On Not Asking “Should I Insert Myself in the Text?”

“We are obliged to acknowledge what we see and how we organize what we see.”

Public Books and the Sydney Review of Books have partnered to exchange a series of articles with international concerns. Today’s article, “On Not Asking ‘Should I Insert Myself in the Text?’” by Kate Rossmanith, was originally published by the SRB on September 11, 2023.


There is a passage in Ruth Behar’s book, The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart, in which she identifies the “most difficult feat of all” for writers: how to “insert our participating-and-observing selves into the story.” It was 1996 and Behar was addressing anthropology researchers who were tasked with developing a rich textual account of the workplaces and communities where they had spent months and years. She made a case for using what she called a “personal voice” in scholarly writing.

Now a classic, The Vulnerable Observer was published at a time when the academy was energized by feminist ideas regarding “researcher subjectivity.” Poststructuralist thinking, with its hyper self-consciousness, was widespread in the humanities; meanwhile, the social sciences had, a decade earlier, experienced “the reflexive turn.” These new ideas of “subjectivity” and “reflexivity” profoundly altered the knowledge landscape: the scholar was no longer a hierophant, and researchers were expected to reflect on their own positionality and knowledge-production practices.

I came to The Vulnerable Observer as I was commencing post-graduate study. An ethnographer and memoirist, Behar offered fresh ways in which we researchers might make sense of our fieldwork and of our role—the researcher’s role—in our published outcomes. Citing George Devereux, she encouraged us to contemplate how our “self” perceived the world and how this shaped our encounters, intellectually and affectively; and she gave us permission to write in first-person: “What happens within the observer must be made known if the nature of what has been observed is to be understood.”

Reflexive acknowledgements of subjectivity continue to inform the way many humanities and social science researchers write and understand their own writing practices. There is a more recent influence too: scholars must make their research “accessible” for a general readership. Increasingly, universities expect researchers to produce work that has “real world impact,” and academics are writing “crossover” books that contain both specialist rigor and generalist appeal. More and more “approachable” research monographs are being published, and there is sometimes little separation between books written by academics and books written by intellectually serious journalists and authors.

Whether we are operating within or outside the academy, writers of such monographs are confronted with similar sorts of writerly problems. These include, for example, how we convey ideas and information, how we give dense (plotless) research sufficient momentum for a reader, and how we represent other people, environments, and situations ethically. Connecting these problems is one big problem, the one Behar articulated almost three decades ago (one which the New Journalism tackled from another angle 30 years before that), and one that Vivian Gornick and others have also since identified: the “insertion of ourselves” in the writing. We are reluctant to produce writing empty of acknowledged subjectivity, that has a view from nowhere (what Donna Haraway called “the God trick”). And yet what does it mean exactly to insert into our sentences and paragraphs our embodied-and-thinking selves?

I hear writers ask the question, “Should I insert myself in the text?”, along with its bedfellows “How do I insert myself?” and“How much of myself do I put in?” Anyone who has written a nonfiction book appreciates how real these questions feel. They shadow you like schoolyard bullies. You don’t want to make a fool of yourself (don’t want your “self” to be where it is unwanted), and yet the premise of the questions sets you up for embarrassment: the text is the already formed gathering, perfectly content and complete; then the writer arrives and inserts herself. She is the unwelcome guest at the party.

There is paralyzing uncertainty regarding the exact problem we are confronting. Is it a technical writing problem? (How, rhetorically and structurally, do I manage my “I-self” on the page?) Or a problem of research method? (How has my research approach facilitated, or not, the presence of an “I-self” who makes knowledge-claims?) Or is it both? Neither?

While on face value a practical concern, the question of whether and how to insert yourself in the text is above all a conceptual one. The trouble with concepts is that, used long and often enough, they calcify. What was once analogous becomes homologous, and next thing you know, we start speaking of “givens” rather than “imaginings.” The insertion of the writer’s self (or an “I-self” or a persona-self or whatever “self” we wish to call it) was once a potent conceptual tool. I wonder, though, if it has had its day. Writers are being hobbled by it. Opportunities for new thinking and ethical relations are being stifled. Perhaps there are more generative ways we can figure the relationship between the writer, the narrating “I,” and a text’s subject matter.


