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Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  142 ratings  ·  27 reviews
For author Gish Jen, the daughter of Chinese immigrant parents, books were once an Outsiders Guide to the Universe. But they were something more, too. Through her eclectic childhood reading, Jen stumbled onto a cultural phenomenon that would fuel her writing for decades to come: the profound difference in self-narration that underlies the gap often perceived between East a ...more
Hardcover, 201 pages
Published March 25th 2013 by Harvard University Press (first published March 21st 2013)
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Isaac Baker
Apr 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I read this for part of my Johns Hopkins University masters in writing program. I enjoyed our class discussion more than I enjoyed the book. Jen is an amazing writer and her indepedent vs. interdependent dichotomy provides writers with a lot to think about.

This is how Jen sets up her premise:

Independent: “individualistic self – stresses uniqueness, defines itself via inherent attributes such as its traits, abilities, values, and preferences, and tends to see things in isolation."

Jul 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
A deep meditation on the extent to which the individual self can be separated from its context (environment, culture, surrounding people). The focus is not so much on finding a factual answer to that question, but exploring how Easterners and Westerners have different assumptions about what the truth of the matter is (evidenced by cognition, behavior and the types of literature produced by writers in each culture), and how people of mixed cultural background -- for example, Asian American immigr ...more
Jul 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book. It compares Western literature with that of Asian and Asian American writing. It discusses the cultural differences which impact writing -- the interdependent vs the independent self. I didn't completely "get" the analysis she lays out or perhaps don't completely agree. I hope to reread this at some point. C, I hope, that you will at least scan this so we can discuss. I very much like Jen's novels. And here's a ink to the NYT review, which I found helpful.

Hmmmm .... can't
Catherine Newell
Jan 28, 2019 rated it liked it
On one level, I loved the subject of this book -- the way art reflects culture, context, and the artist, and how all that changes between "East" and "West" -- but on another level, I couldn't make heads or [tiger] tails of some of the author's examples or explanations of social scientific studies that were meant to substantiate her point. I understand her argument about inter- vs. independent cultures; in fact, my next (very, very nascent) project is on more-or-less that exact topic. But either ...more
Dec 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lots of things to chew. As a Chinese American woman, there were so many observations that ring true to me both about my motherland and the country I grew up in, especially the comment that my American generation recognizes in independence a flipside that is loneliness and a lack of community, while I see my relatives in China determined to cultivate more Western values like independent thinking and individuality in their children. I've always felt that both orientations, independence and interde ...more
Rick Sam
Sep 12, 2020 rated it liked it
I took this book to expand my horizon on West vs East. The Book is dry, with personal anecdotes.

The Core idea of the book:

Independent: “individualistic self – stresses uniqueness, defines itself via inherent attributes such as its traits, abilities, values, and preferences, and tends to see things in isolation."

Interdependent “collectivist self – stresses communality, definites itself via its place, roles, loyalties, and duties, and tends to see things in context.”

Imagine having narratives, c
I love Gish Jen's writing, but ironically, I just couldn't finish this book. I probably marked up enough of the first half of it to make it completely illegible for anyone else, but for some reason, I just could not plow through the rest of this brief little book. It's a shame, but I've finally given up hope on making myself return to it after SO long since I started it. It's just not worth my time to try to force my way through some reads anymore. I still give her mad props for being such a gre ...more
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it
It started off amazing, I had thought this would be a great book. The first lecture was fantastic. Moving to the second lecture it was okay, the last one was boring turning annoying at some points. So far from the book I hoped for at the start.
Maria Freeman
Dec 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: xyz
Lovely writing style, although it became a bit too theory intensive towards the end.
Jeffrey Fisher
Terrific insight into another mindset/worldview. Enlightening. Hoping the ideas will infuse my own creative work.
Jennie Bev
May 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bookreviewclub
In Tiger Writing, a memoir of art, culture, and interdependent self, author Gish Jen said, “Culture is not fate; it only offers templates, which individuals can finally accept, reject, or modify, and do.” Jen was born in the United States of immigrant parents who migrated from Yixing in Jiangsu province, west of Shanghai. The memoir is divided into three sections, which were presented as lectures at Massey Lectures in the History of American Civilization program at Harvard. It is a cultural memo ...more
Apr 19, 2013 added it
A remarkably cogent and important exploration of the supposed dichotomy between the independent and the interdependent selves, their respective roots in Western and Eastern cultures, their psychological traits and social consequences. The book itself (which is based on three lectures author Gish Jen delivered at Harvard, her alma mater) unfolds in mostly interdependent style, with Jen skating from independence to interdependence, criticizing the stereotyped notion of a disembodied voice and yet ...more
Nicolas A.
There are days when I have been fortunate beyond what I deserve. The day that I was invited by faculty members at my University to have lunch with Gish Jen was one of them. Sharing conversation with her over a lobster sandwich paid for by the English Department was one of the highlights of my college experience.

