Altered Egos: Authority in American Autobiography

Oxford University Press, 1989 M11 9 - 304 páginas
This work explores the "authority" of autobiography in several related senses: first, the idea that autobiography is authoritative writing because it is presumably verifiable; second, the idea that one's life is one's exclusive textual domain; third, the idea that, because of the apparent congruence between the implicit ideology of the genre and that of the nation, autobiography has a special prestige in America. Aware of the recent critiques of the notion of autobiography as issuing from, determined by, or referring to a pre-existing self, Couser examines the ways in which the authority of particular texts is called into question--for example, because they involve pseudonymity (Mark Twain), the revision of a presumably spontaneous form (Mary Chesnut's Civil War "diaries"), bilingual authorship (Richard Rodriguez and Maxine Hong Kingston), collaborative production (Black Elk), or outright fraud (Clifford Irving's "autobiography" of Howard Hughes). Couser examines both the way in which canonical autobiographers may playfully and purposely undermine their own narrative authority and the way in which minority writers' control of their lives may be compromised. Autobiography, then, is portrayed here as an arena in which individuals struggle for self-possession and self-expression against the constraints of language, genre, and society.

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Páginas seleccionadas


The Case of the Counterfeit Autobiography
Authority Autobiography America
SelfConstitutional Conventions
The Autobiographies of P T Barnum
Mark Twains Pseudonymous Autobiography
Early AfroAmerican Autobiography
Secession Confederacy Reconstruction
8 Black Elk Speaks With Forked Tongue
Richard Rodriguez and Maxine Hong Kingston
10 Conclusion
Selected Bibliography
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Página 246 - The word in language is half someone else's. It becomes "one's own" only when the speaker populates it with his own intention, his own accent, when he appropriates the word, adapting it to his own semantic and expressive intention.
Página 36 - THE BODY of BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Printer, (like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out, and stript of its lettering and gilding) lies here food for worms ; yet the work itself shall not be lost, for it will (as he believed) appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and amended by THE AUTHOR.
Página 47 - In truth, I. found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it. But, on the whole, tho...
Página 37 - The confession is a ritual of discourse in which the speaking subject is also the subject of the statement; it is also a ritual that unfolds within a power relationship, for one does not confess without the presence (or virtual presence) of a partner who is not simply the interlocutor but the authority who requires the confession, prescribes and appreciates it, and intervenes in order to judge, punish, forgive, console, and reconcile...
Página 44 - I am still of opinion it would have been happy for both sides the water if it had been adopted. The colonies, so united, would have been sufficiently strong to have defended themselves; there would then have been no need of troops from England ; of course, the subsequent pretence for taxing America, and the bloody contest it occasioned, would have been avoided.
Página 96 - With the pen in one's hand, narrative is a difficult art; narrative should flow as flows the brook down through the hills and the leafy woodlands, its course changed by every bowlder it comes across and by every grass-clad gravelly spur that projects into its path; its surface broken, but its course not stayed by rocks and gravel on the bottom in the shoal places; a brook that never goes straight for a minute, but goes, and goes briskly, sometimes ungrammatically, and sometimes fetching a horseshoe...
Página 49 - In order to secure my credit and character as a tradesman, I took care not only to be in reality industrious and frugal, but to avoid all appearances to the contrary.
Página 147 - I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.
Página 36 - I reflected on it, has induced me sometimes to say, that were it offered to my choice, I should have no objection to a repetition of the same life from its beginning, only asking the advantages authors have in a second edition to correct some faults of the first. So I might, besides correcting the faults, change some sinister accidents and events of it for others more favorable.

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