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Invoking Mnemosyne: Art, Memory, and the Uncertain Emergence of a Feminist Embodied Methodology


reviewed by Erica Alane Hill - February 21, 2011

coverTitle: Invoking Mnemosyne: Art, Memory, and the Uncertain Emergence of a Feminist Embodied Methodology
Author(s): Kelly Clark Keefe
Publisher: Sense Publishers, Rotterdam
ISBN: 946091229X, Pages: 112, Year: 2010
Search for book at Amazon.com


Kelly Clark/Keefe’s Invoking Mnemosyne: Art, Memory, and the Uncertain Emergence of a Feminist Methodology is a brief yet dense work which examines both the rewards and challenges of conducting qualitative research using an “arts informed feminist embodied approach to inquiry” (p. 85). Based on her experiences while conducting a yearlong study on the lives of six women academics from working class and lower economic class backgrounds, Clark/Keefe illustrates the ways in which postmodern, critical, interpretivist, and humanist epistemologies informed her research process.


In a mere 87 pages, divided into six chapters, Clark/Keefe manages to introduce the reader to a dearth of literature concerning poststructuralist thought, the significance of affectivity and the ever-challenging ideal of subjectivity. As such, Clark/Keefe explores not only the experiences of the women participants of the study, but simultaneously engages in a study of self, thus resulting in a work that is both as the author describes “a methodological and personal archive” (p. xiv). This examination of self, an exercise in reflexivity proves to serve as the basis of this work, in that the author’s overall objective is not to present the findings of the yearlong study; rather her intent is to demonstrate to readers how an interrogation of the lived experiences of the six women served as a catalyst for her own process of personal and intellectual discovery.


In the opening chapter of the text, Clark/Keefe delves into the ways the initial project led her on a yearlong excavation into her own memories concerning her motives for pursuing a college degree and an eventual career in the academy. Here, Clarke/Keefe reveals how her inability to recall personal memories of the very events she intended to question research participants about caused her distress. Of such she writes, “from a humanist frame of reference, reflexivity is a practice built on the premise of presence and retrospection and since I had no idea how I got to college, I had nothing to attach my reflexive practice to” (p. 11). It is with this sense of honesty and uncertainty that Clark/Keefe continues through the remaining chapters taking the reader along for a journey through the year in which she gives birth to her first child, faces the challenges of being a new professor, and creates visual art pieces to express what language perhaps could not. The author notes, “visual rendering helped me materially intensify (via bodily arousal and the logic of sensation) the embodied rhythms of social inquiry and its discursive and relational effects” (p. 53).


Importantly, in Chapter Three, Clark/Keefe elaborates further on her relationship with the arts and its significance as a form of expression. She explains, “art provided a dynamic set of byways to travel back and forth from sensorial-imbued imagery to the labyrinth of linear academic prose, from affect and affiliation to knowledge that I could live and learn from” (p. 52). Chapters Four and Five examine the role of art in methodology and its relation to material feminist theories of subjectivity. In these chapters, Clark/Keefe includes various pieces of art that she has created. Explaining the significance of these pieces of visual art, she writes “I also believe that shapes, gestural lines, pictorial models, color as well as moans, laughter, movements and the like can be critical companions to linguistic expression and productive sites for examining subjective experience” (p. 59). Chapter Five continues this line of thought as Clarke/Keefe points to the scholarship of Elliot Eisner and Tom Barone, and their role in promoting the significance of the arts in qualitative methodology, particularly in the field of education.  


Greatly influenced by theorists, such as Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze, Clark/Keefe’s work can be considered as an inside look into a poststructuralist feminist scholar’s construction of an auto-ethnographic narrative. Stylistically, the book is in tune with postmodern works that evade traditional writing forms and embrace a nonlinear style. For instance, Clark/Keefe keeps the struck words of the prose visible to the reader and moves swiftly between interview dialogue and her own personal reflections. What is most interesting, however, about Clark/Keefe’s work is that instead of simply describing what she believes to be the merits of an “art infused methodology,” she actively demonstrates the process, showcasing varying media of her artistic expression, including poetry, watercolor, and drawings. Thus, the book is instructive in that Clark/Keefe models for the reader what she envisions as an “arts infused methodology.” The author closes the book with a “mini-manifesto” which she notes is “by no means prescriptive” and as such asks the reader to consider the merits of creativity, affect and poststructuralism in relation to future research endeavors” (p. 85).  


Clark/Keefe’s honest, though at times convoluted, presentation of her experiences while seeking an appropriate methodological framework is refreshingly bold. There are at times, however, points in the book, particularly in the first two chapters, where the review of the literature confounds the author’s own voice and purpose. This work may be well received by qualitative researchers inspired by a poststructuralist perspective as one might benefit from access to Clark/Keefe’s method of self-analysis throughout the social scientific inquiry process. Clark/Keefe’s work gives permission to other qualitative researchers to further investigate and discover ways, innovative or otherwise, which will allow them to critically assess their positionality throughout the research process while engaging in unconventional styles of presentation.


In sum, Clark/Keefe has written a book that presents the process of an engaged feminist scholar in search of an alternative methodology in which art, theory, and practice successfully collide.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 21, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16345, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 12:40:46 PM

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About the Author
  • Erica Hill
    University of Illinois
    E-mail Author
    ERICA ALANE HILL is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Illinois and the Minority Dissertation Fellow at Hiram College. She is currently completing her dissertation project, Bearing the Mark, Bearing the Costs: Slavery, Emancipation and Memory in Coastal Tanzania, 1922-2008.
 
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