My friend is working on her second nonfiction book. She feels anxious. She has no “origin story,” she tells me. Her first book was a critical success. It opens with an arresting scene, a dramatic event—an animal’s death, sad and shocking—she witnessed in a forest. Rhetorically, the encounter functioned as a pretext for her writing a book of environmental research. There was an unstated assumption that anyone who witnessed such a happening would be moved to write about it. In developing her second book, however, she has no striking genesis. She is struggling to give readers a satisfactory answer to the perennial twin questions: Why are you writing this book? Why are you writing this book? (Let us set aside Zadie Smith’s refreshing answer to both: Because it is something to do. Academics might answer: Because my job requires it of me.)

That so-called “origin stories” are even a thing is one way that writer-researchers are being restricted conceptually by the question of whether, and how, to insert themselves in their writing. Read a research-based nonfiction monograph and there is a decent chance you will notice an awkward gear shift in the first ten pages, a personal story parachuted onto the page: the writer’s account of how they grew interested in (then obsessed with) a research subject, and why several hundred pages have been devoted to the topic.

I am wary, for instance, of origin stories in which the writer discloses details of a personal trauma or illness and uses the fact of that adversity to prop up an entire research book. The writer enlists the origin story as authorization to hold forth: I once experienced suffering; here is an account of what I endured; now I will tell you a lot of information about this form of suffering. To be clear: it is not the writer’s choice of topic that is the problem, nor that the writer has laid bare a painful incident from their life. Powerful critique can emerge when the two are expertly combined. (Anne Boyer’s The Undying shows what can be accomplished when done well.) The problem is the often clumsy relationship between them. What precisely does the writer want the origin story to do?

The clumsiness, I think, has something to do with the way we tend to conceptualize ourselves in relation to our experience, and, in turn, to the world. By “we,” I mean those of us grounded in, and constrained by, a Western metaphysics of the self. Too often we view “experience” as “stuff”: I have an experience and this is “matter” that I can curate, narrativize, and insert on a page. In such a formulation, “experience” is regarded primarily as “an event,” “an occurrence.” Something happened to me or I did something. Mark Greif writes: “We see our lives as a collection of experiences: ‘the day I met those people at that party’; ‘the night I lost my virginity’; ‘the feeling I had as a tourist in Paris’ or ‘when I stood at the lake in the woods.’” As a result, we tend to treat experience as serialized, a sequence of time capsules, “snowglobes and beachrocks [that] can be held onto, compared, and appraised for quality… [and that] come with stories.”

Many writers instinctively conceive of experience as a particular happening, an incident or ordeal; a story that can be carried around and plonked alongside other writing material. But perhaps human experience does not function quite like that—or not only like that.

What if we approached “experience” differently? Instead of understanding experience largely as episodic, what if we comprehended it as textural? What if we conceived of it as adding a certain grain to our entire apprehension of the world?

A century ago, John Dewey argued that what is “in” experience extends much further than that which is known at any time. Influenced by William James’s idea of “stream of consciousness”—how our thinking involves “substantive parts” (“resting-places”) and “transitive parts” (“places of flight”)—Dewey wrote of the distinction between experience as “inchoate” on the one hand and experience as something fully formed—“an experience”—on the other. “Experience occurs continuously … Things are experienced but not in such a way that they are composed into an experience.” There are times, though, “we have an experience … which is integrated within and demarcated in the general stream of experience from other experiences.” This occurs when what our consciousness goes through, and what goes through our consciousness, “is so rounded out that its close is a consummation and not a cessation.”

