Jonathan Truong

Student, Columbia University
  • Columbia University
  • People
  • United States of America

About Jonathan Truong

This summer, under the supervision of Professor Patricia Dailey in the English and Comparative Literature Department, I will be researching the effect of serialization in Jennifer Egan's Twitter fiction story "Black Box" on readerly attention. How does serial fiction mediate audience immersion and interactivity? If we consider the historicity of literature in installments, in what ways does serial narrative on Twitter continue or depart from the Victorian serial novel? By interrogating how Egan's short story both participates in and challenges narrative convention, we can more comprehensively explore the implications and possibilities of digital fiction in the  21st century. 

I am a/an:

Undergraduate Scholar

Area of Expertise

Arts Humanities

Research Topic

Comparative Literature Literature Media & Communications Society & Culture

Laidlaw Cohort Year

2022

University

Columbia University

I am from:

United States of America

I speak:

English

My hobbies/interests are:

Art Reading Writing/blogging Yoga

I am open to participating in mentoring/buddy programmes

Yes

Influencer Of

Recent Comments

Jun 29, 2022

What new ideas, challenges, or other issues have you encountered with regard to your project (this might include data collection, information that contradicts your assumptions or the assertions of others, materials that have enriched your understanding of the topic or led you to change your project, etc.)? How have these ideas or challenges shaped the bigger picture of your research? Has the scope or focus of your topic changed since you began this project? If so, how?

A few weeks ago, we discussed interdisciplinarity; while then I reveled in it, the monkey's paw has curled and I've realized that being properly equipped to discuss an interdisciplinary topic means doing a lot of reading. I'm having to become a relative master of topics like land reform, indigenous rights, common pool resources, and nahua ethnographies, and that's only to get started! I need a solid base before I can continue or posit new ideas, since I don't want to risk missing something crucial that fundamentally pulls the rug out from under any model or claim I stake. Overall, doing this preambulatory research has shown me that I'll be entering not one conversation but many, even though my project is relatively specific, due to its interdisciplinary nature, so I need to be relatively well-versed in the language of every conversation I'm joining. So the scope of my project has changed in terms of time: this will likely have to continue throughout the year (something I've already discussed with my faculty mentor), and this summer (which I foresee continuing past the six weeks...) I'll really just focus on developing a theoretical framework or solid basis from where to depart as the year continues. The "problem" with just reading, however, is that it's not exactly productive—on Tuesday, I spent about three hours combing through books on land reform, but from their relation to my project and what I can extrapolate from them I will likely only be able to yield a paragraph. So one of the challenges will definitely be to stop equating productivity with advancement: my research is progressing, even if there isn't a paper by the end of summer to speak for it. 

What research resources have proven particularly useful to you as you continue your research?

I truly can't sing Zotero's praises enough. I've been using it as pretty much my foremost tool in organizing and annotating my research—I haven't opened a Google Doc in weeks. It's easy to use, has an incredible amount of functionalities, and helps me keep everything in one place. If there's anything concrete to have come from this summer, is that I am now STRONGLY a Zotero convert.

Echoing the obstacles you've faced with interdisciplinary research! I, too, have spent many hours doing readings that will ultimately appear in only a paragraph of my project—if at all. The challenge I've faced with an interdisciplinary topic is that it's difficult to determine which conversations require more attention. I can't help feeling, for example, that I've wasted time in the media/communications domain of my research; though as you put it, this kind of thinking really requires a disentanglement of productivity and advancement. 

Jun 29, 2022

What new ideas, challenges, or other issues have you encountered with regard to your project (this might include data collection, information that contradicts your assumptions or the assertions of others, materials that have enriched your understanding of the topic or led you to change your project, etc.)? How have these ideas or challenges shaped the bigger picture of your research? Has the scope or focus of your topic changed since you began this project? If so, how?

