is asked what she thinks the relationship between form and function, and her answer is “form has everything to do with content.” She goes on to talk about how when she was writing her story that she wanted to write in a form that would allow her to express the feelings that she could not always express with her words. At first when I opened the book, I had no idea why it was set up like this. Most books are just broken in to chapters and have full pages of text, so I did not really know how to respond to the form she used to write Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Once I realized that she wrote the book like this for reason, it became clear to me that every space and picture had a meaning. When I read a book that is page by page filled with text, I don’t always stop to think about important things that the author might bring up because my eyes just want to keep reading. However, with Rankine, she brings up major topics in her short writings on the page, and then leaves half of a page blank. It gives the reader a chance to think about what she has said on the current page before they go on to the next page. Even her title page says Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, in small print by itself on the page. Rankine uses so many different elements when she is writing. Another one of the forms she used to make the reader truly understand what they were reading was her use of photographs and televisions in the book. When asked she said that one of the main themes of her book was about the media, and that people did not understand how they were all connected. I think it is interesting that she does not just talk about the media, but she shows the media by incorporating pictures. She connects her story to everyone by showing them a picture of what she is talking about for example on page 22 when she is talking about the black man who was killed and that Bush does not even know how many men were involved in his murder. She uses the image of the man to connect the reader to the strong emotion that she cannot simply convey through her words. Rankine says that she tried not to think too much about a genre when writing her book so that she could freely write. This is clearly seen in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely through the pictures, poems, dialogue, and empty spaces that fill (or do not fill) the pages. Rankine says that she wanted to involve as many senses as possible. I think all writers attempt to do that through writing with imagery, however this is the first book I have read where the author incorporates an image for almost everything that she talks about. Rankine also uses the images of the televisions between “chapters” as a breather. It gives the reader a chance to think about everything they have just read. Also, in her interview, Rankine says that Bush is the figure in the televisions on the pages. She says that America is larger than the individual and that is why bush is among static. Which would come back to the theme that individuals cannot change what is happening in the world.
    http://poems.com/special_features/prose/essay_rankine.php

  4. While Rankine’s book is a unique blend of prose, visuals, and other mediums, it is still greatly influenced by her poetic background and identity. In an interview conducted at the office of the Academy of American Poets in September 2009, she is asked “Although you identify more or less as a poet, your work is notorious for tackling multiple genres—the way you incorporate photography in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, or, more recently, with the genre-bending work of The Provenance of Beauty. A guided bus tour through the Bronx, combining pre-recorded and live elements, this piece is presented as a “poetic travelogue,” though it also seems part-radioplay, part-happening, part-sightseeing tour. How does one genre inform another in your work?” Rankine replied, “I’m beginning to think less in terms of genre and just in terms of writing in general. My background, my education, has been in poetry, so I feel that many of the layers in whatever I’m doing are coming out of a world of allusions that are located in poets. So, no matter what I’m working on, I like to call it poetic in some way, because the poets that I’ve read and that I love, their work tends to infuse it.”

    Rankine’s poetic background shows most obviously in “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” when she leaves small blocks of text that differ from the other prose in that their wording is sparse and fragmented, leaving it up to the reader to make meaning of it. These are all features of a poem. One example of a possible poem within the book is “Define loneliness? Yes. It’s what we can’t do for each other. What do we mean to each other? What does a life mean? Why are we here if not for each other?” (Pg 62)

    In the interview Rankine mentioned that her works comes “out of a world of allusions that are located in poets” and that the poets she admires are infused in her work. This can be seen by multiple references to other poets in the book. For example, she says “Emily Dickinson, my love, hope was never a thing with feathers” (Pg 23). This particular reference alludes to Dickinson’s poem “Hope” in which hope is compared to a bird.

    A third way to see Rankine’s poetic background in her work is through a characteristic that runs through all text in the book. This is that the entire book would sound better read aloud than in print. This is often true for poetry, but the prose in this book has the type of varied syntax and rhythm that make a reader imagine someone saying the words out loud to get the full effect. Though this quality is found throughout the book, one example that illustrates this quality is in a paragraph on page 9. “We watch a lot of television the four days I sit at her bedside. We talk. She grows tired. She is sad. She grows tired. She becomes angry. She grows tired. She is accepting. She grows tired. She grows tired.”