More recently, existential anthropologists (influenced by American pragmatism and Continental phenomenology) have argued that the singular self is not a necessary precondition of experience and that we live in a world of intersubjective relationships (what Hannah Arendt calls “the subjective in-between”). Such thinking, explains Michael D. Jackson, “shifts our emphasis away from notions of the person, the self, or the subject as having a stable character and abiding essence.” We are instead invited to “explore the subtle negotiations and alterations of subjective experience as we interact with one another, intervocally or dialogically,” “intercorporeally” and “introceptively”—as well as how we interact with things in the world “since things are often imagined to be social actors, with minds of their own, and persons are often treated as though they were mere things.”

The awkwardly inserted “origin story” is a compositional problem symptomatic of the way human experience has predominantly come to be conceptualized as episodic. Such stories misrepresent both the nature of experience (not all of which is so nicely rounded out) and the authenticating power these episodes have. The clumsiness is a clear sign the writer has presumed a distinction exists between “a lived experience” and “analytical thought”—and that the former lends legitimacy to the latter. An account of the writer’s experience becomes a sort of sanctifying ritual; because it is “lived” in a way that excludes or transcends what is merely “thought,” the personal story is seen as somehow non-cognitive (what typically allows us to draw a circle around an “an” experience is a pervasive and unifying affect), immune to critique, and therefore able to bestow upon the entirety of the book’s research an existential validation.

By contrast, the expert integration of a personal story or stories into a work of research signals that the writer has understood, at the deepest level, the way in which all human experience can function as various forms of knowing; and that human consciousness doesn’t stop wearing the stamp of experience when the “I” disappears. In other words, the work of reflexive thought should be co-extensive with the research all the way through. And yet the contained quality of the origin story—its function as a container—easily puts a limit to such sustained reflexive thinking.

I want to tell my friend not to worry. The success of her first book was not due to the dramatic story of the creature’s death (the so-called “hook”). It was due to something else, something about the particular quality-of-mind being enacted throughout three hundred pages.

Browse

Ditching the “New Yorker” Voice

By Kate Rossmanith

In order to broaden our conceptualization of “experience” and come to understand what this broadening might mean for writers of nonfiction, we need to deal with—perhaps do away with—the term “personal.” Half a century ago, “personal” was a useful descriptor for certain forms of nonfiction but I don’t know that it is any longer.

The extent to which a book is dubbed “personal” is usually a result of how much or how little autobiographical content it is said to contain. (“Deeply personal” seems to be the current descriptor for hybrid nonfiction that feels sort of memoirish but isn’t strictly memoir.) The term is not neutral. It is often used pejoratively with reference to writing by women, eliding the intellectual, aesthetic, or other contribution the work is making. And it is not without history either. (Merve Emre, for example, has charted the relationship between the rise of the bourgeois “private individual” in the mid-19th century and the history of, what was called from the early 20th century onward, the “personal essay.”)

To use “personal” as a categorizing tool misrecognizes certain contemporary nonfiction books. Some “personal” books, even ones containing autobiographical content, somehow don’t feel personal—for example, when the writer takes an unsentimental approach to documenting aspects of their life and those of others. Deborah Nelson develops the concept of “unsentimentality” to think about the work and working practices of Hannah Arendt, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Simone Weil as well as photographer Diane Arbus. She argues that the unsentimental viewpoint these women artists adopted was not some type of character flaw; rather, it was a carefully constructed aesthetic and ethical strategy. Emre, building on Nelson, urges us to stop assuming that “personal writing” is necessarily “a manifestation of intimacy or interiority.”

The not-personal-ness of certain supposedly “personal” books can also arise when the writing expresses the relational character of human existence, expressing a humanity that is both shared and singular. Lauren Berlant’s thinking and writing on “affect” is one such example, as is the radical experiment of the deliberately de-centred “I” in Rachel Cusk’s Faye trilogy.