As I came to realize last week, I’ve (unintentionally) spent the duration of the program disproving the applicability of my theory readings to the story I’m studying. To contextualize this: Existing scholarship on Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” and similar works of digital serial fiction have focused on the narratological concept of “concurrent narration,” a term which refers to the concurrence of the narration and the narrated events. As I’ve investigated these past few weeks, this term has been stretched to accommodate—in the case of digital fiction—the transmission and reception of the narrative as it occurs concurrently with the narrated events. But this elastic definition of concurrent narration focuses on the medial and distributional level of the Twitter medium—a level which Egan makes minimal use of in her story.

From this understanding, I’ve come to shift my research on “Black Box” from its transmission to the act of narrating itself. Thus, my original intentions for the project have collapsed, and under the auspices of my faculty mentor I’m returning, line by line, to the text of the story to redirect my research. While it feels like pedaling backwards, this work has been by far the most generative in guiding my investigation. 

What research resources have proven particularly useful to you as you continue your research?

Zotero, Zotero, Zotero. Like others, this platform has allowed me to more efficiently manage and catalogue digital materials for my project—which range from Genette’s literary theory to archived Tweets—while making use of its tools for organization, annotation, and citation.

Jun 20, 2022
Replying to Fatima Ahmad
  • While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.

I think the ultimate goal of my current research is to write a paper, perhaps a magazine article. Currently, I'm working on something similar to an annotated bibliography, where I'm doing a bunch of different readings and taking notes on them/analyzing. As such, this is definitely the first phase of my research. I hadn't anticipated how long it would take me to read texts in Urdu, and how long it would take to come down to a more narrow focus of study. I think the rest of my summer will definitely be spent synthesizing this research into a more cohesive and understandable piece of writing. I'll be happy having read as much literature as I can by the end of Laidlaw, and have compiled a good list of sources/notes. I came into Laidlaw with this belief that I would have a paper written, but as I spoke to my advisor and mentor, this isn't a very realistic approach to the study I am conducting, especially because so much time goes into first having a good basis/understanding of your topic and then finally getting around to specifying. 

  • Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.

My research matters because it makes Manto's literature more accessible. What I mean by this is that there are many English translations on Manto's work. There are also works which analyze and explain Manto's stories, like Toba Tek Singh and Thanda Gosht. However, when it comes to criticism on Manto, this is mainly found in Urdu writing, and much of the text has not been translated nor discussed. I want to make Manto accessible by making all perspectives on him accessible in academia that is so heavily reliant on the English language. Furthermore, I think criticism is important because Manto is seen as a literary icon of his time period, and to some extent, he is. His stories hit you, especially those on the Partition. However, Manto was largely influenced by other writers during this time period, and I want to re-imagine Manto in this larger context.

Hi Fatima! I'm excited to see the evolution of your research since the first week. I think your re-orientation towards secondary scholarship and criticism surrounding Manto will be fruitful, especially in the historical context of Partition literature. 

Jun 19, 2022

    While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.

    After a conversation the first week with my mentor, it became clear to me that my intentions for the project had been overly ambitious. Although I'd entered the program with the goal of producing a completed draft of a research paper by the end of the six weeks, I find myself now—entering the fifth week—still working through preliminary research. My immediate expectations are now (necessarily) modified; by the end of the six weeks, I intend to have completed a sizable annotated bibliography, a more rigorous understanding of existing theories/literature/scholarship, and a revised research question which addresses a scholarly gap in the field. Over the second half of summer, I intend to work on a paper investigating this question, which may be continued under an independent study in the English department. My faculty mentor and I are also thinking of organizing an academic conference on Web 2.0 Literature and Literary Criticism.  

    Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.

    Twitterfiction, and e-Literature more broadly, complicate fundamental understandings of narrative and narratology. Preliminary research on Jennifer Egan's Twitter story "Black Box" has already revealed unresolved tensions and gaps in narrative theory—namely, as I've investigated this summer, those pertaining to temporality, aspectuality, and modality in literary narrative. As scholars like Uri Margolin argue, "new" narrative forms (like those at play in Twitterfiction) cannot be viewed simply as deviations from standard narrative; instead, a more broad, integrated framework is required. Perhaps these revised models of narrative will yield new understandings of narrative itself. 

