Besemeres, Mary 1972-
BESEMERES, Mary 1972-
PERSONAL: Born February 26, 1972, in Warsaw, Poland; daughter of John (an international relations analyst) and Anna (a university professor and linguist; maiden name, Wierzbicka) Besemeres; married Nigel Little (an historian), October 27, 2001; children: Elizabeth. Education: Australian National University, B.A. (with honors), 1993, Ph.D., 2000. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Bush walking, reading poetry.
CAREER: Australian National University, Canberra, lecturer, 2000; National University of Singapore, Singapore, postdoctoral fellow, 2000-01; Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia, visiting fellow, 2001, postdoctoral fellow, 2002—. Amnesty International, volunteer, 1998-99.
MEMBER: Amnesty International.
Translating One's Self: Language and Selfhood in Cross-Cultural Autobiography, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to books, including Selves Crossing Cultures: Autobiography and Globalization, edited by Rosamund Dalziell, Australian Scholarly Publishing (Melbourne, Australia), 2002; Exile, Language, and Identity, edited by Magda Stroinska and Vittorina Cecchetto, Peter Lang (Bern, Switzerland), 2003; Anglo-phone Cultures in Southeast Asia: Appropriations, Continuities, Contexts, edited by Rüdiger Ahrens, David Parker, Klaus Stierstorfer, and Kwok-Kan Tam, Universitätsverlag Winter (Heidelberg, Germany), 2003; Border Crossings: Mapping Identities in Modern Europe, edited by Peter Wagstaff, Peter Lang (Oxford, England), 2004; and Encyclopedia of Women's Autobiography, edited by Jo Malin and Victoria Boynton, Greenwood Publishing (Westport, CT), 2004. Contributor to periodicals, including Biography, Auto/Biography Studies, Canadian Slavonic Papers, Russian Review, Journal of Australian Studies, Pragmatics and Cognition, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, and Polish Review.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Cross-Cultural Lives, a study of narratives by migrants between languages, completion expected in 2005; Anglos Abroad, a study of Anglophone cross-cultural travel writers.
SIDELIGHTS: Mary Besemeres told CA: "I write in order to express something that I feel strongly about, but there is also a desire to communicate the thought to others. So, for example, if I read something that makes me want to object, or that I strongly agree with, I scribble a response in the margin. That comment often becomes the basis for a longer piece of writing. My primary interlocutor is the person to whom I'm responding, but I want to convey our agreement or disagreement to other people, to hear what they think. I rarely write purely creatively, 'for myself.'
"I have been influenced by some wonderful teachers of literature, especially by David Parker, Simon Haines, Jane Adamson, Rich Pascal, and Fred Langman. Broadly speaking, these lecturers' approach to literature was humanistic, emphasizing the value of imagination and of literature as an engagement with and reflection on human experience. My mother, Anna Wierzbicka, who has published seminal books on language and culture, has deeply influenced my interest in language and in cross-cultural themes. My book, Translating One's Self: Language and Selfhood in Cross-Cultural Autobiography, is also deeply indebted to Eva Hoffman's luminous memoir of migration, Lost in Translation. Among critics of autobiography, my main influences are David Parker and Paul John Eakin; among critics of cross-cultural literature, Alice Kaplan and King-Kok Cheung. My approach to autobiography is also informed by philosopher Charles Taylor's view of the self as existing within a moral framework, and my sense of the centrality of culture owes much to cultural psychologists such as Jerome Bruner.
"I tend to write in response to someone else's words, and this helps to shape the writing process for me. I need to read in order to write; I find it hard to write 'on an empty stomach.' Writing itself acts as a catalyst for ordering my thoughts. Once I've collected some notes, I try to connect them, and a structure emerges. I reread what I've written many times as I go along, and eventually I work out which bits are not necessary to the argument. I find cutting hard, but ultimately it's good to be free of the barnacles, however significant they seemed initially.
"My own experiences as the daughter of an immigrant from Poland—I myself was less than a year old when my parents moved to Australia—helped to foster my interest in the stories of immigrants and others who cross cultures. Growing up bilingual, speaking Polish at home and English at school, with my sister and with friends, I often felt as though I had access to two worlds, reliant on different ways of perceiving, behaving, and feeling. Sometimes I felt that I did not belong fully in either. This gave me a basis for understanding and identifying with 'real' immigrants. It also gave impetus to my writing on cross-cultural narratives."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Biography, spring, 2003, Jadwiga Maszewska, review of Translating One's Self: Language and Selfhood in Cross-Cultural Autobiography, p. 337.
Journal of Australian Studies Review of Books, Volume 23, 2004, Richard Freadman, review of Translating One's Self.
Life Writing, Volume 1, number 2, 2004, David McCooey, review of Translating One's Self, pp. 219-222.