    Since this work is autobiographical, it only makes sense for Rankine to include poetic elements, because poetry is a part of her identity that must be acknowledged. Since she has demonstrated the ability to seamlessly blend her poetic background with various mediums, I wonder what other unexpected art she will create in the future. How flexible is the genre of poetry?

  5. Travis Kuhlman
    Intro to Nonfiction
    3/15/10

    I decided to focus on reading another one of Claudia Rankine’s work as a means for getting a better understanding of the author. The story I decided to read was Claudia Rankine’s Plot. Whereas Claudia Rankine’s work Don’t Let Me Be Lonely focuses on the social and political climate of post-9/11 and our current struggle with over-prescription of pharmaceutical anti-depressants using television as a medium for conveying her message, Plot centers around the sensations and anxieties of birth and child-rearing

    Plot also shares a similar writing style to Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Rather than a basic linear method of story-telling, Plot is more lyrical and almost appears to be told in the perspective of a stream-of-consciousness writing. The character’s emotions, feelings, and thoughts are addressed in their section. Plot centers around three different perspectives that of Liv, her husband Erland, and their soon-to-be-born child Ersatz. Each character is dealing with the birth differently and has their own unique perception and style of thinking.

    Liv’s story focuses more on her anxieties about childbirth. She has concerns about how she will be able to raise her child and the environment around her. Her biggest concern is best highlighted by the following discussion between her and Erland. “That same night Erland pressed his ear to Liv’s belly./ What do you hear? Liv asked./ Not you, Erland answered. Not you.” This plays on her inability to relate to her child. She is unable to see Ersatz as a part of herself, as her son and this is the major conflict throughout the story.

    Erland’s perspective studies out this child will change their relationship. Liv’s and Erland’s relationship will no longer be that of a “husband and wife”, but that of a “family” and later fractured into that of a “father and child” and “mother and child.” It is interesting to note the name Ersatz is actually German for substitute or replacement. Ersatz is coming into their relationship and altering it in a profound way. He is generally more optimistic about the arrival of the baby while Liv is a little more hesitant about raising Ersatz.

    Ersatz is possibly the most interesting of all the characters. He hasn’t been born yet and speaks to the audience from the womb. His sentences are short and cryptic “Outside of this insular traffic a woman in pink underlining the alias gender. who is she really? call her. could you. would you. call her. Mommy?” When reading Ersatz’s interjections, I got the feeling that Claudia Rankine was using his method of speaking as a way to convey something to the audience. Ersatz’s statements appear to be in development, they don’t follow common writing conventions like proper word placement and capitalization. This can be juxtaposed with the process of maturing. Just as Ersatz is growing and developing in the womb, his thought process and perception is also budding and emerging.

    The plot of Plot is similar to other work by Claudia Rankine in which the storyline is not linear or have an apparent conclusion. It is driven by the characters thought processes and behavior and while the characters do develop, they never really achieve enlightenment. It is difficult to place Plot in a genre as it follows no specific trends. I would classify it as a lyrical poetry and stream-of-consciousness. This story may also be autobiographical in nature reflecting Claudia Rankine’s anxiety surrounding birth, relationships, and raising a child.

