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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Exile and Belonging: Stories of Immigrant Experience - I

I have enrolled for Exile and Belonging: Stories of Immigrant Experience, a six-part study series conducted by Sanja Ivanov of the University of Waterloo at the Toronto Public Library’s College Street branch.

We will be reading short stories by four authors David Bezmozgis (Natasha and other stories), Tamas Dobozy (Last Notes and other stories), Rohinton Mistry (Tales from Firozsha Baag), Dionne Brand (Sans Souci and other stories)

“The six-week literature course will explore the diverse manners in which contemporary authors portray immigrant experiences in Toronto. Close reading of the selected literary works will provide an insight into the roles of ethnicity, class, race, language, and place in the negotiations of identity and sense of belonging.”

The second session of the series was a discussion on Bezmozgis’s two stories – Roman Berman, Massage Therapist, and The Second Strongest Man – from his debut collection Natasha and other stories.

(“The book is a collection of linked stories about the Bermans, a Jewish family from Latvia adapting to their new life as immigrants to Canada. The central character is Mark Berman, who is a young child when the family first arrives in Canada.”*)

The discussion – interesting as it was – also conclusively proved that writing and reading although intricately linked are actually very different activities. Just as writing is linked with the personality of a writer, so is reading.

Yes, incredible though it may sound, reading is dependent upon a reader’s personality.

Let me explain this: The world that the writer creates is not necessarily the world that her readers create reading the writer’s creation.
The participants (readers) in the program had read the stories in their own individual (even individualistic) ways, each interpreting and relating to them differently.

As Angela Carter has said, “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.” **

Another interpretation of the changing relationship between the author and the reader is offered by Daniel Neville (Nevolution –  http://nevolution.typepad.com)  while explaining the concept of complexism developed by generative artist and theorist Philip Galanter.

(Generative artist and theorist Philip Galanter (http://philipgalanter.com) has created the concept of Complexism - the application of a scientific understanding of complex systems to the subject matter of the arts and the humanities.)

Neville states, “Galanter provides an easy method to understand the shift between the relationship of these three entities (the author, text and the reader). It places an equal emphasis on all three, allowing all to be part of the same process. Modernism - taking a lead from the Enlightenment - sought to view the author as being in complete control of the text; the reader merely an afterthought.

"The shift that occurred through Postmodernism inverted this relationship away from viewing the author as in control of the text, to viewing the reader as able capable of many interpretations. In the Modernist relationship, there is no reader, in the Postmodern relationship, the author is dead. There is a missing actor in both examples.

"Galanter sees the relationship requiring all three components to make it work. This does not deny the role of the author in regard to the “totalising masterpiece” nor does it deny the readers ability to create their own meaning with the text.

"It holds all three as existing within the same relationship, giving each an equal status. We see the role of the individual as not just a Designer/Producer, nor as just an Author/Consumer, but instead acting as an Editor/Prosumer. By being situated between the two texts, the text that he/she reads that informs the text that he/she creates.”

More on this in the coming weeks.

First illustration by Laurence Musgrove (taken from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lemusgro)

Second illustration taken from http://nevolution.typepad.com

* Taken from Wikipedia

** Taken from Teri Windling’s blog Myth & Moor

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