Her lecture on interdependence opened my eyes to a fundamental truth about Western and Eastern cultures. (Hint: Look at the cover. The object of the painting is a tiger, but the focus is
Connie Kronlokken
This book is kind of ground zero for my own writing and thinking, situated as I am on the eastern edge of the Pacific, and coming from a Norwegian Lutheran culture which I would define as interdependent (Gish Jen's term). At least at the time and in the place in the family I was born into. I need to read this again!

Gish Jen describes her father's writing as not narrating "a modern, linear world of conflict and rising action, but rather one of harmony and eternal, cyclical action, in which order,
Apr 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Jen covers many topics in these three lectures: art, literature, food, morality and growing up the child of Chinese immigrants. Contrasting Eastern and Western cultures, always in the background are her parents view of life. She examines being interdependent and independent and creates many fresh insights and contrasts of the Western and Eastern view of living. Stimulating and fresh thinking from a fine mind.
May 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed these reflections on Eastern / Western differences in engaging the world from an interdependent / independent understanding of self. Using sociological studies, visual art, her father's "autobiography", her own novels and stories, as well as other literary references (Kafka, Woolf, Proust, Kundera, etc.), she offers examples of the differing worldviews. The book includes three lectures; I found it engaging and enlightening. Makes me want to read her novels. ...more
I was disappointed because it wasn't what a I expected, which was a sort-of writing memoir, as in this is why/how I became a writer, etc. Instead it is a scholarly, rather dry lecture ... indeed the book IS a William E. Massey Sr. lecture from Harvard's Program in the History of American Civilization. I would have liked more reflection and more personal anecdotes, and less pontification. ...more
May 27, 2014 rated it liked it
At times quite fascinating but I found the tone problematic - too pandering to an audience that readers aren't really a part of in terms of cute colloquialisms that seemed forced - if she said "feh" one more time, I'd have tossed the book across the room - didn't hold to0gether for me so a disappointment ...more
Apr 17, 2013 added it
a provocative series of lectures, prodding the ? of two states of mind in telling stories: one that begins with context and one that begins with the autobiographical narrative. an interesting look that shares research on these points, interesting to consider as far as your own style as a reader, writer, listener, citizen, actually . . .
Becki Basley
May 29, 2016 rated it liked it
I love Gish Jen's book but for some reason I just wasn't able to get in this book. It was well written but I think it was just not a subject I could get into right now. I'm going to get a copy (my copy is from the library) and keep it around to read more throughly later ...more
Chimezie Ogbuji
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Interesting premise, but after the first 2 chapters it starts to get exceedingly repetitive and boring. Seems to try to address what Amy Chu does in her book but in a format (content of a lecture series) that is just too boring to follow
Michael Poage
Jul 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book. It took me in a variety of wonderful directions. Who else, at least in my world, would read sociological studies as meditation?! Ms. Jen, thank you for your intellect, range, and humor.
Jun 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Independent vs. Interdependent self. Of the three sections, the first was most interesting when the author analyzed her father's autobiography to illustrate the difference in eastern vs. western viewpoints. ...more
TaraShea Nesbit
Interesting ruminations on inter/independence culturally and what that means for how one reads, appreciates, or dislikes narrative.
Mills College Library
Biog J512t 2013
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
thought provoking
Oct 29, 2014 rated it really liked it

Fascinating book, one I will come back to again.
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Mar 12, 2013
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Mar 31, 2013
rated it it was amazing
Sep 02, 2014
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Gish Jen grew up in New York, where she spoke more Yiddish than Chinese. She has been featured in a PBS American Masters program on the American novel. Her distinctions also include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Fulbright fellowship, and a Radcliffe Institute fellowship. She was awarded a Lannan Literary Prize in 1999 and received a Harold and Mildred Str ...more

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