  6. In an interview with Scott Rettberg, I found that Shelley Jackson is intrigued with the body and the senses. She likes to expand on these concepts of what the body and senses are like and how they work together to help find identity and meaning for every part of the body, especially hers. The interviewer, Scott asks, “In many of your projects there seems to be a fascination with the space of the body, and in particular with the relationship of the body to consciousness could you describe the root of your fascination with bodies and their constituent parts?”
    She responds by stating, ” there are some parts of me that are permanently unknowable, and one of those things is the very basis of knowing: the body. The mind relies upon something it cannot think, and conversely, the body relies upon something it cannot touch. I’m fascinated with the sticky stretch between matter and sense, both in us and in language.” Earlier in the interview she states that she is in knowledge of her own body because it is in her thoughts, however this is not enough for her. When she feels things from the outside world from her own body she becomes more aware of herself. This relates to her hypertext on “The Body”. Most of her textual information on her body is about the different sensations she has experienced with her different body parts. These experiences and sensations give her more of an identity for her body. Each experience brings something special to her identity and this is the beautiful thing about sensation. Sensation tells a story and Jackson wants to tell the story about her own body. In order for her to explore her own body she needs to discover different reactions between her body and the outside world. The outside world affects the body in many ways and she wants to explore these themes more in many of her textual works and hypertexts.
    Another question was given to her that stated,” Could you discuss your view of the relationship of writing to both virtual and physical space?” She responded with this response, “I feel that language has a relationship to my body, and I want to make that relationship more literal. Spatializing text makes it more like a body, or an environment for my body, or both, which gives me something to scratch my itch on”. When she writes her texts she wants to be able to relate her words with her body. When she created “My Body”, she wanted the body parts to be spaced out and looked upon as a literal body. She wants her readers to feel like they are exploring a body and to understand the knowledge of the experiences that happen with her body. Jackson wants us to know how she explored her body and how she made meaning and identity with her own body. Jackson writes to explore and explain her body and senses.
    I wonder if Jackson has made a real connection between the body and the senses. Does she believe that our body is a separate entity that has its own main functions with the outside world instead of just helping us live?
    http://www.uiowa.edu/~iareview/mainpages/new/july06/jackson.html

  7. While reading Shelley Jackson’s “My Body and a Wunderkammer Notes” I developed a real interest in the stories Shelley chose to share that gave a background to that body part. As I read each one it forced me to think of stories that I may have that help to define a certain body part. When I was looking for some background on Shelley and her writing I found an interview that helped to shed some light on Shelley and why she writes about the body and her relationship with the body, and her body more specifically. In an interview with Scott Rettberg he probes Jackson with a question concerning her interest with the body, “Could you describe the root of your fascination with bodies and their constituent parts?” Jackson answers, “ I feel more real when I bump up against things and in this way become a thing for those things–the world’s world, another’s other.” I think this demonstrates a heavy connection with the body and the need to be sensitive to what each part of her means. Everything a part of her body has experienced holds value and meaning to her life and what she is about. This helps define her as a person. Also discussed in the interview is her project “Skin”, involving the tattoos on volunteers. “And I loved the idea of my words existing not in neat rows on a page but in meadows dotted with rabbit pellets, on dusty, desolate rest-stops, under buzzing fluorescent lights outside cheap motels. I never did this piece, but the idea and other like it lingered in my mind. I was reminded of it when I saw a documentary on Andy Goldsworthy, the artist who constructs fleeting on-site sculptures out of grass, icicles, pebbles. Last spring, while thinking about how much I liked forms that reflected their content, I thought of my unfinished story “Skin,” and suddenly it suddenly occurred to me that there is a kind of “publishing” we already do on skin: tattooing.” Jackson wants to exist is so many more ways than just as a person that we see everyday. She wants everything on her, part of her, in her thoughts, to be represented in new and interesting ways. Jackson is clearly looking for ways to make it known that everyday, routine things, such as a body or a word, can be represented and stand for so much more depending on what an individual is willing to do to produce further meaning for it.
    Jackson
    http://www.uiowa.edu/~iareview/mainpages/new/july06/jackson.html

    Goldsworthy
    http://www.morning-earth.org/ARTISTNATURALISTS/AN_Goldsworthy.html

  8. For my further reading project, I decided to research an interview with the author of Girl Interrupted, Susan Kaysen. The reason I choose this interview was that Kaysen discussed a few topics of which have been illuminated upon in class. Two of these topics included the idea of involving fiction into autobiographical and non-fictional works as well as how multimedia has effected and enhanced the text, Girl Interrupted. When asked if there was any fiction in the novel, Kaysen noted that the only fiction she used was the changing of names of characters to protect identity. However, this is ironic because if she was asked to admit to any fictional additions, I wonder if she would admit to any as they are frowned upon within the publishing community. Another factor about this interview that was of interest was that Kaysen discussed the effect of technology and multimedia upon her book. When asked about the movie, she noted that she saw it three times and that its different enough that its not her story, but she still feels like she was writing the book while the movie was playing. She as well notes that the movie is different enough from her life that it isn’t her life, yet it still was. Lastly, another interesting question that was asked was if she felt that many great books slip through because they did not gain enough media attention. She agreed, and then noted her feeling of the benefit of bookstores, that the individual has the ability to choose a book based on interest, not on media.
    In conclusion, this interview not only revealed more information based on the motivation and biography of Kaysen, but as well incorporated many interesting topics which were highlighted through the semester.