    Jun 11, 2022
    Replying to Wena Teng
    • What are some of the ethical issues that you are grappling with in your research? What are some of the ways in which you are responding to these questions?

          Although most of my family members are from China, as a Chinese American, I can still embody specific practices and beliefs a non-Chinese identifying researcher holds. When doing research and navigating "old Chinese" or legal jargon in Chinese, I find myself reconciling tensions by filling in gaps with previous knowledge or beliefs: one cultivated by years of American pedagogy. In regards to positionality, how much space do I, a Chinese American, possess when researching a place I have only known and experienced from a distance? I have only experienced living in China as a toddler, but have never experienced Chinese schooling or lived there during my formative years. So, when reading about policy in China, I remind myself to be critical of not only the language presented but also the response of the American and Chinese media, and how/why they may differ. I hope to continue encouraging myself, and others, on the importance of speaking and listening to Chinese citizens first before villainizing China: often seen through American media and academia. This notion, of being an analytic listener, also applies to understanding American public dissent.  In the next two weeks, I hope to do this by interviewing groups like the Feminist Five. 

    • As you continue your research, have you considered alternative viewpoints in your investigation? If so, how have these alternative viewpoints enriched or changed your project?

            Both my faculty advisor and graduate student mentor offer insightful resources and alternatives to researching China, reminding me to understand all of the complexities of its government and people. For example, one of Professor Dorthy Ko's research is about foot binding during the Qing Dynasty. Rather than exploring foot binding through the conventional perceptions of the west, she argues that foot binding is a conversation with nuance: it can be seen as a reminder of patriarchy but was also a symbol of class status. My graduate mentor advised me to do this I hope to use the same methodology to unlearn certain conceptions about China from my US education while being critical of it. My graduate student mentor advised me to do this by deviating away from academic papers but to continue exploring newspapers, blogs, and journals as primary sources, but also being wary of state-ran or endorsed media. 

    Hi Wena!

    I appreciate your insight on the researcher-researched relationship, especially with respect to diaspora positionality. I'm reminded of the age-long insider/outsider distinction, which—as is the case with your research—is complicated by intersectional categories beyond national identity. Excited to see how you navigate mass-mediated discourse on U.S.-China relations in your research! 

    Jun 09, 2022
    • What are some of the ethical issues that you are grappling with in your research? What are some of the ways in which you are responding to these questions?

    One ethical issue I’m facing within my domain of literary research is identifying, cataloguing, and citing scholarly criticism. Because my personal experience in narrative theory is limited, I cannot present even the most general principles without proper attribution—especially because many of these theoretical principles are in contention with one another. While this is, of course, standard practice in all research, it’s become more difficult as I continue to discover subtle distinctions between theorists. In order for my research and analysis to maintain integrity, I need to reach a rigorous understanding of the relationship between these scholarly perspectives so as to properly cite them. 

    • As you continue your research, have you considered alternative viewpoints in your investigation? If so, how have these alternative viewpoints enriched or changed your project?

    At present, my research is operating within the domain of narratology, a field which is in itself interdisciplinary. Because of this, even the theoretical framework for my research can be looked at from various perspectives—literary studies and hermeneutics, cognitive studies, media and communication studies, etc. Over the past week, I’ve found myself exploring these different branches broadly and extensively. As I discussed with my graduate student mentor, the challenge has consequently become finding a balance between limiting myself to one area of study and simultaneously accommodating these alternate viewpoints.

    Another (surprising) challenge has been determining which viewpoints are truly in opposition with one another or presented as “alternate.” I realized this week, for example, that I’d been conflating the positions of theorists on time and narrative; although I’d seen the work of Ricoeur as building upon Weinrich, he actually departs from his theories about the relationship between narrative verbs and the time to which they refer.

    Jun 06, 2022

      Last week the trainings and discussions we had cut across the disciplines. How does the interdisciplinary nature of this program, the fact that students are focusing on such a diverse range of projects, help you think about your project and/or your academic interests more broadly?

