By James Olney
Professor Olney gathers jointly during this ebook the very best and most crucial writings on autobiography produced some time past decades.
Originally released in 1980.
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Extra resources for Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical
Did it will itself and its subject into existence twentyodd years ago through a belief in the reality of the self, and has it now willed itself and its subject out of existence again upon discern ing that there is no more there than, as Michael Sprinker puts it, "fictions of the self"? In her intriguing "Eye for I," Elizabeth W. Bruss adopts rather a different tactic from Sprinker's: she assumes that which he argues— that is, she takes it for granted that autobiography as we know it is at an end, and with this presumed agreement in hand she turns her attention to autobiography as we do not know it.
Moreover, it would seem that autobiography is not to be found outside of our cultural area; one would say that it expresses a concern peculiar to Western man, a concern that has been of good use in his systematic conquest of the universe and that he has communicated to men of other cul tures; but those men will thereby have been annexed by a sort of intellectual colonizing to a mentality that was not their own. When Gandhi tells his own story, he is using Western means to defend the East. And the moving testimonies collected by Westermann in his Autobiographies d'Africains convey the shock of traditional civiliza tions on coming into contact with Europeans.
In narrating my life, I give witness of myself even from beyond my death and so can preserve this precious capital that ought not disappear. The author of an au tobiography gives a sort of relief to his image by reference to the environment with its independent existence; he looks at himself being and delights in being looked at—he calls himself as witness for himself; others he calls as witness for what is irreplaceable in his presence. This conscious awareness of the singularity of each individual life is the late product of a specific civilization.