    Interveiw from NY Journal News http://www.nyjournalnews.com
    With the overwhelming success of Girl, Interrupted Susanna Kaysen became a household name. This account of her own struggle with mental instability and the challenges she faced re-entering the world at the tender age of 18, touched countless women and catapulted her into the elite of her field. But who is the woman behind this success? How did she feel about baring her soul for all to see? Who inspires her? You were full of terrific questions for Susanna, and we have her answers in an iVillage exclusive:

    iVillager dwb13: Do you feel your time in McLean helped you or hindered you? How did you go about getting your records from them?

    Susanna Kaysen: I think it did both. It was helpful not to have to participate in life, I like it, but it also was bad because I didn’t participate in life. It was good and bad. I requested my records under the freedom of information act but I didn’t get them. They were written before the act and hospital are reluctant to give out those records. They told me that I would have to have a request from my doctor but I got a lawer and her got them in a day. They were upsetting and good and they provoked more memories but mostly boring. It was almost 400 pages long. I included them in the book because I wanted to contrast their view with my stay there with my view and no body had ever done this and I thought it was a good thing to do. I thougt it might be shocking althoug very few people commented on them. I had an argument with the hospital about who owned the records. My family paid for my stay but the hospital thought that they owned it because their people wrote it. It was never really worked out but I thanked them for letting me us their records.

    iVillager Cl-Bosbaby: Tell us about the movie. Have you seen it? Did you like it?

    Susanna Kaysen: I’ve seen it three times. The only way I can describe the experience is that it was like being in four time zones at once. I was reminded of being there and also of writing my book. It was very confusing and I can’t even say if I liked it or not. The movie is different enough from the book that it is different from my life. It reminds me of my life but it isn’t my life.

    iVillager 1bow: What person do you think has had the biggest impact on your life?

    Susanna Kaysen: My mother. I guess I believe a mother has the most influence for everyone. I probably know this because my mother died 10 years ago. If she were alive I probably wouldn’t think she was so important.

    iVillager talbot: What sorts of books do you read?

    Susanna Kaysen: Now I’m reading books about science. Cancer and diseases. I’m trying to make up for the college education that I never got.

    iVillager garbalu46: A lot of writers put a little fiction in these kinda books, was there any in this and which part?

    Susanna Kaysen: There was some fiction but that’s for me to know. LOL! I did make some composite characters to protect identities and combined histories and characteristics so that people weren’t completely recognizable, I did try to stick to the truth of things as well as I could remember them.

    iVillager custico: In telling a very personal story, what were your feelings when you finished the book, pre and post publication? So many of us would like to tell “our story”, but because others are involved we wonder about the privacy and how they’ll feel. How did you handle that?

    Susanna Kaysen: I would say that I was happy when I finished the book. After, well the book had roused a lot of attention so I was very nervous because my editor thought it might be a success and wasn’t prepared so I was kind of jumpy. I waited 25 years to write the book. Then I did make composite characters out of people and I tried to keep my family out of the book and I don’t answer questions about them but the most important thing is that I waited 25 years.

    iVillager dwb13: Do you have any words of encouragement for us “budding” Authors?

    Susanna Kaysen: Read as much as you can. Read everything. Don’t just read one kind of book, read every kind. Be like a painter. They look at everything. Writes should read in that same way.

    iVillager dastorm: Do you ever wonder how many great stories slip through the cracks just because they don’t get the media attention or have some sort of high profile situation attached?

    Susanna Kaysen: Most, I would say. There are hundreds of wonderful books that go unread because they don’t capture the media. This is another argument for why book stores are good. You can pick up books and take home books that interest you. Then you aren’t relying on the media on what to read, you are choosing for yourself.

    From http://www.ivillage.com

    Gratified by the success of Girl, Interrupted Susanna Kaysen carries on, writing at her own pace and fervently defending her privacy.