On the other hand, we have all read books written with an illusion of neutrality that nonetheless feel author-saturated. (Recently a male writer was interviewed about his latest work of nonfiction. He hadn’t once used the first-person, he said proudly to the interviewer; he’d kept himself “out of the text,” hadn’t made himself the star; he wanted the research to “speak for itself.” The exchange bothered me. I had read his book: his sentences sounded grandiose. His phrases were drenched with … Personality? Ego? He-the-knower was everywhere.)

Viewed like this, the question of whether one’s writing might or should be “personal”—“whether I should insert myself in the text”—is moot: as feminist theory has taught us, the author is always already there, already inserted.


In tethering themselves to the term “personal,” writer-researchers are shrugging off something fundamental: their books are works of research. Etymologically, “research” comes from old French, re (again) + cerchier (to search, search after, seek for, seek out). In the context of the university, the term means something more specific. Universities require researchers to generate and communicate fresh, useful knowledge: scholars must be confident that the question they are seeking to answer has not already been satisfactorily addressed; and that the question itself is a valuable one. Cultural theorist and writer Jen Webb points out: “If you can find an answer by checking readily available resources, then you are not undertaking what is formally known as research … And if you find an answer by reflecting only on yourself, then it is probably not of much use to others.”

Researchers engage in reflexive practices to account for the way subjectivity guides their inquiry. The prevalent term is “positionality”: how a researcher’s “positionality” shapes their knowledge production. Researchers are increasingly being asked to reflect on the ways in which their intersecting social identities (gender, race, class, ethnicity, First Nations/settler status, sexuality, dis/ability, geographic location, etc.), their experiences of privilege and marginalization, and their disciplinary training influence their worldviews and therefore their research questions, data collection and analysis. They are to reflect on power relations in their research and in what ways they managed and attempted to mitigate such relations.

At the same time, no consensus exists as to exactly how researchers should address positionality in their writing. What should appear on the page? There are problems, too, concerning which researchers are observing appeals to address it.

While reflexive practice is expected of all researchers to varying degrees depending on our disciplines, “the burdens of positionality,” as Mark Fathi Massoud terms it, “are carried unevenly by a tiny minority.” He observes that, in his field of socio-legal studies, “calls to reflect on one’s positionality and its effects on one’s research methods … have been heeded most often by gendered, racialized, immigrant, queer, working-class, and other marginalized scholars.” He considers the “price of positionality,” which may include heightened self-doubt and anxieties as well as exposure to criticism and harm. The scholarly content of researchers’ work may be devalued because it is presumed not to meet the standards of “objectivity” and “neutrality.” Positionality also requires emotional labor: scholars may communicate painful memories and may even be retraumatized, such “harms disproportionately affect[ing] women and people of color, who are already marginalized.” “Moreover,” as Massoud points out, “these harms do not merely accrue when marginalized scholars speak about their own positionality; they also accrue when scholars from majority populations do not speak about theirs, because that omission renders positionality peripheral to mainstream … scholarship.”

This “speaking” often takes the form of a “positionality statement” at or near the start of a research publication and is thought to promote research(er) transparency. While Massoud is supportive of reflexive practice, he questions the efficacy of such statements. Drawing on Edward Said, he writes:

Asking scholars to write positionality statements risks reifying the “efficient, albeit provisional identities” we use in the different spaces that we inhabit in our lives. Even when we report the range and complexity of our positionalities, such a statement can feel incomplete—especially when we have to reduce our positionalities into a sentence or two in an article’s methods section.

The “positionality statement” as a form shares similar conceptual underpinnings to those of origin stories. Like the contained-ness of the origin story, the tidy declaration of the statement can release the researcher from the challenge of ongoing reflexive thinking and writing. Penning such statements can become a box-ticking exercise, particularly for scholars from majority populations. The discord between the speaking voice of the positionality statement and the speaking voice reporting on the research can be quite sharp. But isn’t the consciousness that communicates “self-identifications and experiences” the same consciousness that communicates “theoretical and empirical findings”?  Shouldn’t the same reflexive “I”—the same work of reflexivity—appear throughout?


