Many Selves

From The New York Times:

GishA group of students at Cornell, born in Asia but raised in the United States by immigrant parents, were instructed to keep a diary. They struggled to recall the events of their own daily lives when they were later quizzed about them, remembering fewer details about their experiences than their Euro-American counterparts. Qi Wang, the Cornell scholar of “cross-cultural” cognition who conducted the experiment, speculated that Asians were not more forgetful but that they had, perhaps, filtered out the contents of their own stories, deeming them unworthy of being encoded as memories in the first place.

The novelist Gish Jen cites these findings in her curious new book about Asian and Asian-American narratives, “Tiger Writing,” as an explanation for the “notably un-self-centered” approach of her father’s memoir. The account, which he started writing when he was 85 years old, offered few details of his own grandfather’s “appearance or personality or tastes — the sorts of things we in the West might include as a way of conveying both his uniqueness and his importance as a figure in the narrative.” It instead described at great length the number of doors in the house where her father grew up and whether they were open or shut — concentrating not on his individual self, but on the context within which that self was situated, and by which it was constrained. The world he describes is not, as Jen puts it, “a modern, linear world of conflict and rising action, but rather one of harmony and eternal, cyclical action, in which order, ritual and peace are beauty, and events spell, not excitement or progress, but disruption.”

More here.