    In the early 1990’s, Susanna Kaysen was trying to find a publisher for “Girl, Interrupted” her memoir of the two years she spent at McLean Hospital in the late 1960s. Although the book went on to become a huge hit and is now a major motion picture, it was a hard sell.

    “I began to think that if I was having trouble getting it published, it must be very good” quipped Kaysen in a recent telephone interview, her signature wit intact. Initial reactions to the manuscript were tepid at best. “There were a lot of people who didn’t get it at all and asked what it was about. Others felt I was ungrateful to McLean, and some saw it as very mean.”

    Her ordeal that would emerge 25 years later in memoir form, began in the spring of 1967, after a single session with a psychiatrist Kaysen had never seen before. He put her in a taxi to McLean, located in a suburb of Boston, where she voluntarily signed herself in. Kaysen was 18 years old.

    At the time, she was living in Cambridge, Mass. and working at odd jobs, rudderless and increasingly depressed. She was the daughter of a privileged and accomplished family; her father was director of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. Kaysen’s dislike of school and disdain for college were not consistent with expectations and she had the distinction of being the only graduate of her high school not to go on to college.

    “Girl, Interrupted” is a darkly humorous and decidedly barbed portrait of a mental institution, circa 1967. Composed of a series of penetrating vignettes, Kaysen serves as an objective observer of her own madness. When “reality was getting too dense” she writes, she withdrew:

    “It is easy to slip into a parallel universe. There are so many of them: worlds of the insane, the criminal, the crippled, the dying, perhaps of the dead as well. These worlds exist alongside this world and resemble it, but are not in it.”

    She reveals that “although it is invisible from this side, once you are in it you can easily see the world you came from.”

    Now, “Girl, Interrupted” has been adapted to film and Kaysen has been discovered by a new audience. Gratified, Kaysen observes that “there is nothing better than writing something that endures, although seven years is not really such a long time. It was a snap to write. I didn’t have to make it up – just wrote it down. It was fun. Fiction makes certain demands that memoir does not because with fiction I need to call on my imagination.”

    Kaysen is a meticulous writer who still uses a typewriter, claiming that she breaks computers. An exacting wordsmith, she hates the thesaurus but loves the dictionary, which is random rather than associative and goes to the root of words. She does not spew out volumes of copy each day followed by rewrites.

    “I am too narcissistic. I may not produce more than three sentences in a day, but when those three sentences are done, they are finished.” Her longtime editor, Robin Desser of Knopf, confirms that Kaysen is “one of those writers who does not need editing.” Kaysen and Desser first came together with “Far Afield” (1990), the second of Kaysen’s novels that followed the publication of “Asa, As I Knew Him” (1987). “Far Afield” is set in the remote Faroe Islands off the coast of Iceland where a Harvard graduate student in anthropology goes to do his field work. Hilarious and filled with insight into clashing cultures, it is based on the author’s experience.

    “I spent a year in the Faroe Islands with my former husband, an anthropologist” says Kaysen, who describes the environment as harsh and unforgiving. She spent much of her time there reading, according to Desser, and had cartons of books shipped via boat to the island. The time spent reading and absorbing Faroese culture produced “Far Afield,” a stunning novel that is, appropriately, her favorite work.

    While they were working on “Far Afield,” Kaysen sent Desser “Girl, Interrupted” which was subsequently published in 1993. Kaysen wrote parts of the book while at Yaddo, the Massachusetts writers’ colony. She recalls her stay with typical humor. “It freaked me out because it looks just like McLean. I felt locked up and would do anything to get out so I wrote a ton in two weeks. Then I lay in bed, went to the movies and the mall. I’d go to see any movie just to get out.” In retrospect, she describes Yaddo as a low-key place to which she owes a great deal.

    One of the ironies of this memoir is that readers come away thinking they know Kaysen, when they actually learn less about her than about her view of the world. “I didn’t think it was very revealing about me” she says. “I took pains to make it minimally revealing and to protect my family, which was very important to me.”

    Kaysen thinks it is disruptive for writers to be celebrities and dislikes being pressed to elaborate on a subtext to her words. “You can’t call up Charles Dickens and ask him what he meant” she quips. She receives voluminous amounts of mail and while she answers every letter personally, she sometimes finds it intrusive. “They think we are the same” she says of her readers. “They want to go out for coffee with me.”

