- Life Writing in the Long Run: A Smith & Watson Autobiography Studies Reader
- Natalie Edwards
- Natalie Edwards: Department of French and Italian - Northwestern University
Infanticide is considered to be a particularly heinous crime, possibly because it confronts so many Infanticide is considered to be a particularly heinous crime, possibly because it confronts so many taboos. It functions as a specific threat to the symbolic and social orders in which the mother operates; by biological prescription, women are givers of live, not takers of it. Such a crime confronts the notion that women desire, nurture, protect and love their children instinctively and it testifies to the propensity of women to commit violence. Most irksome, perhaps, is that infanticide asks what may be lurking in the depths of the human psyche to enable such an act.
As Catherine Stimpson states, "the murdering mother [ Self and Stuff in Francophone Literature and Art more. Natalie Edwards and Amy L. Sep Publication Name: Studies in Twentieth and Twenty-first Century Literatures This article compares the representation of voluntary childlessness in two recent literary texts: It situates these texts within a socio-historic It situates these texts within a socio-historic context in which, according to many commentators, discourses of motherhood are highly regulated.
The article first discusses stereotypes of voluntarily childless women highlighted by sociological research. It proceeds to analyse the portrayal of these stereotypes in the literary texts, both of which are first-person narratives but which are not strictly autobiographical. By restoring voice to the non-mother and insisting that there should be no shame in this lifestyle, they proclaim a female identity that does not depend upon reproduction.
Together, they defy the stereotypes of the heartless woman, the selfish woman, the career woman, the irresponsible woman, the unnatural woman or the incomplete woman and carve out a new space for the expression of female experience. Jane Sautiere's Autofictional Explorations: Virginie Despentes and the Rewriting of Trauma more.
Representations of the Unspeakable in the Francophone World. French Literature , Women's writing , and Rape Culture. University of Wales Press. The Female Face of Shame. Erica Johnson and Patricia Moran. Feminist Manifesto or Hardcore Porn? Virginie Despentes's Trangression more. This article begins with a short overview of the recent phenomenon of erotic writing by French women authors, showing that transgression is becoming one of the hallmarks of women writers' and filmmakers' work.
Taken together, I show that these two texts — one theoretical and autobiographical, the other fictional — probe cultural and sexual taboos, question the boundaries of feminism, subvert a male point of view of sex and sexuality, and explore female erotic experience with shocking candour. Unlike many scholars in the field, the author resists coining a neologism to denote the innovative subversion of autobiographical norms observed here, instead reclaiming and advocating 'autobiography' as a term that is sufficiently flexible to encapsulate a wide range of autobiographical styles as well as diverse media.
The introduction traces a brief history of women's autobiography and the development of autobiographical theory, and sets the proviso of "literary autobiography" as the subject of this book, an approach that is claimed to offer a creative interrogation of modes of self-representation that more fully engage with the quest to find new ways of inscribing selfhood in narrative. The first chapter focuses on three autobiographical texts by Halimi , , , which dramatise the changing persona of the narrated and the narrating "I"s as Halimi recounts, revisits and rewrites autobiographical incidents in each ensuing volume.
In the second chapter, Edwards analyzes Kristeva's novel to explore how she employs two separate and distinct narratives, with their respective first- and third-person narrators, to examine the ways in which she thus inscribes dual selfhood whilst emphasizing the instability of her self-narrative. Chapter Three deals with the fourth and most autobiographical of Djebar's quartet of autobiographical novels in which Djebar is claimed to more overtly question the purpose of her characteristically collective 'I'.
This chapter presents Djebar's writing as an illustration of the ultimate futility of attempting to align an individual self with a collective other, or of inscribing individual with collective memory. Cixous's autobiographical work of fiction is the object of the fifth chapter. Edwards points to the originality of Cixous's contribution to autobiographical writing insofar as she rejects both unitary and nonunitary writing by adopting narrative functions that entirely displace the narrating self in a way that renders her partial autobiography irresolutely multivoiced and collective, and her identity ultimately 'unidentifiable'.
The brief fifth and final chapter-also the conclusion-recapitulates the work's overall theory that the enunciation of plural subjectivity in contemporary women's autobiography in French through the construction of a plural "I" is shown, in the works of these four writers, to result not in a more accurate, [End Page ] coherent, or harmonious presentation of self, but in a new space of autobiographical writing through a subject who, neither "I" nor "we", could be considered as "more than me" How does she negotiate the gendered fictions of self-representation?
How is her literary authority marked by the presence or absence of her sexuality as subject of her story? In privileging difference, plurality, and voices, Lionnet asserted that not only new subjects but new kinds of subjects were emerging, and that traditional autobiographies could be read differently as well.