      With my research project in particular, I think the interdisciplinary aspect is inextricable. In one of my conversations with my graduate student mentor this week, he mentioned the importance of locating your work in the context of the field it pertains to; the conversation helped me realize my project lies at the intersection of economics, political science, anthropology, and history, as well as the subfield or category of indigenous/ethnic studies. Though this poses a methodological challenge—as the methods used in these fields are not always similar, and not always compatible, as they focus on obtaining different types of results from different types of data—the methodological puzzle is one I'm excited about completing. Using oral histories, for example, not to complete an anthropological/historical survey but rather to develop principles of governance to then be compared to an economic framework seems quite unorthodox, but I think it's a chance to broaden the reach of each of these fields as well as my perception of it. This brings me to my main point about interdisciplinarity: there is something incredibly freeing about it, as it allows you to escape the confines of a narrowly-defined field and look in other places for answers that a conventional methodology might not necessarily be able to access. The central work to my research, Elinor Ostrom's Governing the Commons, is testament to this: Ostrom is a political scientist, and she used methods in her fieldwork that did not look like orthodox economic data collection, and ended up winning a Nobel Prize in Economics (2009) for her work, since it took the discourse of collective action beyond the centralization/privatization debate that traditional economics was embroiled in. All the most worthwhile work cuts across disciplines, and this is something I'm excited to bring out in my own work (and, of course, always makes me glad that I don't have to choose between disciplines).

      As you begin your individual research projects this week, do you anticipate any challenges in getting started? If so, what are they?

      This might seem quite blunt, but I think my main challenge is in terms of "where to go." I've spent this week familiarizing myself with the framework laid out by Ostrom—its main points, its main questions, and its main takeaways. Now, I need to shift gears into how exactly to apply what I have learned to my own project. Luckily, my faculty mentor has put me on the track of moving to familiarize myself with the indigenous literature (ethnographies, land studies, etc.) that exists about the region I am focusing on. This means a lot of reading and not a lot of writing, so a forthcoming challenge might be a more internal one—feeling like I am doing work or achieving something despite producing nothing. The shift away from the productivity mindset and more toward the field of "all research goes through this literature review process" is one I'm glad I have my faculty mentor for, and one I'm excited to embark on even if it does entail many an hour in the Butler Stacks.

      Hi Ale!

      So excited to see how you navigate the "methodological puzzle" of interdisciplinary research—a puzzle that I will also be completing in the coming weeks. I relate to the challenge of recognizing achievement/progress without actually producing anything. I also have familiarized myself with a governing framework for my research last week, so the project for this week is approaching the primary work I'm focusing on through a more comprehensive and broader theoretical lens. Like you, this means many more hours reading (and thus not producing anything), but I'm excited to see where this work takes us this week!

      Jun 03, 2022

      1. Last week the trainings and discussions we had cut across the disciplines. How does the interdisciplinary nature of this program, the fact that students are focusing on such a diverse range of projects, help you think about your project and/or your academic interests more broadly?

      My research project is, by design, interdisciplinary, operating at the nexus between traditional narrative theory and theories of new digital media. I knew from its very outset, then, that the project would require me to accommodate both classical and emergent methodologies, beyond even the domain of narrative analysis. Over this past week of the program, this interdisciplinary understanding of the research has turned into an antidisciplinary posture. In studying the serialization of Twitter fiction, for example, I’ve begun to research the financial motives behind serialization and the promotional aspects of social media. This kind of economic consideration is nontraditional—but how can the revival of serialized fiction via Twitter be contextualized without it? As I've come to understand these past two weeks of the program, confining research to singular disciplines often stops us from pursuing the more interesting questions

      As you begin your individual research projects this week, do you anticipate any challenges in getting started? If so, what are they?

      Identifying a gap within the scholarly conversation surrounding my research topic has been challenging. In my readings this week, I realized much has been said already about serialization in Egan’s Twitter story “Black Box,” particularly with respect to temporality and reader interactivity. My (ambitious) hope is that I can refine some of the broader claims made about Egan's story, especially because the "multifocal" approach of existing scholarship leaves room for more particular inquiry.