Thursday, June 3, 2021
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
“Third Culture Kid” and the Literary World
Date: Friday, June 4, 2021
Time: 60 minutes. 9:00am EDT (New York) / 1:00pm GMT (Accra) / 3:00pm CEST (Vienna) / 9:00pm SGT, AWST (Singapore & Perth)
Location: Online (via Zoom)
Cost: FREE. Open to all.
Join the FIGT Research Network for a discussion on the ‘Third Culture Kid (TCK)’ concept and research with Dr. Antje Rauwerda.
I need “TCK” in my work. Do you need it in yours?
“TCK” catches an experience of displacement that is usually invisible in Literary Studies.
As a college professor in a Literary Studies major, I spend a lot of time thinking about authors like Michael Ondaatje, Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver: each of these is a TCK, but they are marketed as Canadian, British and American. If their novels get taught in university courses, they are grouped with the novels of other Canadian, British and American writers. Focusing on the passport nationalities of these authors in marketing and teaching leaves out a great deal about the internationalism, dislocation and other TCK experiences they share.
The TCK experiences of the authors result in some surprising thematic similarities in their fictions, but without “TCK” as a term, there isn’t really any way for me to analyze how their novels are similar.
My discipline has highly theorized analytical terms like (im)migrant, diaspora, transnational, global, postcolonial, borderland, and liminal, but these do not capture the experience of spending one’s developmental years outside one’s passport nation.
My presentation will first offer a brief and utilitarian description of some of the words used for internationalism in my field, with an emphasis on how they overlap with and differ from our construction of “Third Culture Kid.” (I will provide a take-away glossary.)
Friday, February 5, 2021
I was recently at Transnational Literature's "Follow the Sun" Conference. I was on a Third Culture panel (organized by Jessica Sanfilippo Schulz) with Jessica, and with Anastasia Goana (the dream team: we have paneled together before. I hope we get to again). "At" of course means "on zoom". Look! Here we are (Anastasia for the photo credit):
Zoom notwithstanding, the conference did what conferences are--at their best--supposed to do. It stimulated thought/ exposed me to new ideas/ made me want to weep gratefully that other people out there in the world think that some of these issues are interesting too.
I gave a paper on Third Culture and how it could function as a kind of nationality (nods to Benedict Anderson and Joanna Yoshi Grote, as well as Danau Tanu's work, which got me thinking along these lines in the first place). I went on a bit of a tear about academia and methodological nationalism within our disciplines (which tend to be defined in terms of nation and so, even if our institutions like the hipness of "transnational" and boundary-crossing terms, these same organizations that fund our research and employment are stubbornly resistant to them). And . . . I wrapped up with some consideration of privilege, the problem of relegating host countries to mere backdrops, and shame.
Bambo Soyinka, who is sharp and articulate, and a pleasure to spend time thinking with, said of our panel as a whole that the issues of shame, denial and privilege kept surfacing. Did they always have negative connotations, Bambo asked.
My answer was no. In fact, I think turning to look those issues in the face is precisely where positive insights will emerge. I want to write more about this. I am, vaguely, beginning to cook a piece that deals with Jane Alison's The Sisters Antipodes and Sisonke Msimang's Always Another Country and the question of adult perspectives on a childhoods of comparative privilege.
In what I have so far on the question of shame, in a longer-playing article on TC Nationalism that I can't seem to get published, I quote Tanu's interview of an adult TCK dubbed "Afra"who grew up in Algeria. That adult says of their childhood during times of political unrest, "I miss the riots." Tanu notes that "some TCKs speak of developing countries as though their poor economic conditions or sociopolitical unrest were like adventure rides." Oof, right? At first, that TCK interviewee sounds like a bit of a jerk, except that what they really said had a specific intonation: "'I miss the riots,' said Afra, 'with knowing humor.'"
Stop the train: that "knowing humor" changes everything. 'Afra" misses the riots (they miss their childhood home and its conditions), but Afra knows it is ridiculous, crazy, wrong, privileged, shameful, to say such a thing.
My contention is that the adult perspective on privileged childhood experience is something TCK scholars absolutely HAVE to deal with. Here (from the article I haven't yet published), is why I think so:
By the way, regarding the comment about shame/guilt of last week, it is a recurrent theme in the four texts I have analysed (PhD thesis). As you illustrated, it is something that seems to occur retrospectively in adulthood. My first four chapters examine life writing written in adulthood and shame and guilt is always there, TCKs and refugees. BUT: in chapter 5 I explore life writing written by youth, and so far, I haven't come across shame and guilt much. Just at the beginning of one Vlog entry I am looking at and I am currently wondering how to tackle it / label it / explain it. I am writing the final chapter right now and will keep an eye on this theme. Another thing that I have noticed is that shame and guilt (so far the texts I have read) are only noticeable in texts by women. I haven't come across it in any of the other texts I have read by men. I therefore think that when it comes to looking at Jane Alison, you might want to compare the text with a memoir written by a man.
