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ENGLISH LITERATURE & CULTURE. ‘I’ IS ANOTHER: AUTOBIOGRAPHY ACROSS GENRES Camel i a El i as. first person singular. autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful (Orwell) autobiographical topics: devised out of personal interest

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english literature culture




Camelia Elias

first person singular
first person singular
  • autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful (Orwell)
  • autobiographical topics:
    • devised out of personal interest
    • in line with one’s highest authority
    • the result of an irresistible longing for confidential expansion (Leslie Stephen)
autobiographer writer reader
autobiographer, writer, reader
  • the best autobiographies draw on the art of introspection
  • art and autobiography are antithetical: the better the artist the poorer the autobiographer
  • ‘true’ artists don’t believe in autobiography
  • reader response:
    • the ideal reader the pleasure in reading autobiographical work is in catching the autobiographer out in suspicious reticences, self-serving misperceptions, cover-ups, clever deceptions.
    • the intelligent reader reads for the facts and for the lies (lies are better than facts)
autobiography as self biography through fragment
autobiography as self-biography through fragment
  • Epstein’s taxonomy:
    • nickels
    • dimes
    • essays
    • memoirs
    • anecdotes
  • paradox: the fragmentary form is more suitable for a narrative that is otherwise linear
autobiographical ironies epstein
autobiographical ironies (Epstein)
  • reading autobiography doesn’t increase the hope for the human race, but
  • it lends amusement in watching it all pass in review
  • it makes a generational statement: one is never too old to express resentment against one’s parents
  • American: extrapolate from the particular in order to make a general statement
    • autobiography is read particularly for its capability to make generalizations
    • ‘size matters’, greatness now
  • English: go from the general to the particular
    • use the common-sense of the individual
    • ‘concentrated thought’, posterity matters
anthony burgess you ve had your time 1990
Anthony Burgess, You’ve Had Your Time, 1990
  • “I don’t boast about the quality of my work, but I may be permitted to pride myself, on the gift of steady application … the gift of concentrations stays with me, and it is perhaps my only gift”
the construction of family vs the construction of language to represent family
the construction of family vs. the construction of language to represent family
  • if the focus is on family drama (love, death, madness, sickness, suicide, jealousy, resentment, rivalry) at a minimum, than the language to represent these events falls on satire, the schematic, the ideational, and the play of language.
  • the introspective wisdom of both, family and language, is a desire to transcend the banal.
auberon waugh will this do
Auberon Waugh, Will This Do?
  • “The only real wisdom I have acquired in fifty years of living is the banal, frequently made point that happiness requires no more than good food, good wine, laughter, and the presence of friends.” (1991)
familial autobiographies
familial autobiographies

Shared concern  how to go against:

  • dullness
  • sentimentality
  • the uninteresting
  • the trivial
  • the insignificant
  • the mediocre?

Writing strategy and premise:

  • it’s better to be well qualified rather than well-equipped to write about one’s life
franz lidz
Franz Lidz
  • a Sports Illustrated senior writer
  • a New York Times film essayist
  • Books:
    • Ghosty Men
    • Unstrung Heroes: My Improbable Life with Four Impossible Uncles (which was made into a 1995 Disney feature film)
identifications private and public
identifications / private and public
  • self and other
  • self and an imaginary self which merges with the fictionalized/crazy subject
  • the recognition of a potential self in the fictionalized situation
  • the desire to maintain the difference between self and ideal
identification reproduction
  • Identification reproduces:
    • sameness
    • fixity
    • the confirmation of existing identities
    • politics of recognition:
      • you are what you give
      • you are what your space gives you
fantasies of the private self as a public self mediated through
fantasies of the private self as a public self mediated through:
  • devotion
  • adoration
  • worship
  • transcendence
  • aspiration and inspiration
  • (frames)
normative functions
normative functions
  • the family / the uncles as (anti) heroes
    • role models
    • someone to emulate
    • the epitome of what a 13 year old should be
    • ideals of ‘cool’ appearance against the background of ideals of (un)strung relations
extra off narrative practices
extra/off-narrative practices
  • pretending
  • resembling
  • imitating
  • copying
  • desire involves wanting ‘to have’ and identification involves wanting ‘to be’
  • between instruction and tradition
  • voice and body (metonymic associations)
  • order and chaos
  • madness and normality
  • logic and illogical acts
  • sentimentality and toughness
  • artificiality and the genuine
  • medium (narrative in the story) and medium (film in the story)
  • house and den (this planet and ‘other’ planet)
  • real name (Steven  becomes artificial) and fictional name (Franz  becomes real)
life and story
life and story
  • “I sometimes feel like this story has been written from graveside conversations filled with fantastical anecdotes, well-worn gossip, profound illuminations – fragments that may or may not produce a rounded image, a whole person, the history of a family.” (23-24)
emergence of the private political self
emergence of the private/political self
  • storied selves (life writing)
  • identity through self-narration
  • a model “of the human subject that takes acts of self-narration not only as descriptive of the self but, more importantly, as fundamental to the emergence and reality of that subject”

(Anthony Paul Kerby, Narrative and the Self, 1991)