english literature culture l.
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english literature culture




Camelia Elias

between sociology and autobiography
between sociology and autobiography
  • the collective self/the collective in the self (Malcolm X)
  • sociology: descriptions of interactions
  • autobiography: self-definition of actions
  • autobiographical performance
    • a move from autobiography as a literary event to autobiography as a social injunction
    • as a social injunction autobiography follows a heuristic model (it teaches, or instructs, it provides a role model)
social private aims
social/private aims
  • “in the act of providing meaning and unity to a private life, the autobiographer seeks to impart meaning and unity to the social order” (Irving Horowitz, 174)
transcendence and immortality
transcendence and immortality
  • the autobiographer’s need beyond moral injunction and role emulation:
    • to transcend
    • to achieving immortality
    • to reach beyond the individual  state, nature, society
    • to create a ‘generalized other’
  • the task of autobiography:
    • to point to what is common to us all
    • to demonstrate that each one of the selves is different than the other
    • to show that we cannot fulfill ourselves unless we are members of a group in whom there’s a community of attitudes
autobiographical authorizations
autobiographical authorizations
  • autobiography serves to fill the void for generalized others as well as for particularized selves (Horowitz)
  • strategic moves:
    • from autobiography as moral instruction  to personal transcendence  to social ideology  divine/historical immortality
  • autobiography as biography:
    • objectivity
    • anonymity
autobiography vs social discourse
autobiography vs. social discourse
  • autobiography is not a fit subject for social examination
  • self-examination is akin to self-celebration
  • some performers are outstanding because they know how to perform, not because they are honest
  • if the autobiography is good, it has to involve unusual people (who are hard to emulate)
autobiography as an act of writing
autobiography as an act of writing
  • ‘painful’ endeavor
    • from combining self-reflection with the constraints of genre
  • celebratory endeavor
  • the ‘other’ is as important as the ‘self’
autobiography under the generational sign the beats
autobiography under the generational sign – The Beats
  • The Beats were almost uniformly opposed to being categorized.
  • Most of them refused to be associated with the Beat Generation at one point or another.
  • Despite this resistance to being “put in a box”, there are common themes and subject matter in their writing.
  • spontaneity, to the point of chaos
  • rejection of “square” or conservative/conventional society
  • non-conformity in general, both in content and style
  • open, uncensored emotion
  • gritty subject material, often up close and personal, viewed as shocking and/or offensive by square society.
  • the Beats were hugely culturally influential and incredibly innovative and courageous in their literary style and content.
jack kerouac 1922 1969
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
  • was born Jean-Louis Kerouac.
  • His parents were French Canadian, and consequently young Jack learned English as second language.
  • only attended college briefly, and also enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was, however, discharged as a schizoid personality
  • attended Columbia University in NYC
on the road
On the Road
  • After being discharged from the Navy, Jack roamed the United States and Mexico, by car and bus when possible, but also by hitchhiking and as an illegal passenger on trains.
  • It was these experiences, as well as a friendship with Neal Cassady that would provide the material for his most famous novel, On The Road.
  • Though he completed On The Road in two drug and coffee fueled weeks in 1948, it would not be published until 1957.
kerouac s style
Kerouac’s style
  • free-flowing stream of consciousness
  • “spontaneous prose”.
  • based around the theory of ‘first thought, best thought’
    • because of this philosophy, Kerouac rarely edited his work
kerouac s writing commandments
Kerouac’s writing “commandments”
  • Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  • Submissive to everything, open, listening
  • Try never get drunk outside your own house
  • Be in love with your life
  • Something that you feel will find its own form
  • Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
on the road14
On the Road
  • written on scroll
  • form follows content
  • the content is the condition for the possibility of form
  • agenda for analysis
  • Basic Hip – Kerouac times
narration stylistics

1st person point of view (limited)

Involved narrator

Narrative irony?








Unusual predicates

thematics themes






'Knowing time’




Falling apart/collapsing








Sex & love/Male bonding



genre contexts

Autobiography, confession






Intertextuality/Paro-dy/Elegiac romance

Cult status/imitation


Allen Ginsberg 1926-1997

His family life was tumultuous, and would leave a lasting impression in his work.

Ginsberg’s father was a Jewish socialist and teacher, and his mother was a radical Communist who would eventually go completely insane. She would go on to be institutionalized, and in keeping with medical practices of the day, she was lobotomized.

