Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gipsy- The Postmodern Traveler/Writer Avatar

In order to look at the true nature of experience during my stay in Ghana I decided to look not only at how the medium I recorded in impacted my experience, but also at how the way I saw dictated it.  I divided different aspects of my personality into five avatars to show these differences.  Gipsy was my favorite of my avatars, being something between a postmodern traveler and a writer.  I think like her most of the time, and so it came easy.  Being Gipsy meant that I could be open with my thoughts, liberal in my themes, and creative with my descriptions and comparisons.  As a writer, this avatar could make sense of the experience by reaching into my past. My goal was to have something of a Virginia Woolf style and more stream of conscious.  I think in the field note process it meshed into Ava, but having more of that tone would definitely be something I implement if I were to do this project again.  It allowed me to be more personal and less conscious of some of the taboos you run into with judgment calls in ethnography. 

  1. Culture Shock- Dealing with jarring situations and encountering the cultural other could be fun with Gipsy.  Her writings are more accessible to someone from my paradigm, and so are probably easier to relate to (FN:7:19, FN:8:13). 
  2. Physical Conditions- Being sick was something I pawned off on Gipsy, allowing me to be open and honest that drinking bad water is not fun, and there is little to romanticize like Ava would.  I also fleshed out my Larium dreams (lucid dreams caused by my anti malarial medicine) and talked about some of the other strange side effects that the pills gave me (FN:9:6, FN:18:1, FN:21:1, FN:28:1-5, FN:67:1, FN:78:8).
  3. Honesty- Being Gipsy allowed me to be personal and less conscious of some of the taboos you run into with judgment calls in ethnography.  My classic example for this was a poem I wrote in the field that I ended up feeling really bad about.  There are just some things you cannot explain on a surface level when you are being a romantic anthropologist like Ava, so these two avatars would fight from time to time.  However, as a writer I was able to be more honest about my initial impressions without worrying too much.  This could make it more entertaining to read as well (FN:25:1, FN:29:1-2, FN:36:2, FN:40:1, FN:54:1-2, FN:70:1, FN:71:1, FN:78:4, FN:83:3).
  1.  Honesty- Yes, this is also in the "pro" section.  Having less reservation when talking about things I only half understand could be very problematic.  The reason why I went into this project was because of biased and false portrayals of explorations by people like Henry Morton Stanley in Through the Dark Continent and Robert Louis Stevenson in his Polynesia descriptions in The South Seas.  Our experiences are so limited that making entertaining statements on the surface level could be very detrimental in the long run (FN:25:1, FN:29:1-2, FN:36:2, FN:40:1, FN:54:1-2, FN:70:1, FN:71:1, FN:78:4, FN:83:3).
  2. Developing Style- As I mentioned earlier, my style was still in the process of developing while recording field notes.  Ideally these notes would be less chronological and more stream of conscious.  Having this ongoing development made it hard at times to distinguish any real difference between Gipsy and Ava. 
  3. Not Here- There were times when I was so caught up in my own thoughts and feelings that I was not really in the present situation.  One time I was walking down the street and if I was not with Chase I would have completely forgot to say my morning greets.  Being Gipsy runs the risk of being in your own world instead of being in place, kind of the opposite of Shelley (FN:18:20).
I was really pleased with the development of this avatar.  While there are some problems that come up, especially in connection with Ava, I think that there is something very viable about this way of seeing the world.  However, it is very important that we keep authenticity in mind when we consider the nature of creative nonfiction and travel writing so that Gipsy's narrative can be put into perspective.

Photo credit go to J. Les Gainous on flickr
    (Additional data on Gipsy can be found in field notes FN:17:1-2, FN:17:14, FN:18:26, FN:20:16, FN:31:19, FN:36:1, FN:44:1-3, FN:45:1, FN:56:2, FN:68:1, FN:76:1, FN:78:1, FN:83:1)

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