Altered Egos: Authority in American Autobiography by G. Thomas Couser

By G. Thomas Couser

This paintings explores the "authority" of autobiography in different similar senses: first, the concept autobiography is authoritative writing since it is most likely verifiable; moment, the concept one's lifestyles is one's particular textual area; 3rd, the concept, as a result obvious congruence among the implicit ideology of the style and that of the state, autobiography has a unique status in the USA. conscious of the new evaluations of the idea of autobiography as issuing from, made up our minds by way of, or touching on a pre-existing self, Couser examines the ways that the authority of specific texts is termed into question--for instance, simply because they contain pseudonymity (Mark Twain), the revision of a possibly spontaneous shape (Mary Chesnut's Civil battle "diaries"), bilingual authorship (Richard Rodriguez and Maxine Hong Kingston), collaborative construction (Black Elk), or outright fraud (Clifford Irving's "autobiography" of Howard Hughes). Couser examines either the way canonical autobiographers may perhaps playfully and purposely undermine their very own narrative authority and how during which minority writers' keep an eye on in their lives should be compromised. Autobiography, then, is portrayed the following as an enviornment within which contributors fight for self-possession and self-expression opposed to the limitations of language, style, and society.

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By locating Franklin's narrative firmly in a public and historic 42 ALTERED EGOS context, the letters obviate the need for a private pretext for continuing the autobiography. The nature of the letters, however, further complicates the matter of the text's authority. Both urge Franklin, in very flattering terms, to resume and complete his narrative, but Vaughan's effusive letter is essentially an extensive gloss on James's short one, which Franklin had sent to Vaughan for his response (134). Since Vaughan had already brought out the first extensive edition of Franklin's nonscientific writings, he could hardly have been expected to contravene James and discourage Franklin from resuming his autobiography.

Nevertheless, the recent debate forces us to rethink our relation to Introduction 27 language and culture, and it illuminates autobiography from an important, and often troubling, new perspective. This study endeavors to reread a number of American autobiographies in the wake of recent developments in theory. Although the questions may be ultimately unresolvable, the positions taken have vital implications for our reading of Lives, and thus for our lives. In light of the attention given earlier to the recent assault on the common-sense notion of the referentiality of autobiography, it is only fair to note that the tenuousness of the authority of autobiography did not require structuralists and post-structuralists to expose it.

Nor can it be denied that subjective states themselves are often the product of inference and other constructive activity, based on what individuals observe themselves doing (35-36). To his credit, Gusdorf is also skeptical. He concedes that autobiography will tend inevitably toward apologetics: the identity of author and subject that distinguishes it from biography also compromises it. ) Gusdorf also acknowledges that the narrative of a life cannot be simply the image-double of that life. . [T]he original sin of autobiography is the first one of logical coherence and rationalization...

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