These theorizings of subjectivity are explored in part 2 of this Introduction. Searching analyses by, among others, William L. A Tradition within a Tradition mapped interrelationships among texts that, ten years earlier, had been out of print and known to few scholars. Wong on Native American oral narratives and autobiographies, and Anne E. Goldman on working-class writing. This critical explosion has rewritten the terms of American autobiography and arguably dislodged the novel as the master narrative of American literature.
Andrews, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Neuman for Essays on Canadian Writing have addressed this need in recent years. Retrospect and Prospect, edited by Paul John Eakin , has provided overviews in wide-ranging critical essays with extensive bibliographies.
Life Writing in the Long Run: A Smith & Watson Autobiography Studies Reader
In that volume, critics Blanche H. Several of the essays selected by the editors deliberately blurred the distinction between biography and autobiography in employing gender as a lens for investigating life writing as a strategic response. An extreme and suggestive case is that of Charlotte Salomon, German painter-autobiographer and Holocaust victim, discussed by Mary Lowenthal Felstiner, who subsequently published a gripping biography of the artist in And come it did, with an extensive body of critical writing that would lead Paul John Eakin to state in We want to emphasize here that feminist critics do not slavishly adhere to a particular theoretical line.
They actively engage, critique, and modify theoretical models even as they import certain ideas and vocabularies into their reading practices.
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They also change their theoretical minds, so to speak. As they reflect upon responses to their analyses or as they read the work of other theorists and critics working in the field or in related—or even unrelated—fields, they formulate new ways of approaching the texts they take up. Chodorow pursued the differentiating process of ego development before the oedipal stage that Sigmund Freud had described as formative of the male autonomous individual.
She argued that the mother identifies differently with her boy and girl children. By contrast, the boy child turns away from the mother to the father in an identification that is positional rather than personal. As the boy turns away from the mother to identify with his father, he must enforce an emotional break, a rupture in identification, and impose a scheme of difference. A girl, by contrast, comes to develop more fluid ego boundaries than a boy because she does not have to resist her early identification with the mother or undergo a rupture.
Therefore, she develops less of a desire to sense her difference from the mother. That is, rather than a firm, differentiated boundary the girl child develops a fluid interface between self and others. Eventually a critique of her theory would emerge: The work of Chodorow was also important in encouraging literary critics to shift their focus from how daughters relate to patriarchal fathers to how they are connected to their mothers and the larger community of women.
By invoking examples from African American and lesbian women autobiographers, Friedman expanded not only the theoretical framework of the field but also its repertoire of exemplary texts. Theoretical models based on the authority of experience assume the transparency of language. But this assumption of transparency has long been challenged by groups of theorists who, influenced by structural linguistics, problematize the relationship of the signifier to the signified and the relationship of the subject to language. In the mirror stage the child comes to recognize its image in the looking glass; but as it looks in the glass it sees its image as another.
On the one hand, this image as other gives back to the child the semblance of a coherent identity. The split in the subject inaugurated by the entrance into language generates the sense of an ever elusive grasping toward self-presence that is forever unachievable. For the split in the subject can never be sutured. Thus, Lacan proposes, the coherent, autonomous self is indeed a fictive construct, a fantasy of the fully present subject in language.
Claiming the phallus as the transcendental signifier, Lacan rewrote the Freudian drama of castration by assigning to the phallus the compensatory promise of dominance in the symbolic realm. For the phallus is signifier for the intervention of the father and his laws in the desire of the child. Sexual difference is foundational, implicated in the entry into language.
For instance, the old notion of self has been redefined as an illusory ego construct a fiction, a phantasm and displaced by the new concept of the subject, always split, always in the process of constituting itself through its others. As a result the fundamental terms invoked in discussions of autobiography have shifted as attention has been directed to the etiology of sexual difference, the relationship of the subject to its constitutive others, and the rhetorics of the self.
This new language would be, according to Cixous, a writing of and from the body. What is also required is the creation of a language alternative to specularity through which women can articulate their difference, their desire. It is a sexuality transgressive of stable boundaries, unity, sameness. The eruptions of the semiotic signal the eruption of the irrational, that which must be suppressed in order for the subject to imagine itself as coherent, unified, autonomous.
Because the self is a fiction sustained by the very practices of representation, its fictiveness can be glimpsed in the shadows of the semiotic, in the gaps, in nonsense, in puns, in pleasurable rhythms, all of which erupt from the unconscious or preconscious to disrupt meaning. As a strategy for resisting the Law of the Father, Kristeva thus proposes a politics of negativity.
