Monday, July 28, 2014

Does TCL have a distinctive "fingerprint"?

In my book, The Writer and the Overseas Childhood, I argue that there are prevelant themes in third culture literature:


and, depending on the kind of third culture literature:

secrecy and guilt (often in the literature of diplomatic kids, or others raised with significant material privilege) or

precocious underage sex (often in military brat writing, perhaps an expression of the need to make intense connections quickly, before being posted to a new location or an expression of the need to challenge the rigidity of military hierarchy) or

abandonment (often in the writings of missionary kids, perhaps expressing the difficulty of being raised as subordinate to one's parents' mission).

But, going on from what's in my book, is there a third culture fingerprint of some kind, a stylistic marker, a shared rhetorical device?

I thought, and I still think, that the way time unfolds in third culture literature is distinctive.  If the stereotypical first line in fiction is "it was a dark and stormy night" then time (when was it?) generally drives literary narrative.  In Michael Ondaatje's work (poetry and novels) place comes before time (where was it?).  I have gone in to a big pile of TCL reading to see if my theory holds up with other authors.

Here's the big pile:

You'll notice some things about the pile right away:

I. J. Kay's Mountains of the Moon and DBC Pierre's Ludmila's Broken English are set out in front.  DBC Pierre is a TCK.  His real name is Peter Finlay.  He was born in Australia, spent early years in the US, the South Pacific and Great Britain and then the rest of his childhood in Mexico  (someday I really want to compare him to that other strangely Irish-US-Mexican figure, comedian Louis CK, but that's for another day).  I.J. Kay is ostensibly uncomplicatedly British, though she now lives in the Gambia. There is a dearth of information about her, and the name is clearly a penname.  A subsidiary question I had when I began this big pile o' reading was are IJKay and DBC the same person??  I don't think they are, actually (DBC never uses semi-colons, IJKay uses them almost every sentence), but it was a fun place to start.

Starting with those two led me to refine my experiment: in order to tell if third culture literature is distinctive, I have to contrast it with literature that is contemporary but not third culture.  Hence two piles. 

On the left, literature by writers who are not TCKs : I J Kay, Dan Rhodes, Susan Minot, Evie Wyld, Chimamandah Ngozi Adiche, Russell Hoban, Wilma Stockenstrom (Trans J.M. Coetzee), and Kim Scott. 

On the right, third culture literature by: DBC Pierre, Brittani Sonnenberg, Ian McEwan, John Wray, Susi Wyss, Gerald Durrell, Francesca Marciano, Penelope Lively and John Lanchester.  Also in this pile, though perhaps not TCK (more investigation required): Monique Roffey.
And of course Eleanor Catton, both The Rehearsal (already read) and The Luminaries which is so long I feel like time has stood still and I will be reading it forever . . .

Here're some questions to end on:
Is Eleanor Catton (Canada/ NZ) a TCK in the same way as someone like McEwan (Britain, Libya, Singapore)?  How many places do you have to have lived in to be really TCK?  Why are all the folks in my pile white?  Are you "more" TCK if you've got a first world passport but moved repeatedly through the third world? 
How does the literature, the fiction, answer these kinds of questions?

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