Researchers have long been aware that the way they produce, structure, and shape knowledge is inextricably linked with writing. Our writing is not an afterthought, not merely a report on the (real) research that has happened elsewhere (in the field site, the library, the laboratory). Whether we are producing papers for specialist academic journals, or producing a book for the public, our writing is research. Form and content are inseparable, as sociologist Laurel Richardson argues in her essay “Writing: A Method of Inquiry”; writing functions as a mode of knowing. Richardson draws on Edward Rose: “When we view writing as a method … we experience “language-in-use,” how we “word the world” into existence.”

Writing itself manifests, or can manifest, reflexive thought. For decades, researchers have sought out writing strategies beyond traditional genres of research-reporting to inquire into and comprehend the world. They have looked to essay, poetry, fiction, memoir, narrative nonfiction—forms which afford different ways of knowing things and of revealing researchers’ practices of knowledge-production.

Knowledge is embedded in, and thus affected by, various contexts, including the historical, cultural, linguistic contexts of the knower. Our vision is embodied and partial. We are therefore obliged to acknowledge what we see and how we organize what we see.

Knowledge might be that which we test and measure or that which we produce and deduce, and epistemologies are always being productively disrupted and discarded. For example, the limitations of settler-colonial knowledge systems, including the violence enacted by those systems, are being brought into stark relief by the introduction of Indigenous knowledges into the academy. “Indigenous peoples have always done research,” explain Elaine Coburn, Aileen Moreton-Robinson, George Sefa Dei, and Makere Stewart-Harawira. “[T]hey have always asked questions that mattered to them and they have always sought to answer them, mobilizing all relevant sources of knowledge.” Only recently, though, has Indigenous research moved from the community into the university.

Indigenous researchers are experimenting with literary forms to present Indigenous worldviews and, in doing so, are critiquing and offering alternatives to hegemonic epistemologies and ontologies. In her novels and nonfiction, Waanyi writer and scholar Alexis Wright, for example, animates the practice of Aboriginal oral storytelling. Tracker (2017), her “collective biography”of Australian Aboriginal leader and activist Leigh Bruce “Tracker” Tilmouth, is comprised entirely of first-person testimony: interviews conducted by Wright with Tracker, his colleagues, family, and friends. Thus, the figure of Tracker is described and brought into being on the page by a chorus of voices. Oral storytelling is also innovatively depicted in Wright’s novels, her most well-known being Carpentaria (2006). Literary studies scholar Lynda Ng points out that Wright comes from a culture that regards oral storytelling as an ongoing practice rather than a preliterate, lost art. Wright’s “incorporation of orality” into her writing forces a reassessment of the capacity of the novel form to realize “a cross-medial translation between oral and written modes.” Not only are we, as readers, provided with an instructive depiction of Aboriginal ontology, Ng argues, but we are also forced to rethink Western linear theories of sociocultural development that see oral practices progressing toward writing (and therefore literature).

Oral storytelling functions for many Indigenous researchers as a method of inquiry. Palyku novelist, illustrator, and legal scholar Ambelin Kwaymullina argues that collective storytelling has been central to the way that Indigenous research questions have been asked and answered. Indigenous world views, she writes, see the pattern of creation as comprised of living wholes.

Because everything lives, everything moves, and in a constantly shifting reality, position is always relative—which is to say, determined by relationships. Indigenous kinship systems map connections (relationships), and the concept of “family” is not confined to human beings but extends to animals and plants and every other shape of life in the world. As has been said by many Indigenous people before: all are our relations. And all of our relations have stories.

Drawing on Indigenous ontologies, Kwaymullina’s The Tribe trilogy uses speculative fiction techniques to expose the multigenerational trauma of colonialism, critique systems of oppression, and imagine Indigenous futures—a form of storytelling that Anishinaabe academic Grace Dillon has termed “Indigenous Futurisms.”