Hers is the powerful mother not yet diminished and denigrated by association with castration. There have been significant critiques of psychoanalytically-based approaches to sexual difference. An unnuanced psychoanalytic logic is a universalizing, indeed essentializing logic, despite claims to the contrary, since it assumes the sexual difference of two oppositional sexes as foundational, implicated in the entry into language.
They provide a way of understanding the complexity of female positioning as a split subject within the symbolic order and its logic of representation. They encourage readers to look for gaps and silences in texts, to read away from coherence—in fact, to become skeptical about such previously accepted notions in autobiography theory as the linearity of narrative and a unified concept of selfhood.
They provide a vocabulary for exploring the relationship of women to language, to systems of representation, to the mother, to the body. Finally, all three theorists explored, in poetic and playful engagements with theory, possibilities for alternative languages. Their appeal to writing the body and to exploring diverse writing practices has prompted others to develop alternative critical styles.
In fact, we might trace the current interest in personal criticism in part to the experimental texts of Irigaray, Cixous, and Kristeva.
Thus in the eighties, several theorists of autobiography adapted the work of Lacan and the French feminist theorists even as they remained skeptical of the extremist pronouncements issuing from France regarding the erasure of the author-function in the text. And in whose name? For Brodzki the compelling figure haunting the texts of women autobiographers is the figure of the lost mother. For many critics, psychoanalytic claims about female subjectivity, whether made in the wake of the ego psychology of Chodorow or the split subject of Lacan, too quickly and thoroughly erased the very real imprint of history itself.
Concurrently, then, throughout the eighties important work was done by scholars concerned about situating the autobiographical subject in her historical specificity. Some critics turned to the work of French political theorist Louis Althusser, whose concept of ideology attempted to infuse Marxist economic determinism with the dynamic imprint of cultural formations. RSAs are more coercive state institutions such as the military, the police, the judicial system. The subject, then, is invested in and fundamentally mystified by her own production.
An ideological critique of her engagement in the state apparati is required to understand her own social formation, though such a critique will not undo it. For the Althusserian critique understood that individual to be a function of ideology. Students of Althusser directed attention to the ways in which historically specific cultural institutions provide ready-made identities to subjects.
Michel Foucault was also influential for feminist theorists concerned with developing a materialist praxis. Unlike Althusser, Foucault came to understand power not as monolithic or centripetally concentrated in official and unofficial institutions; rather power with a small p is culturally pervasive, centrifugally dispersed, localized. To understand the technologies of self the theorist must attend to several aspects of historical practice: Scott challenged the foundational status of experience as a ground of analysis.
Scholars have explored which discursive practices determine the kind of subject who speaks, the forms of self-representation available to women at particular historical moments, the meaning they make of their experiential histories. At the scene of autobiographical writing, Nussbaum argued, conflicting concepts of identity are played out as writing subjects, among them variously marginalized women of the eighteenth century, negotiate the politics of subjectivity through generic expectations and contradictions.
Confession thus becomes a means of creating a new feminist audience to perform the impossible—a validation of the female experience narrated in the text. As they have invoked Foucault and Althusser with a difference, scholars of autobiography have had to tackle head-on the issue of human agency.
The earlier work of Foucault seemed to make no space for the agency of the subject; discursive subjection was total; power was all. Dissatisfied with a problematic scientific objectivity, on the one hand, or total subjection on the other, critics began to pose questions aimed at probing the agency of the subject. How can the subject come to know itself differently? Under what conditions can the subject exercise any kind of freedom, find the means to change? How does the woman autobiographer negotiate a discursive terrain—autobiography—that has been until recently a primarily masculine domain?
How do discourses of identity differentiate the narrative scripts of normative masculinity and femininity? How does the narrator take up and put off contradictory discourses of identity? How does she understand herself as a subject of discursive practices? How does she come to any new knowledge about herself? A thick materialist analysis offers yet another line of inquiry. Buss turned to the reading strategies of New Historicist theory and practice, specifically thick description, to render more complex her approach to the personal diaries of a nineteenth-century British Canadian woman, Isabel West.
Revising New Historicism for a feminist project, Buss locates her diarist among conflicting ideologies and the silence at the limits of patriarchal language in a way that renovates West for new readers. British scholars have been especially concerned with the class status of the autobiographer.
For these scholars the following questions are motivating: Where is she positioned within the socioeconomic field? How does her class status affect the way she negotiates autobiographical discourses? Who are her readers? How do autobiographical narratives function in the context of class politics and consciousness? Locating herself and her mother in a problematic relationship to the particulars of mid-twentieth-century London, she reads their lives against the norms of British working-class autobiography and refuses any straightforward act of historical interpretation.