Thursday, June 20, 2019
The college at which I teach is not unusual in imagining courses in American Literature, which cover literary texts by "Americans" of various kinds from various eras (contemporary, Black, Queer, Historical), and in British Literature, which likewise teaches texts by "British" authors of various kinds from various eras. This requires faith in "American" and "British" as legitimate identities.
My college, like many, also offers courses in Postcolonial Literature.
If logic follows, one should be able to argue that "Postcolonial" is a legitimate identity. Certainly it is a legitimate category for academic analysis. The term is vexed with critique and the notion of "postcolonial" spans multiple continents. Yet, postcolonial literature, right or wrong, flawed or no, is a viable, and identity-based subject area. Postcolonial texts are designated according to the biography of their author.
I point this out because I wonder how theoretical writings by authors like Spivak, Bhabha and Said-- reflecting on resistance to colonialism--facilitated a Eurocentric, homogenising discipline in which all formerly colonised nations are lumped together as objects of study in Western Scholarship (I believe Chandra Talpade Mohanty writes about this in her 1986 "Under Western Eyes").
On the one hand: OMG epic problem in which academia perpetuates a "There's the West and the Rest" binary (See Niall Ferguson, 2011).
On the other: Hmn. Strategic Essentialism, anyone?
In "Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography" Spivak argues for “a strategic use of positivist essentialism in a scrupulously visible political interest” (pg?). According to Oxford Reference strategic essentialism is "A political tactic employed by a minority group acting on the basis of a shared identity in the public arena in the interests of unity during a struggle for equal rights. The term was coined by Spivak and has been influential in feminism, queer theory, and postcolonial theory."
An interpretation of "postcolonial" is that its essentialism is strategic: at least it exists in the Western Academy. Flawed, and homogenizing as the term is, students at least get to take the courses (and in them, or in my versions of them at any rate, historical, national and cultural distinctions are carefully drawn and contexts painstakingly taught).
Enter Third Culture Kids, and Third Culture Authors:
Does everyone critique the terms over and over again? Yes (as in postcolonial studies).
But do we still use TCK? Yes, because it is gaining some traction/recognition (as was the case for postcolonialism which gained traction in the 1980s)
Is there a single nation of origin for "Third Culture"? No (as in postcolonial)
Is a literary-analytical model predicated on author biography a problem? Goodness yes! Did Foucault not argue that the author is dead? (And yet, all our literary disciplines are predicated on a myth of origins: American, British, Postcolonial . . . why shouldn't third culture be added to that list?)
Here's my thought: strategic essentialism is "scrupulously visible", in other words, it has an objective in mind and declares, openly, the short-term elision of nuance in order to achieve that goal.
TCK is "gaining traction": but only a little.
Any one of you who has recently had a piece of academic work rejected by a journal that has no idea what you are talking about, and/or has had to rehearse ad infinitum a definition of third culture in order to educate your audiences or potential readers, knows there's a long way to go before this term is understood in academe.
Strategically: let's use the term even though it essentializes. While we do so we can point out its flaws and nuances (as was done in the postcolonial studies of the 1980s and 1990s).
Goal: to be acknowledged as a "thing" in academia?
What is our "goal"?
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
In The Sisters Antipodes, TCA (Third Culture Author) Jane Alison writes "Sometimes I think we all have embedded in the brain a personal space like a home we've lost that lingers in our skulls"(5). I wonder. Do we?
It's been a long three years for me in which I have not worked much on matters third culture. I have been engaged instead in the unraveling of my parents's lives 3,000 miles away, the sale of their house, the death of my father, and my mother's transition to a nursing home. To distract myself from all that, I wrote a novel and have thus joined the ranks of professors with unpublished novels in their desk drawers. That manuscript has a plot absolutely rooted in the place in which I currently live. Everything happens within a mile of here, where I sit typing this morning. I was also department chair, and then program chair, during a time of radical restructuring at the college at which I work. As my program's faculty dwindled, I was called upon to teach more historical literature than ever before. Last year, I taught no international fiction courses, but did teach, among other things, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales and The Inferno. I like all that other literature too, but: Who am I? Where am I?
This spring, in order to have the same citizenships as my children, I became an American citizen. At the citizenship ceremony, I cried when I sang the American anthem because what came out was my British schoolgirl voice, the accent of Welsh-Catholic hymn singing back when I was 14: Who am I? Where am I?
Last week I bought a house, also within a mile of where I sit now, typing. The mortgage broker gave me a present, a framed canvas with a map of Maryland and the words "Rauwerda Home est'd 2019" at the top, with the house's specific co-ordinates forming a banner across the bottom.
There is no more TCK issue than "Where are you from" and no more fraught topic for TCKs or really any adult trying to anchor their identity in the ever-shifting world than "where is home?"
Here I am, then. I have specific co-ordinates and a return to The Questions.
Over the summer I have funding to write an article about whether third culture identity can be viewed as a kind of nationalism.
In the fall I get to teach a course on contemporary international fiction and one on transnationalism.
I will dig back into this blog too. What to do with the bloated and unusable but impressively capacious list of authors, for instance?
