This thesis consists of two components: a creative dissertation entitled "Eva and Yue Xian: Two Portraits" and a critical essay called "Against Certain Capture: Translation, Biography, Poetry". As its title, "Against Certain Capture", indicates, the argument of this thesis as a whole is that the desire of the writer to be faithful, or to capture the subject of writing, is both thwarted and fulfilled in the writing process.
This argument is developed implicitly in the creative dissertation, which is a poetic biography of two women: Liang Yue Xian and Eva Sounness; and explicitly in the critical essay, which builds upon the argument in relation to three specific modes of writing—translation, biography and poetry. The creative dissertation—which is composed of two series of poems embedded in prose pieces, followed by a short coda—employs tropes of both capture and escape (the self-portrait, for example, and travel) to describe its biographical subjects. The critical essay—which is in the standard mode of academic writing—reflects upon the production of the creative dissertation, and provides more specific contexts for the development of the creative dissertation in the areas of translation theory, biography and poetry. In relation to translation, the essay argues that the desire of the writer to be faithful to the original text is both thwarted and fulfilled by the impossible nature of translation and by the process of translation which involves making choices between competing agendas. In relation to biography, the essay shows how the desire to be faithful as a biographer can be both thwarted and fulfilled in the writing process: thwarted, in the sense that this writer's original conceptions of biography had to be abandoned; and fulfilled, in the sense that this writer arrived at a more sophisticated understanding of the nature of biography. In relation to poetry, the essay explores the difficulties involved in writing poetic biography (biography employing the genre of poetry), looking in particular at tensions between the narrative and the lyric impulses, and at how the writer's desire to be faithful, or to find an adequate poetry for each grandmother's life, is both fulfilled and thwarted in the resolution of that tension.
Both the creative dissertation and the critical essay illustrate how capture is both certain and doubtful: writing takes place with the assumption of capture—against (the backdrop of) certain capture; but with the simultaneous knowledge that complete capture will never take place: against (i.e. resisting) certain capture.