Title

The true body, (novel) and, Recovering the remains, (essay)

Date of Award

1-1-2004

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of communications and Arts

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Susan Ash

Abstract

My novel 'The True Body' is concerned with how individuals inhabit their bodies and how they try to find their homes. lt looks at how material, cultural and temporal circumstances inflect the ways in which they occupy those bodies. Its two narratives, one set in the late 1980s mostly in London, and one set from the early 1940s to the 1950s predominantly in Malacca, are peopled by Eurasians, English, Chinese, Malays and Indians. The narrator is Isabelle de Sequeira, a gardener at the Kew Gardens in London and daughter of the central character in the Malaccan narrative, Eurasian Ghislaine de Sequeira. The novel plaits these two London and Malaccan narratives, and includes articles written by Ghislaine de Sequeira's occasional partner the English travelwriter, to capitulate and recapitulate events and issues relevant to colonial, generational, gendered and ethnic experience. Each woman is to some extent disenfranchised by dislocations occurring in each narrative: Ghislaine de Sequeira when she moves as a young woman from Malacca to the Cameron Highlands tea growing district in pre-Independence Malaya, and both women when they migrate to London in the 1980s. Each looks for a relationship with a man she hopes will somehow 'authorise' her, allow her to 'assume' her image. While juxtaposing these stories about disenfranchised Eurasian women from two generations, the novel explores a range of characters' struggles to find belonging. How do you reflect in your writing, people, cultures and places you are temporally and spatially estranged from due to migration? My essay 'Recovering the Remains' addresses this question by elucidating some of the causes and processes of my research into Malaccan and Singaporean Eurasian culture that informed my novels, with particular reference to 'The True Body'. I use anecdotal theory to relate this research to relevant theorisations of memory, photography and to some of the initial stages of my writing process for that novel. Chapter One conceptualises memory and loss of cultural memory in the context of my family’s diasporic experience. It suggests a model of personal, familial and cultural memory as a continuum rather than as distinct categories. I relate certain biographical incidents to American academic Marianne Hirsh’s concept of postmemory, which she originally developed to describe an imaginatively mediated form of memory that offspring of Holocaust survivors have of their parents’ decimated place of origin. Acknowledging differences in our experiences, I explore the applicability of this and other concepts of memory to my own experience as both a migrant and a diasporic writer. In Chapter Two, I relate Marianne Hirsch’s, Nancy Miller’s and Roland Barthes’ theories exploring the relationship of photography and narrative to the sources of familial memory I uncovered in Singapore and Malacca whilst researching ‘The True Body’. Using aspects of Cathy Caruth’s work on trauma, I suggest that past traumatic experience complicates the retrieval of familial memory. I show how memories recovered during the process of retrieving familial memory informed aspects of the early drafts of ‘The True Body’. Chapter Three examines the ways in which my research into familial cultural memory extended into research into extra-familial sources of cultural memory. In the conclusion, I consider Eng’s and Kazaniian’s work on loss and some of Freud’s conceptualisations of memory and melancholy in relation to my research for ‘The True Body’.

LCSH Subject Headings

Edith Cowan University. Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences - Dissertations.

Children of immigrants.

Eurasians - Singapore

Fiction - Authorship

Dissertations

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