Deakin University

Tess Brady

An exegesis concerning the novel
Fragments of a Map

 

Introduction


'What kind of stones are those?' I said, astonished at how natural my voice sounded. Then there was a silence into which my voice fitted; now it had found exactly the space intended for it … 'You mean the stones stand for something else'… They stand for the things in us that we do not dare recognize. (Wolf, 1984:123-124)

The question of what an exegesis accompanying a creative work should contain will probably always be one of the form's most pressing problems.

To address this question and consequentially give some indication as to what this exegesis contains, I will first deal with two commonly held confusions as to the nature of an exegesis. To do this I will address what an exegesis, in this situation, should not be.

An exegesis which accompanies a creative work and is written by the creator of that work, should not, for example, pre-empt the critic and offer a review of the creative work. The critic's role in evaluating a creative work must be seen as separate from that of the creator who is preoccupied with the process of making the work.

In order to explore this difference it is useful to isolate a few of the tasks of the critic and since the field of this creative work is literature I will isolate my comments to the role of the literary critic.

In literature, critics function somewhat like a bridge between the writer and the reader. Their task is to inform the reader but at the same time to question decisions the writer has made. Questions are rightly asked regarding structure or thematic development, or believability of plot or characters. A critic might wish to reflect on a writer's style, the mastering or lack of wit or humour. Further a critic might well reflect upon a writer's contribution to the genre and in some cases to the development of a particular literary form. Questions could be asked regarding the importance of including or deleting the writer's work from the literary canon.

Equally the critic often reflects upon the publishing and literary funding process and policies. They (note 1) might, for example, comment on the editing of a text, the cover design, or question the nervousness of a publisher who inserts explanatory forewords or end notes. They might question the role of a funding body in supporting a certain text, or conversely, suggest to such bodies and to publishers, that more could be done in a certain genre.

The critic needs to do all this, as Daniel points out, without overriding personal agendas (Daniel, 1997:1). While Daniel does not make a claim for objectivity - no critic could work in an ideological vacuum - she does suggest that for critics to contribute significantly to the literary debate and the publishing and funding culture and climate, they need to put aside personal prejudices and review the work within the context of its publishing. It is a little like buying a birthday present for a dear friend. While we search for a 'good book', we are not necessarily looking for a book which we would choose for ourselves, but rather one which our friend might choose.

The need to contain personal agenda makes the role of the critic significantly different from the role of the creator. For example, it would be extremely difficult for the creator of a work to offer a review of their own work which did not carry any overriding personal agenda. Such a review would be partial and worth more as a curiosity rather than any kind of bridge between the reader and the writer.

The exegesis then, since it is written by the creator of the work, should not be a criticism of the work after the normal fashion of the critical review.

To take this further, I would like to suggest that while an exegesis can be a reflection on the work, it cannot be a critique of the work.

To understand this we need to question the difference between the reflecting and critiquing process. In a critiquing process we expect an interrogation of a process, or work, or idea, by a particular theoretical position. We expect the interrogation to be rigorous, skilful, elegant and possibly inventive. All of this the writer can do, and often does in their work, but can the writer carry out this process to their own work in anything but a partial manner which might best be described as 'reflection'?

Reflection is a gentler process. It does not insist upon rigour. It excuses incompleteness and at times can label contradictions as 'interesting'. In reflection we do not need to come from a particular or unified theoretical position but rather can embrace the complexities of our entire makeup, adopting, for example, an ecological position here, a feminist stance there.

There is little question that a writer, like anyone else, can reflect upon their own work, their process, the way a work might relate to an historical, contemporary or ideological position. Such reflections however, carry with them more wishful thinking, more personal goals and hopes than we would normally like to attribute to the critiquing processes. It colours the process, it makes it partial. The exegesis that follows this path then, is more likely to be a reflection rather than a critique.

Neither can the exegesis hope to explore all the aspects, thoughts, concerns and problems posed by the work. To attempt to do so would be inelegant and an unnecessary duplication of the work itself, in this case the novel. It would produce little more than an awkward and tedious clone of the fiction. The exegesis then needs to focus on certain concerns while leaving others alone. In this way it needs to be particular rather than general, selective rather than all embracing.

In this isolation of certain concerns each exegesis then needs to vary according to the creative work it supports. Some works will require a literature review of the theoretical concerns underpinning the work; others will seek to place the work within a cultural or historical framework. Still others will eke out a genre or concentrate upon the details of techniques explored and developed. When handled in this way, as a document addressing selective concerns, the exegesis becomes a valuable vehicle, for both the writer and the reader, for further exploration and reflection.

Because of the nature of my creative work Fragments of a Map, and the way it plays with the notion of research, I have decided to focus this exegesis on issues relating to both the development of this novel and its thematic concerns.

I have divided the exegesis into three main sections. The first deals with the thematic concerns that were my early companions when I began researching and writing the novel.

The second section looks at the process I took my writing through. It looks at structural issues relating to this novel and also issues relating to the novelist qua novelist. In this section I am suggesting a human rather than clinical approach to the business of writing a novel.

The third section addresses the issues of research, and illustrates the nature and range of traditional scholarly research required for the writing of this novel. It also explores the relationship that developed between the creative and the academic processes.

I found the process of writing the exegesis an interesting one. In particular it was personally satisfying to trace the development of my ideas, to see how readings, directions and thoughts that I busied myself with at the beginning of my journey (some five years ago) clung to the narrative or thematic considerations of the final product. While ideas changed and developed, little was wasted and those early concerns which gnawed so deeply at me in the beginning, manifested themselves in quite remarkable, although often not obvious, ways.

Since this exegesis relies and draws upon a reader's knowledge of the novel, it is suggested that the novel be read before the exegesis.

It is also worth pointing out that, unlike the novel, which from its inception was seen as a public document whose resting-place is the market place, this exegesis is intended to remain in the smaller landscape of the academic domain.

Lastly it is fitting here to publicly acknowledge the debt I owe to my supervisors. My principal supervisor, Judith Rodriguez has been with me throughout this journey patiently working through the many drafts I have asked her to comment upon. She has accompanied me on my experiments and has been a constant source of encouragement. Nigel Krauth generously agreed to act as a local supervisor when the novel neared its final stages. His support and encouragement in those last months of writing was invaluable and I am indebted to him for his belief in me and in my project.

 

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