Gish Jen on Tiger Writing

For this spring’s Argument & Research composition course with the specialized theme “Citizens of the World” your salonniere will be using for the first time Gish Jen’s recently published artist’s autobiography Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self, originally given as part of the Massey Lecture by Jen at Harvard, published by their press.

Jen takes a critical eye at her background, the cultural generalizations made between East & West traditions and her formation as a novelist therefore inviting us to do the same with our development as writers, artists, and observers of self and the culture(s) around us. Following are exercises created from yours truly to correspond with the different passages:

Author’s Note (ix)

  • How would you describe your cultural background(s)? What other cultures to do you negotiate with daily in academics, religious, sports, campus and off campus life, student organizations, etc?
  • What are the stereotypes you’ve come across for each of these above cultures?
  • What are the existing schemas that make up the culture and/or the stereotypes? Please detail specific historical, economic, geographical, gender, and social contexts that make up this schema.
  • Assuming your art can be a sport, cooking, or any activity you’ve practiced for an extended period, what is you intellectual/artistic biography? When did this life begin (i.e. before you were born, with your grandparents or your great aunt)? Where do you see your own intellectual/artistic development heading? What are the highlights and milestones? Dark moments? Who have been your biggest influences, such as teachers, writers, musicians, athletes, entrepreneurs, friends?
  • From her introduction on page 8, what are the cultural realities you have grown up with? Which ones have you come to terms with and how? Which ones still challenge and/or confuse you? Detail give specific experiences and instances illustrating you negotiating with these realities.

From Chapter 1: “My Father Writes His History”

  • What family space/place best represents yours family’s history, culture, and/or

    traditions? How? Why? When? Give as many specific and concrete details as possible. Where and what does your family consider home? How and why? Why not draw a map of this place? Be sure to note topographical points and landmarks of interest (hills, lakes, oceans, seas, industrial, farming, or urban).

  • What recent and/or ancient history has influenced yours? Why and how? Situate your readers geographically, in a specific era and place. Where and when was this? What were the political, cultural, economic, environmental, religious circumstances at the time that might have had a bearing on you?
  • When did you first realize your culture was different? How old were you? What was the experience like?
  • What areas were off limits and why? What was the imagined space, activity for your childhood self?
  • Is there a trait your parents and grandparents have valued that made your family survive and succeed and what is that? Can you attribute this trait to specific family experiences where members demonstrated it? Describe with as many details as possible.
  • Has your culture and background ever come up against conflict with a social/academic setting? How? Why? How did you respond? What adjustments did you have to make? Were there adjustments you refused to make? What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about others?

From Chapter 2: “Art, Culture, and Self”

  • What are the “boxes” (95) of our time that you plan to raise awareness about in your essay? How do these boxes limit people? What are the consequences of those limitations?
  • If a writer is nothing but a questioner, what will you question in your writing?

Ch 3: “What Comes of All That”

  • What books have been the touchstones (142) for you? Why and how? What does Jen mean by the “American self” (148)? Do you have your own version of American self? If so, how does that self come up against other selves you may have experienced or witnessed with your parents, your friends, etc
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