The Author As The Novel Self: Shirley Lim’s Sister Swing By Denise B. Dillon A biographer always knows less about his [sic] characters than a novelist, for a novelist can claim omniscience, which a biographer cannot do. (Edel, 1978, 3) The unmovable self situated in the quicksand of memory, like those primeval creatures fixed in tar pits, that childhood twelve thousand miles and four decades away, is a fugitive presence which has not yet fossilized. (Lim, Moonfaces,1996, 25) For any reader who has examined Lim’s autobiographical work, Among the White Moon Faces: Memoirs of a Nyonya Feminist, it is challenging to avoid the potential for biographical fallacy in reading and commenting on Lim’s second novel, Sister Swing. The locations in Sister Swing to a large extent parallel the geographical shifts described in Lim’s autobiography, from her birth in Malacca, to upstate New York, thence to California and back to New York, this time to Brooklyn. In each location, whether ‘real world’ or fictional, the protagonist is a minority subject and thus, perhaps most importantly, each of the works reflects a response to ideological struggles, associated with a reaction against either politically-driven or patriarchal censorship and control in postcolonial Malaysia, paired with reaching towards a liberal ideology of freedom (Chin, 2006). The reader has therefore several external “objects” on which to draw. As a counterpoint to the biographical fallacy, I argue here that Lim opportunistically employs authorial omniscience in Sister Swing as an instrument to explore environmental, social and cultural influences on the development of a very important internal object, that of self-identity. That is, the author knows the characters intimately because each forms a part of herself. Foucault poses the question as to what is an author and removes the focus from author to text: “the author does not precede the works” (1969, 12). Indeed, he goes further in reducing the author to a product of interpretation: “The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning” (12). While Foucault questions what difference it makes who is speaking, for
While authorial omniscience is denied the biographer, I argue that Lim as novelist takes this advantage in Sister Swing as a tool through which to explore the development of self-identity through characterizations of three sisters that in combination form the tripartite self as proposed by Freud. Autobiographical memories of familial, social and cultural life experiences are the source from which Lim draws and fleshes out, in her novel, portrayals of family members seeking freedom through different ways and means. As a self-analyst probing deep within the psyche, Lim employs linguistic stylizations to express contrastive and yet complementary points of view in a polyphonic unity of expression that echoes the id, ego and superego in Freud’s topographic model of personality. This psychoanalytic reading of the novel provides an opening through which to explore the deeper meanings within the novel and how the characters are interrelated beyond the level of sisterhood.
Dillon, Denise B.
"The Author As The Novel Self: Shirley Lim’s Sister Swing,"
Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies: Vol. 7
, Article 8.
Available at: https://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/aaldp/vol7/iss1/8