Life writing is particularly attuned to writing the uncanny and the improbable. Parsing the indecipherable elements of a life are its forte, as is its focus on an intimate self in order to illuminate a larger collective condition. The Encyclopedia of Lost Things, a work of life-writing comprised of 26 hybrid essays, explores my own sense-making of the crises of childhood and adolescence, the losses these entailed, and my various attempts to make sense of an external madness through recourse to the available social, political and intellectual lenses—each of them ultimately falling short in suturing the bewilderment of belonging. Constructed as an alphabet (each essay is organised around a letter) the narrator of The Encyclopedia excavates an overwhelming past of accumulating crises. As she ‘works through’ this dark world, obstacles up ahead begin to obstruct her backward gaze. I am interested in the challenge of writing this juncture of a self burdened by the crises of the past, as the future promises to eclipse all. “Hunters and Collectors” explores a crisis in childhood when the human division of the world into sentient and non-sentient beings collapses and the child re-enters a world of kindred beings. Timothy Morton writes that: “The severing is a catastrophe: an event that does not take place “at” a certain “point” in linear time, but a wave that ripples out in many dimensions, in whose wake we are caught.”
Jennifer Rutherford is the Director of the J.M. Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice, and Professor of Literature and Sociology at the University of Adelaide. An interdisciplinary scholar working broadly in the field of psycho-social poetics, her works explore narrative, memory and place-making, the slowness of cultures and subjects in times of great change, the way individuals and communities dwell in and through the traumas that shape them, and the role that artists and writers play as conduits for change.
Key critical works include The Gauche Intruder: Freud, Lacan and the White Australian Fantasy (MUP), Zombies (Routledge), Ordinary People (Documentary: Film Australia) and Traverses: J.M Coetzee in the World (a mobile app). Her creative writing has appeared in journals such as The Best Australian Essays, HEAT Magazine, Meanjin and Westerly. She is currently working on a memoir, The Encyclopedia of Lost Things.