This thesis contains two parts: a novella entitled 'Cusp' and the critical essay 'Meditation on the Third Ear'.
'Cusp' is a story about arriving and departing, about transition and change. The story opens with Mavis Hawkins preparing for the return of her daughter, Lena, who has spent a period living in New York. This beginning consciously reverses the familiar narrative of a young woman escaping the limits of regional domesticity for a large city. At the core of the novella is the ambivalent relationship of the daughter to her mother. While the present of the story is set at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, the narrative reprises earlier periods in both women's lives. This is achieved both in the present of the story, through the play of memory and the 'return of the repressed', but also through Lena's first-person narrative that is addressed to the (absent) figure of the mother. The relationship of death, truth and storytelling are central to 'Cusp' at a thematic, but more importantly, at a structural level. Narrative tension is established through the characters' (unwitting) collusion; Lena refuses to see and Mavis is unable to reveal the true reasons she had asked her daughter to come home. In the final pages mother and daughter establish a narrative contract' in the hope that intimacy and truth can be re-established.
In the writing of a thesis, the critical essay often functions as a meta-document that explains and situates the fictional text. The 'Third Ear' of my title refers to the inorganic ear famously transplanted upon the back of a mouse in the laboratories of Dr Joseph Vacant! at the Harvard Medical School. In part the essay tests (essayer; in French to try, or test) the applicability of this analogy to the relationship between the novel and critical essay in the thesis. I do not position the creative and the critical as binary opposites or as mutually exclusive realms; rather I try to tease out my personal relationship to different knowledges and practices that for me have not always sat easily together. The critical essay explores the genesis of my project, acknowledging the tension between the kind of 'unknowing' that is necessary for creative work, and the more rigorous language of criticism. The essay is organised around a series of thematic or conceptual constellations that have influenced the development of my project. The writing of fiction does not respect the arbitrary boundaries that demarcate discourses; the influences I cite are as much autobiographical and local as literary and theoretical. One of the significant problems of the essay in relation to the novel remains for me the gap between theoretical intention, and realisation. Despite these reservations, I acknowledge the importance of contemporary theoretical concerns to my project — the postmodern conceptualisation of the body, notions of place and identity, the idea of situated knowledge, the relationship between the universal and the particular, the global and the local.
Both my novel and my critical essay exist in a relationship of tension. Their interdependency is both their strength and their weakness. For someone wanting to publish fiction in the commercial world of writing, a novel has to be able to stand alone. But no novel writes itself, as I hope my essay demonstrates.