Tasmania-bound is me, Laurie Brinklow, a writer/editor/book publisher from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. I'm following my dream to explore my passion for islands by undertaking a three-year PhD program at the University of Tasmania, looking at culture on the islands of Tasmania and Newfoundland.
Here's a one-page description of my project!
With Newfoundland and Tasmania coming into their own culturally in recent years—Newfoundland through its vibrant literary and musical scene, and Tasmania through literature, music, and visual art—the question arises: why do these two islands of similar sizes, populations, genealogies, and geographic placements, on opposite sides of the globe, have such vibrant cultures? Examining the issue through the lens of “island” studies, one could attribute it to the fierce sense of pride and independence that comes from living close to the elements in a bounded space, or from the “specialness” of being set apart from the mainland, or from the storytelling tradition, where islanders know that they must claim and reclaim their stories to ensure their accuracy. As Darwin has identified, islands are a laboratory for change. In this age of a global cookie-cutter culture, then, what do these two island cultures have to teach us about cultural diversity, originality, identity, and how cultures evolve? Through the lens of place and attachment to place—in this case, islands—and by looking at representations of Newfoundland and Tasmanian culture, this study will explore how attachment to place, “island” identity, and the prevalence of story play a significant role in islanders’ perceptions of self, individually and collectively.
This study will begin with an examination of mainland (Canadian and Australian) attitudes toward Newfoundland and Tasmania from the mid-20th century to the present. After the Second World War, for instance, “Newfie jokes” that demonstrated Newfoundlanders’ perceived backwardness and marginalization were popular. Tasmania experienced similar treatment as the butt of Australian jokes. Why do two islands off mainland countries engender this attitude of supposed superiority? A partial answer comes in Pete Hay’s words about how islands “can serve, as Tasmania does, and Newfoundland does in Canada, as a projection of the dreams and, more usually, the fears of the mainland, as a psychological sink into which elements of a larger collective guilt can be displaced” (Vandiemonian 80). Being derided and marginalized by their compatriots can make for a miserable existence. Or it can make a society all the more proud and determined to prove them wrong. Indeed, the story goes that most Newfie jokes are written by Newfoundlanders.
Through the lens of place and attachment to place—in this case, islands—and by looking at representations of Newfoundland and Tasmanian culture, this study will unpack the idea that these islands may have been “psychological sinks” at one time, but not in the hearts and minds of islanders. Some mainlanders may look at islanders as backward, inferior, dependent, or as “the other,” but islanders perceive themselves as set apart, strong, stoic, independent, and resilient. Attachment to place, “island” identity, and the prevalence of story play a significant role in islanders’ perceptions of self, individually and collectively. Barry Lopez writes about “the human ability to make a story, a story that is grounded powerfully in place” (12). Island writers are choosing more and more to focus on their localized identity and culture; having power over their own stories is a way of ensuring that their voice—and truths—are heard. Writes Pete Hay, “Island literatures engage with the land and the sea . . . and the community. They address the large, cosmic questions of existence, but they do so within a context of shore-bound particularity” (Poetics 555). And, as a result, writes Lisa Moore, “Tasmanian and Newfoundland literatures have captured the international imagination, to the extent that they have, partly because they are charting uncharted territory—the specific details of place, voice, cadence, and wit that come from living on islands at the periphery, at the ends of the earth” (Moore).
Grounded in place theory, identity theory, cultural theory, narrative theory, and theory about writing from place, the research will identify and analyze the major cultural output of both islands from the mid-20th century to the present, looking at trends in mainlanders’ perceptions of islanders, but, more importantly, islanders’ perceptions about themselves. Research will include interviews with key individuals from within the artistic and academic community about these questions of perception and identity. The nature of the study and the background of the researcher lends itself to ethnography; as a writer, editor, and book publisher, the researcher has the credibility to become part of the culture and to write about it. At the heart of the questioning will be how “place”—the island—affects islanders’ perceptions of themselves and how it manifests in their culture. This study will be an important contribution to cultural, identity, place, and narrative theory through the lens of “island.”