The artful life story : the oral history interview as fiction

Van Luyn, Ariella (2012) The artful life story : the oral history interview as fiction. PhD by Creative Works, Queensland University of Technology.

[img] Ariella Van Luyn Thesis (PDF 4MB)
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This practice-led PhD project consists of two parts. The first is an exegesis documenting how a fiction writer can enter a dialogue with the oral history project in Australia. I identify two philosophical mandates of the oral history project in Australia that have shaped my creative practice: an emphasis on the analysis of the interviewee’s subjective experience as a means of understanding the past, and the desire to engage a wide audience in order to promote empathy towards the subject. The discussion around fiction in the oral history project is in its infancy. In order to deepen the debate, I draw on the more mature discussion in ethnographic fiction. I rely on literary theorists Steven Greenblatt, Dorrit Cohn and Gerard Genette to develop a clear understanding of the distinct narrative qualities of fiction, in order to explore how fiction can re-present and explore an interviewee’s subjective experience, and engage a wide readership. I document my own methodology for producing a work of fiction that is enriched by oral history methodology and theory, and responds to the mandates of the project. I demonstrate the means by which fiction and the oral history project can enter a dialogue in the truest sense of the word: a two-way conversation that enriches and augments practice in both fields.

The second part of the PhD is a novel, set in Brisbane and based on oral history interviews and archival material I gathered over the course of the project. The novel centres on Brisbane artist Evelyn, who has been given an impossible task: a derelict old house is about to be demolished, and she must capture its history in a sculpture that will be built on the site. Evelyn struggles to come up with ideas and create the sculpture, realising that she has no way to discover who inhabited the house. What follows is a series of stories, each set in a different era in Brisbane’s history, which take the reader backwards through the house’s history. Hidden Objects is a novel about the impossibility of grasping the past and the powerful pull of storytelling.

The novel is an experiment in a hybrid form and is accompanied by an appendix that identifies the historically accurate sources informing the fiction. The decisions about the aesthetics of the novel were a direct result of my engagement with the mandates of the oral history project in Australia. The novel was shortlisted in the 2012 Queensland Literary Awards, unpublished manuscript category.

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ID Code: 60921
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Creative Works)
Supervisor: Bolland, Craig & Gislason, Kari
Keywords: arts-based research methods, creative writing, ethnographic fiction, fiction, hybrid novel, narrative, oral history, Oral History Association of Australia, practice-led, semi-structured interview
Divisions: Past > Schools > Creative Writing & Literary Studies
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 24 Jun 2013 05:32
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015 02:46

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