Anna Sanderson

Anna’s PhD was a single work of creative non-fiction, which aimed to represent ‘the economy’ through the framework and language of visual and literary art.

PhD awarded 2016

Anna has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography, a Bachelor of Arts in English and Art History from Auckland University, and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Victoria University of Wellington. In 2006 she won the Landfall Essay competition for her essay Dr Yang, and Te Herenga Waka University Press published her collection of essays, Brainpark .

Her doctoral project, begun in 2012, has the title Material and immaterial: The economy in written images. It was a single work of creative non-fiction, combining the required 'creative' and 'critical' components of the PhD in creative writing. Within this genre, the work was most closely connected to 'New Narrative', a literary movement associated with embodied forms of writing, and 'experimenting in fragmentation, poetic strategies, and autobiographical allusions.' [1]

The study might read as an aesthetically-oriented 'folk' engagement with the economy. [2] It aimed to 'render' the economy, like a written form of drawing. At the outset all the narrator really knows is that the economy is a difficult thing to grasp (for her and for many non-economists [3]), because of its pervasiveness, its boundarilessness, its abstractions, and its complexities. Like a notion of God, the economy seems to be everything and nothing, in that nothing escapes its influence, but it cannot be seen in itself in the world. There is a sense of economic ways of seeing being almost natural law, inextricable from the fabric of life.

The narrator then, begins an enquiry by making observational writings mostly from her local area which includes Wellington's 'Terrace'. The resultant first section was a sequence of fragments based on dreams and images (Piero della Francesca's St. Jerome, Colin McCahon’s Gate III), spaces (the 'Bowen Triangle', the green belt, Wellington's Central Library), books and stories (Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier, V.S. Naipaul's Tell me who to kill, the anonymously authored Cloud of Unknowing) and events (economics conferences: EHSANZ, Reserve Bank, GEN, NZAE).

The work aimed, with some understanding of how economists understand and represent the economy, to, nevertheless, represent it differently, with methods more appropriate to visual and literary art. The writer wanted to know what would happen if she used 'wrong' perceptual frameworks and thought of the economy as an object or entity which might have form and substance, even consciousness. Within this, the approach was to find images, and to let those images speak without explicit interpretation.

The specific research question then, was: 'Can image be a way to hold a paradox (the economy as at once graspable and ungraspable) together in the same space for view?' With Bruno Latour's notion of the economy as 'first nature' and Robert H. Nelson's work on economics as theology [4] in the back of her mind, the narrator of this work tried to bring visible form to the economy’s cloudy— qualities and jurisdictions.

The work collected clusters of short interviews/exchanges with economists, seeking their input on these questions of the nature and jurisdictions of the economy. Speaking and listening in person was important for two reasons. Firstly, to honour spoken voice as Franco Berardi identifies it; as a unique and unrecombinable imprint. [5] Secondly, spoken voice was important because this project understood itself as 'embodied writing'; there are no pure ideas, they are all filtered through bodies, and extensions of bodies in the forms of the artefacts we produce. [6]

[1] 'There Are Reasons for Looking and Feeling and Thinking about Things That Are Invisible: A Two Day Event on New Narratives in Art Writing - Western Front,' accessed March 17, 2015. This event brought together four writers associated with this West Coast literary movement: Eileen Myles, Jacob Wren, Lynne Tillman and Maria Fusco.

[2] I learned of this term from a paper given by local economist Matt Nolan, who referenced: Paul H. Rubin, 'Folk Economics,' Southern Economic Journal 70, no. 1 (July 1, 2003): 157–71, doi:10.2307/1061637. My usage is probably a reclamation and a broadening of the phrase.

[3] 'Real people, as manifest in "society," have been melted down into an abstraction called "The Economy" which we all serve, as if it rises above us. No-one any longer seems to be able to speak a human language of economic change; instead politicians recite the latest figures as if they were magic charms.' This, taken from a newspaper column by Australian journalist Donald Horne, is an example of the kind of sentiment, often expressed figuratively, by non-economists. Tony Bennett et al., New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005).

[4] Robert H Nelson, Reaching for Heaven on Earth: The Theological Meaning of Economics (Savage, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1991).

[5] Franco Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012).

[6] An extrapolation on embodied writing can be found in Robert Gluck, 'Long Note on New Narrative,' accessed March 18, 2015.

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