    Kaysen is as demanding of her audience as she is of herself and is of the opinion that many of those who read “Girl, Interrupted” are not readers. At a reading she was approached by a “girl with purple hair and rings in her nose who gushed that this was the best book she had ever read. When I questioned her closely” says Kaysen, “the girl confessed it was the only book she had ever read.”

    It will come as no surprise that a writer who produces only a few sentences on a good day has a small body of work. The two novels and the memoir are all she has published. She maintains a loyal following and readers constantly clamor for more from this angst-laden talent. When asked about future work, she is predictably funny, introspective and evasive. “It is very hard to get everyone out of my study.” “Everyone” she clarifies, is all those who have read her work, want more and will judge her. “I am already ambivalent about the reception of things I haven’t written” she says, and worries that they won’t be perceived to be as good as her previous work. “So, I am happy and disappointed in advance and tell myself that it is better not to test it by writing a book.” Readers should not despair. Desser confirms the author is working on something, but will not elaborate.

    Dissecting movies based on novels has become something of a sport, particularly for those who feel protective of the original work. Many who have seen the screen adaptation of “Girl, Interrupted” question the changes that have been made from the book.

    “I didn’t want to be involved” says the author. She read the penultimate screenplay and the only objection she will admit to is the veracity of certain scenes, particularly those involving patients sneaking out of the hospital. “You can’t have kids sneaking out and looking at patient records. You are locked up. It is not possible and if you had the keys you would run away – not read your patient files.” When she registered her concern at the time, the director’s response was “it’s a movie”

    “So in the end I felt that anyone who knew me would know the movie was not accurate, and about people who did not know me, who cared?”

    From http://www.nyjournalnews.com

  9. For my further reading project, I researched into an interview that Susanna Kaysen had with Exploring Womanhood about Girl, Interrupted as well as another book of hers The Camera My Mother Gave Me. When being interviewed about her book The Camera My Mother Gave Me I became interested about the message she wanted to get across to the reader which was, “there are some things that can’t be fixed and some questions that don’t have answers and we have to live with that”. What also caught my mind which I felt like I could compare to Girl, Interrupted was when the interviewer discussed the emotional journey woman experience with their sexuality and medical experiences. Kaysen responded by saying “There is an unfixable problem about the decline of sexual energy and sexual appeal, the sorrow when you find part of your self has been compromised because of change in your physical functioning, because of health”. She than proceeds to say ”in order to understand the pain and then heal contains one of the basic flaws in our reasoning, since I don’t think everything can be healed. Some things can improve, some things can get stabilized, some things get worse. Some things, of course, do heal. But not all things! I wish we, as Americans, (I feel Americans are particularly hung up on this) could stop with the positive thinking already! I’m more into negative thinking. I think it’s more realistic”. I compared this to our class discussion and how she writes about being a sexual teenager and her openness about being so promiscuous in her teenage years. It also shows her views on negative experiences and how nothing is perfect and people need to have a more realistic view on situations. I believe that this opinion was based on her life experiences and struggles she has dealt with throughout her life. In the last part of her interview she says “I wish women would brag more about their sexual experiences and analyze them and scrutinize them in print, the way men do. I wish our sexual experiences could be a filter through which we perceive and comment on the world, the way, say, Philip Roth’s sexual experiences have been for him as a writer. I wish we weren’t so squeamish about it. But we are. And I don’t like this sort of sexuality as woman power stuff, that’s not what I’m talking about. Roth and Updike and many other modern male writers (Norman Mailer is a great example) have brought their sexual lives into the stuff of fiction in a natural way — a way that made it seem obvious that this was a dimension of life worth examining and describing. I wish women could feel this natural about our erotic lives without having to PROVE something about ourselves through our erotic lives. This is probably a few hundred years off in the future, though. If then. If people still write or read a few hundred years into the future, which I often despair of”. This related so far to my interpretation of Girl, Interrupted and this interview is saying accept yourself, your flaws, your sexuality and anything else about your body, except that life is not perfect and accept that there is a lot of negative in the world and it’s up to you to make it better.