Indigenous storytelling as a research approach unsettles Western ideas of “story,” including an individualized notion of “self”—a “self,” as Goenpul scholar Aileen Moreton-Robinson writes, “whose humanness is disconnected from the earth, [and] values itself above every other living thing.” In contrast, Moreton-Robinson describes Australian Indigenous women’s way of knowing in terms of “relationality”: “one is connected by descent, country, place and shared experiences where one experiences the self as part of others and that others are part of the self; this is learnt through reciprocity, obligation, shared experiences, co-existence, co-operation, and social memory.” Here “country” means “not only the tracks of land to which we are inextricably tied,” but also “Indigenous people who have bloodline to that country through creator and ancestral birth.”

What counts as knowledge and as worth knowing is always tied to, and shaped by, unequal relations of power. Those of us who, like me, are steeped in more hegemonic ways of knowing are recognizing that our definitions and routine deployment of terms (“self,” “place,” “relationality,” “inter-subjectivity,” “story,” “imagination,” “country,” “time”) proclaim fidelities to knowledge systems and values not shared by all people. Likewise, we should perhaps recognize too that the term “reflexive”—our habitual conceptualization of it—implies an inherent power: the power to be the authoritative knower of oneself as a knower.


Thirty-five years have passed since Donna Haraway wrote “Situated Knowledges,” a seminal essay in which she used the motif of “sight” to critique positivist research approaches and condemn the colonialist “gaze,” turning it back on itself. Science, she argued, has traditionally adopted a “universal, conquering gaze” from “everywhere and nowhere.” She suggested that researchers’ eyes are not passive instruments of “seeing”; instead, we are actively organizing the world—organizing “ways of seeing.” Knowledge is embedded in, and thus affected by, various contexts, including the historical, cultural, linguistic contexts of the knower. Our vision is embodied and partial. We are therefore obliged to acknowledge what we see and how we organize what we see.

Her argument has had far-reaching consequences for feminist debates and other scholarly fields. It has been foundational to the development of feminist standpoint theory and to the concept of “positionality.” I wonder, though, whether many writer-researchers have fully realized, or are even capable of fully realizing, Haraway’s core thesis in their methodologies.

The issue is this: recognizing one’s “perspective-ness” (one’s “seeing”) and enacting “researcher perspective-ness” on the page is extraordinarily difficult. I am not talking about the gratuitous insertion of origin stories or positionality statements; nor a braided configuration whereby memoirish writing is interspersed within blocks of neutral-sounding research-information (this structure succumbing to the same limitations as that of the story-or-statement-insertion). No, I am talking about the possibility of developing a narratorial presence throughout all our writing that is always acknowledging what we see and how we organize what we see.

“Seeing” may not even be the best way to conceptualize what a reflexive narratorial presence is, nor how we might create one. Visual tropes are inherently distancing. They have an effect similar to the episodic containment of experience. “Seeing” (“perspective-ness”) evokes spatial distance: the thing over there that I am observing from here. Episodic experience evokes temporal distance: the thing that happened to me back then. They both imply the existence of a vantage point—somewhere above and away from the thing under discussion.

Rhetorically, the use of visual language and the habitual presentation of episodic experience create a particular “knowing” effect. It is the effect—the display—of self-awareness, self-knowledge, self-insight. I see myself standing here, now, looking at the thing over there, and things back then, and I am able to see what I can-and-cannot-see.


I have suggested we re-imagine “experience” as textural—that it is textured and that it textures our very way of being and knowing in a manner we can never be entirely cognisant of. In the process of writing, then, what might it mean to try consciously to represent textured experience in every word choice, metaphor, phrase, and all the punctuations, rhymes, and rhythms of a full-length research-based manuscript? It is a question to which I do not have a clear answer. Practically speaking, I can’t decide if this is a useful way to ask it.