Reading The Sisters Antipodes this morning, I notice that in 1965 Jane Alison "traveled by train to San Francisco, where [she] boarded the Oronsay" (17). What a fantastic co-incidence, for this is the same ship Michael Ondaatje writes of in The Cat's Table and indeed the same ship Ondaatje himself travelled upon in his 1954 journey from Ceylon to London! (Additional discovery thanks to Wikipedia, is that the Oronsay featured in a 1958 British Comedy called The Captain's Table: clearly Ondaatje's The Cat's Table is riffing on that).
Inhale, exhale, welcome home.
Friday, April 13, 2018
That's an odd thing because I am not sure I have ever met him, and if I ever did it was at least 30 years ago.
My father was Dutch, born in Indonesia in the 1930s. Also born in Indonesia in the 1930s were his older brother, a sister, and another brother. This cohort of siblings all spent years in Japanese prisoner of war camp and remarkably (good genes!) all survived. The youngest brother, the one who wrote me today, was born in the mid-1940s (possibly in Ethiopia, possibly in Holland: I am not sure).
The diasporic spread of my father's generation is huge:
My father went from prison camp to years lived in Holland, Belgium, Nigeria, Canada, Wales, Canada, Singapore, Ghana, Canada.
The oldest sibling lived in Belgium.
The sister lives in Italy.
The younger brother in his cohort lived in Namibia.
The youngest, the one who wrote me, lived in Hong Kong and is now, I think, in Holland.
The youngest wrote me (East Coast USA) to ask for my mother's address (West Coast Canada), observing of his own disconnection from his much older siblings: "our family lived all in a different part of this world and a visit around the corner was not so easy."
Not so easy indeed. It was nice to hear from my uncle. Despite years and geography, he writes just like my father used to. Is that in the genes also?
Friday, October 20, 2017
I love this collection as a whole for moving the rhetoric of third culture into academic discourse. In the spirit of academic discourse, Tanu's comments on the applicability of "third culture" as an analytical rubric are quite critical: I love this too. We must be able to scrutinize all angles of our approaches.
Someday, I might do something more elegant (and academic) with my responses, but for today I would like to "converse" somewhat chattily with Tanu's article:
DT (13): the concept is difficult to apply across disciplines for two reasons. First, it is premised on essentialist categories that reify the boundaries, which define "Third Culture Kids." Second the (Anglophone) literature has hitherto overlooked the significance of the specific socio-cultural context within which the term [. . .] was coined and subsequently popularized.
AMR (ie, Me): 1) So is everything, at least when it comes to disciplinary definitions within academic departments: American Literature? Reified boundaries. British? Black British? Immigrant British? etc etc.
2) That is changing! See especially Jessica Sanfilippo Schulz's important work treating third culture literary texts that are not Anglophone.
DT (14): TCK is "better understood as an emotionally powerful insider (emic) construct that narrates identity and belonging for people with a transnational upbringing in the same way that "Italy" or "Indonesia" represent geographical and emotional homelands, but are insufficient as analytical constructs."
AMR: Yes! For those without a specific nation or geography to emplace them TCKness does become a paradoxical "nationality", it becomes a "homeland."
Here's a thing that fascinates me: if "TCK" is analogous to "Italy" or "Indonesia", then, in spite of its insufficiencies as an analytical construct, it can be used the same way. We study "Italian Literature"; we study "Indonesian Literature"; therefore we can also study "Third Culture Literature" and assume that this title implies some level of cultural coherence. Tanu's discussion reveals how wrong headed all frames of analysis based on nation really are ("Italy" and "Indonesia" are much more diverse than those essentialist labels imply). If we persist in using "Italy" and "Indonesia" as analytical constructs, I would argue, "TCK" can analogously join their ranks.
DT (18): "Instead of the processes involved in negotiating boundaries [TCK scholars] emphasize the content."
AMR: Tanu is saying, I think: there is too much work defining who is TCK and figuring out how to delineate the term, and it comes at the expense of thinking what the term is comprised of. There is too much emphasis on describing the box at the expense of observing what is IN the box.
YES. Dr. Tanu! You are quite right.
What is IN THE BOX of third culture literature? Obviously (go ahead, scroll through the blog, or browse my first book Overseas), I have gone at this problem before. In these early efforts I started with explaining TCK, and defining who is a TCA and agonizing over biographies (all problems in the field, as Tanu argues).
CAN one go the other way? Can one start with "what is in the literature (that makes it TCK)?" I hope so. I'd like to try that next.
My commitment, as always, is to the "un-national".
Can one look in the box first, and leave commenting on author identity out altogether? Or at least make it secondary? It is, I would emphasize, NOT the norm in literary critical studies, a discipline which pretends a la Foucault that the author has died, and yet continues to orient all of its courses around national identities and many of its professional publications around them too. (Anyone got a copy of Canadian Literature kicking around?)
(Maybe TCK (or the un-nation of its authors) must strategically essentialize to prove their nationhood first?
Maybe we have already done that?)
Maybe we can be the first , us in the world of literary critique, to look inside the box and see what is there waiting for us, the Schroedinger's cat of what happens in un-nationalist fictional narrative?