Monday, September 22, 2014

Tiger Writing

Gish Jen is a Chinese-American writer who gave a series of lectures about the difference between Asian and Western writers and turned her talk into a book called 'Tiger Writing - Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self'. The use of the word 'Tiger' is a recent phenomenon, which refers to the strict discipline of children by Asian parents such as in the book Tiger Mom, thereby giving Asian students an advantage in school and work. On the other hand, Gish Jen's book refers to the different perspectives and narrative style between Asian and Western writers. Interestingly, the work of Qi Wang is often cited like 'Are Asians Forgetful? Perception, Retention, and Recall in Episodic Remembering.'

According to Jen, Asian writers have an interdependent point of view while Western writers are more individualistic, with better recall of episodes as compared to Asian writers. This explains why most Asians like me find it difficult to talk about oneself as compared to Westerners, preferring to see the wider context of the situation, rather than focus on one's individual impressions, a trait that can be corrected with Toastmasters with its emphasis on public expression. Her book opened a new perspective which I never thought about before, between the different styles of writing between ethnic groups. She quotes other writers like Orhan Pamuk, citing his own celebrated lectures on the naive and sentimental novelist, as well as Henry James and Milan Kundera and their book similarly titled "Art of the Novel."

The book led me to the work of Otto Rank, a well-known psychologist and right-hand man of Sigmund Freud, who also was an inspiration to the psychologist Rollo May, whose book 'The Courage to Create' was an inspiration for me when I was young. Rank wrote an interesting book (which I have not read) called 'Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development', about the self actualizing urge to be creative, where one learns new skills and unlearns old blocking habits and disregard destructive patterns of thought. This was the true value of the book for me, to discover Rank's work on personality development which explains one's urge for expressive writing (or journaling) and joining Toastmasters to improve public speaking skills, plus mind mapping and cognitive therapy, which is the natural urge when leading a creative life.

My recent struggles at work, forced me to search for new techniques, to be more effective and efficient at work (like Getting Things Done or GTD), with anxiety driving one to be better (is it because I am Asian?). Anxiety is good according to Otto Rank, a healthy challenge that help individuals to grow. Anxiety has led one to expressive writing which has kept people sane, as well to discover clustering and cognitive therapy to correct bad thinking (attribution error) and calm one's mind (together with Tai Chi). Strange that the book 'Tiger Writing' seem to have pulled all these ideas together, to explain some of the urges that has driven one to write, and explore new skills and experiences for self development. Western writers have access to this tradition because of their strong individualism like in America where people can re-create themselves and start anew, towards a second act in life.

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