Several years ago (back then!), I finished a manuscript: 90,000 words that had taken me six years to research and write. The project was about connections between epistemology and emotion; and the manuscript combined ethnographic, philosophical, and memoirish material. I thought I had produced the sort of work that would please someone like Ruth Behar. I was confident my writing reflected, as Behar put it, an “understanding of what aspects of the self are the most important filters through which one perceives the world and, more particularly, the topic being studied”; that I had “scrutinized the connection, intellectual and emotional, between the observer and the observed”; and that I had “inserted my participating-and-observing self into the story” so that I was “embodied” and that I had an embodied relationship with the research under discussion. (Note the predominance of visual tropes: “filters,” “observer,” “observed,” “observing.”)

A publisher read it and wanted to meet me. My agent and I sat down with him. He placed my manuscript on the table and cut to the chase. “There is a 60,000-word book in this 90,000-word manuscript,” he told us. We fell silent. My agent asked him: “Should Kate go home and get out a red pen?” “No,” he replied. “She should go home and open a blank page.” He pointed to a few memoirish paragraphs that were about—and enacted—thought-making, intersubjectivity, and affect. “Hear the sound of these bits?” he asked me. “The entire manuscript has to sound like that.” He made no mention of “self,” nor “personal.” He didn’t talk about my “perspective” or whether (or how) my “persona” was “in” or “not in” the text. His was sonic language.

Perhaps he was saying that the “sound” of the mind in those memoirish paragraphs was the mind (mind-sound?) that could truly support and augment my research subject. The “sound” of the minds in the other parts of the manuscript could not adequately hold, and certainly could not enhance, the book’s overall ideas. Throughout my manuscript, I had, without realizing it, created different-sounding minds. Some were better than others. The (right? best?) mind-sound would allow an “I”-construction to function in the most effective way.

The next day, I started a new draft. As I chose words and formulated phrases and rhythms, I took care to attune myself to, and inhabit, the mind-sound of the passages the publisher had highlighted. I noticed too how, by dwelling in/with that sound, further connections came to me. I (the writer) did not experience myself as having agency: it was the mind-sound that drove my thinking. The mind-sound became what Heidegger might call a tool for thought.

Sound is textural and all-encompassing, penetrating even. It collapses distance. Sound is more than three-dimensional. Sound is material and immaterial. You can easily feel “inside” it, and it “inside” you. And sound entails motion. (For philosopher and poet Jan Zwicky, the basis of ontological cognizance resides within our “perception of patterned resonance in the world” and “occurs only when the mind is on the move.”)

As I develop a narratorial presence in my writing, I have ceased worrying about “self”—my-self, the “I”-self, persona-self, personal-self, the self’s “perspective” and “way of seeing.” Asking about “self” seems to be less productive than asking “What “mind-sound” is needed to carry this work?” (Elsewhere I have used the word “consciousness,” but I now think the term is too abstract. “Consciousness” is not aural enough.) “Mind-sound” affords me a useful way to think about how, as Hans-Georg Gadamer suggested 60 years ago, researchers are always already “in” the world “along with” that which we hope to understand.

 

Works Cited

  • Behar, Ruth. 1996. The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology that breaks your heart. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Coburn, Elaine, Moreton-Robinson, Aileen, Sefa Dei, George, and Stewart-Harawira, Makere. 2013. “Unspeakable Things: Indigenous research and social science,” Socio, Issue 2, pp. 331-348.
  • Dewey, John. “Having an Experience.” McDermott, J (ed.). 1973. The Philosophy of John Dewey, Two Volumes in One (pp. 554-573). Chicago: Chicago University Press. First published in Dewey, John. 1939. Art as Experience (pp. 35-57). New York: Capricorn Books.
  • Dillon, Grace. 2012. Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction. Arizona: University of Arizona Press.
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  • Emre, Merve. 2017. “Two Paths for the Personal Essay.” Boston Review, 22 August.
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  • Nelson, Deborah. 2017. Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Ng, Lynda. 2023. “Alexis Wright’s Novel Activism.” In N. Birns & L. Klee (eds), The Cambridge Companion to the Australian Novel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 178-193.
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Featured image: The Books in The Forest by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash (CC By Unsplash License).