His mother’s condition haunted Allen, and manifested itself in one of his finest poems, “Kaddish”.

straight or queer mad or normal
straight or queer/mad or normal
  • Ginsberg went through an early phase after studying at Columbia U where he attempted “square” life.
  • He went to a psychiatric institution to help “fix” himself.
  • There, he met Carl Solomon who would be the inspiration for “Howl”, Ginsberg’s most famous poem.

City Lights, the bookstore from which “Howl” was confiscated.

  • is generally considered the rallying cry of the alienated youth of Ginsberg’s generation.
  • is specifically generational – written for a generation
  • is a eulogy for a generation gone mad
  • is an autobiographical and a coterie poem
  • Ginsberg and the American Scream
obscenity trial for howl
the poem deals very frankly with drugs, sex, and the grittier side of city living.

Because of its language and subject matter, customs officials seized all copies of it, which led to a 1957 obscenity trial.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, “Howl” was once again allowed to be sold.

This landmark case set a precedent against censorship that has had a huge effect on the literature we are able to read today.

Obscenity trial for Howl

Hear Ginsberg on censorship.


Allen would go on to travel the world, and discover Buddhism for himself.

Unlike the other Beats, Allen embraced the Hippie Movement. He heavily promoted the use of the hallucinogenic drug LSD, and was largely influential in 60s pop culture.

 during the Summer of Love

ginsberg and kaddish
Ginsberg and Kaddish
  • Dedicated to the poet's mother, Naomi Ginsberg
  • a narration and a lament arising from Ginsberg's memories, three years after Naomi's death, of her life and of his life with her.
  • the poem is subdivided into 5 sections that address the dead woman directly.
  • The highly poetic Part I is a reflection on
    • death
    • life "all the accumulations of life, that wear us out"
    • mortality: the link between the dead and the living
    • the great unknown that lies beyond death – not in the abstract, but in the signs and symbols of Naomi's life/death and in the issues that remain for her son: "Now I've got to cut through – to talk to you / - as I didn't when you had a mouth."
  • Bob Dylan’s 1978 docudrama Renaldo and Clara
lyrical personae stylistics diction
Lyrical personae

“I” and “my mother”

Omniscient/prophetic point of view

Specific second person addressee



Biblical metaphor

Direct address/apostrophe

Repetitious structures

Exclamation and declamation

Curses and blessings

Stream of consciousness

The long line (Whitman, the Torah)

lyrical personae/stylistics/diction
thematics themes25
Violence and destruction


Quest for connection

Institutions/mental hospital

Travel and exile

memory  name the unnamable

The individual vs. the ghost/phantom


Struggle between madness and normalcy


Holiness (kaddish)

genre contexts26

Long poem

Unrhymed poetry

Base + variation

(no more, toward)


rhythmic chant

eulogy for the mother




Biblical (Jewish) intertextuality


the magnification and sanctification of God's name.

ritual of mourning

generation x autobiographies
Generation X autobiographies

Douglas Coupland: Polaroids from the Dead

  • a collection of short stories
  • the theme is that each story is written from a collection of old polaroids Coupland found in a drawer.
  • the book describes the 1990s, a decade that "seemed to be living in a 1980s hangover".
  • topics include various stories ranging from commentaries on film to concerts, and famous people such as Marylyn Monroe and Kurt Cobain
  • the book forms in part a collage of menus, scraps of conversation, and postings from bulletin boards.
theme as generational genre
theme as generational genre
  • history
  • memory
  • death
  • personal confession in the names of…
    • Harold and Maude / official website
    • parents and children
    • young and old
    • generalized others and particularized selves
reality bites 1994 dir ben stiller
Reality Bites(1994; dir. Ben Stiller)
  • Gen X autobiography about love in the 90s
  • generation gaps are particularly articulated in the tension between materialism and idealism
  • concerns:
    • how are ideologies formed?
    • what is the position of the self as an artist in relation to ideology?
helen childress screen writer
Helen Childress (screen writer)
  • "The film was so personal to me. It’s not like I researched anything. I honestly just wrote about myself and my experiences and my friends’ experiences. I actually lived off my Dad’s gas card for a couple months. It’s funny when people say it’s so commercial. God, my life is commercial?"