    interview http://www.exploringwomanhood.com/interviews/kaysen.htm

  10. I found an excerpt of another memoir by Kaysen called The Camera My Mother Gave Me which was written after Girl, Interrupted and details her problematic experience with sexuality and medicine. Even though we’ve only had a couple of passages so far in Girl, Interrupted which talked about her sexuality, the motif is still present in the book and is strong for Kaysen considering it was one of the reasons she was deemed “disordered.” One day, Kaysen found mysterious and very unpleasant things happening to her vagina. In the excerpt I found, Kaysen shows her reader the magnitude of her vaginal problem with all the creams and treatments her gynecologist gave her. In the end, he refers her to an herbalist. No one couldn’t discern what was wrong with her and gave her all different kinds of potential treatments, all which didn’t solve her problem. Her vagina became so inflamed and uncomfortable that she even started to avoid wearing pants. Not only did Kaysen have to face the idea that medicine doesn’t have all the answers, but she had to face this notion as it pertained to her vagina, an organ that had been seen as taboo back when she was in a mental hospital and even today too.
    The style of writing in this excerpt definitely resembles Girl, Interrupted. It is blunt and straightforward, offering its reader simple yet provocative insights as well as frank and even risqué humor. The succession of events is quick-paced as well; there is no dwelling on one topic of description for too long. Kaysen will move from a sample piece of dialogue to general happenings then back to a particular moment. Something is always happening or being said, and even when she slows down her thoughts are still concrete and direct, her connections being evident.
    I’m curious to know what prompted Kaysen to write about this particular topic in her life. Anything that happens to us bears meaning, but I’m sure Kaysen felt that her experience would find meaning with other people as well. Even though I’ve only read an excerpt, I can imagine how such a book would have meaning for other people, especially women. There are a lot of books out there that describe personal struggles with terminal diseases or problems that can’t be pinpointed or labeled. There’s a feeling of utter hopelessness that accompanies these situations, and even though I haven’t experienced such a situation as that I have experienced the mental panic of wanting to get rid of something or quickly getting an answer. I feel that Kaysen knew that she would be writing about something that not many people write about since her medical struggle concerns her vagina, and such a discourse would be especially meaningful to women. There are few voices that are willing to go public about their sexual problems. It’s embarrassing both in a sense that it pertains to an erotic body part but also in a sense that one’s sexuality has been damaged or diminished. If a man lost his ability to become erect, he would feel emasculated. If a woman lost her desirability, her pleasure in sex, her ability to become pregnant, then she too has lost something similar.

    Excerpt: http://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/authors/kaysen/excerpt.html

  11. In an interview with Susanna Kaysen on Borzoi Reader’s website, I was able to notice some similarities between “Girl, Interrupted” and “The Camera my Mother gave Me”. In “Girl, Interrupted”, Susanna focuses on her medical needs mentally while in “The Camera my Mother gave Me”, she focuses on her medical needs physically. It was interesting to find images of her medical forms displayed on the pages of the book to specific clinics to be treated. She made sure to make the records confidential for her parents and doctors. She describes how “both books describe how a certain sort of invisible awkward functioning catapults you into another world, and changes your relation to the everyday world”. Her interview gave way to a new understanding of her writing style. Her interview displayed how open she was about teenager promiscuity sexual confidence. She believes that women should be more open about sexual experience instead of being so self-conscious and safe. Rather than blend in, stand out. Much of her book “The Camera my Mother gave Me” is about illness and sex and its impact on her life.
    Kaysen mentions that writing never really served as a release or get away from her medical past. “ I don’t like the notion that writing is therapeutic. Therapy is therapeutic. Writing is writing. It was practical to write it. I needed chronology in order to give each new doctor a proper history”. Kaysen was also happy to speak about the diagnoses doctors gave her in both books, “ Part of my point here is that not everything can be fixed. Not everything can be improved. My two best doctors were the ones who admitted they didn’t understand, really, what was going on or how to help me with it. That was healing for me”. She describes that her memoir isn’t a “CAT scan” of her emotional life but and “Artifact” arranged to provoke certain emotions in you and she’s describing certain events the way she wishes you to imagine them.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s