The Braided River : migration and the personal essay.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The personal essay provides a vibrant method of inquiry for exploring migration. Migration tests the individual on all levels and the personal essay bears witness to that lived experience in writing. In applying Montaigne’s maxim “What do I know?” to experience, the joint endeavor of trial and assessment coincide in the migrant and the personal essay. Yet to date, no study of how the personal essay and the migrant intersect and reinforce their parallel journey of discovery has been published. Emphasizing observation, reflection and synthesis, the personal essay provides a rigorous and innovative approach to investigate what migrants encounter firsthand. Both the genre and the migrant try, weigh and test experience for its value and significance in writing and in the real world. This study of the nexus between migration and the personal essay genre addresses a crucial gap in the research, a space of increasing relevance in a progressively more mobile and globalized world. Migration is a lifelong experience, and New Zealand is a nation of migrants. This research examines personal essays written by contemporary migrants to New Zealand from twenty different countries. By probing the roots and routes of migration, migrant essays address complex questions around identity and belonging to assess the lived stakes of migration. Migrants cross geographic, linguistic and existential frontiers, and their personal essays bear witness to the contact zones between self and other, self and text. The migrant personal essay reflects and analyzes experience from the outsider perspective and testifies to the dominant culture how belonging is predicated on mutual acceptance of the other. As this study demonstrates, the personal essay is the ideal genre to explore how migrants negotiate and assess the space between inner and outer, home and journey, experience and meaning – abstractions intrinsic to our sense of self and world.