We have traced separate trajectories for psychoanalytic and materialist theories of the female subject, but ever more frequently theorists have sought to bridge the gap between them. As a result, she radically revised psychoanalytic theory, without jettisoning it, through attention to cultural and historical specificity. As they established a communal tradition and proposed countertexts to the canon, women of color argued the instrumental role of autobiographical writing in giving voice to formerly silenced subjects.
Thus another set of motivating questions generated new ways of approaching autobiographical texts: Some of those critics are included in Women, Autobiography, Theory , and their work gestures toward the work of other critics as well. In nineteenth-century slave and spiritual narratives, McKay argued, African American women asserted models of selfhood distinct from those of both middle-class white women and African American men. In the twentieth century, however, their autobiographical practice has valued variously the experience of growing up black in a racist world, as writers both chart and resist victimization while moving beyond protest narrative to autobiographically bear witness to the costs of their psychic and political survival.
Latina autobiographers, appropriating a new literary space in which they can assert mestiza identity and theorize a politics of language and experience, write the contradictions of their multiple identities in ways that enable other women of color to reshape the paradigms and politics of identity in narrative. In rethinking autobiographical narratives in terms of the politics of difference, scholars have necessarily developed a critique of Western individualism and the expectation that narrative lives conform to dominant cultural models of identity.
They have also challenged theories that posit a universal woman—implicitly white, bourgeois, and Western—and that presume to speak on her behalf. This challenge has been aggressively directed at white feminists who complacently assume the white woman as normative; but it gestures as well to the need for collective affiliation with women of many and diverse differences.
They exposed as well the untheorized access to power of white academic feminists. Theorists of difference foreground such questions as the following: How are they already spoken for through dominant cultural representations? What must they do to be heard? By focusing on such questions, theorists of difference provide the terms to articulate how dominant cultural values have been internalized by oppressed subjects. These challenges by women of color to a white feminist theory of autobiography were launched as identity claims and from collective practices located outside the academy—in urban centers, among collectives and movements.
Because critique is inseparable from resistance to dominant modes, new modes of writing were necessary to ground theory in experience, including reading experience. Their theorizing does not announce itself as theory—high, dry, and hermetically sealed. It is theory at the bone and in the flesh. Autobiographical manifestos issue hopeful calls for new subjects even as they look back through critical lenses at the sources of oppression and conflictual identifications.
Women writing about multicultural practices repeatedly caution against reifying any simple model of difference as adequate to explore the complexity of lived or narrative lives. This call to complexity in theorizing of difference multiplies these differences and raises a new issue of priority among heterogeneous differences. If differences are multiple and asymmetrical, who bears the difference? But how are all these differences held in some kind of dynamic tension? How does one understand the multiplication of identity vectors?
Sexual difference is one of several differences mobilized at different moments—differences with histories, and with social and cultural effects. Responding to this thorny question, theorists continue to rethink the relationship between various positions of marginality, between those of gender and those of race, or those of sexuality, or those of class. If there has been a proliferation of categories of difference, there has also been an insistence upon their inextricable linkage to one another, upon the necessity of an intersectional analysis.
Yet the question remains: If subjects are irreducibly multiple, as Butler observed, prioritizing one identification, such as gender, at the expense of others is not only reductive but paralyzing. Identities, imbricated in and constituted by one another, need to contribute to a politics rather than a policing. This politics would be aimed not only at empowering subjects but at overcoming cultural imperatives that sustain fictions of coherence.
Natalie Edwards: Department of French and Italian - Northwestern University
Through their critiques of Western imperialism and the asymmetries of power emergent in diverse contexts of colonization and decolonization, theorists of postcoloniality registered and assessed the continuing legacies of colonial histories and the contemporary, or neocolonial, reorganization of global capitalism. And a central site in that revisionary struggle has been autobiographical discourse, the coming to voice of previously silenced subjects. Theorists of postcoloniality have thus recognized autobiography as one of the cultural formations in the West implicated in and complicit with processes of colonization.
Can a colonized subject speak in or through cultural formations other than those of the colonial master?
Is she always already spoken for? In such texts issues of power, trust, and narrative authority become critical to the politics of collaboration. Such texts also require that we acknowledge the importance of oral cultural forms and attend to the speakerly text, rather than remain preoccupied with the writerly effects of narrative. Theorists of postcolonial agency ask the following kinds of questions: How might subjects come to voice outside, or despite, the constraints of Western models of identity?
What alternative possibilities of identity have been overwritten by Western models? Postcolonial theorists also consider how processes of decolonization might be affected through alternative cultural practices. Some call for narrative modes that are neither linear nor developmental but that attend to specificities of indigenous cultural practices and how those are reformed within histories of colonization. Their narratives of detainment not only propose resistance but call for global social reorganization.
Similarly, both Doris Sommer and John Beverley have argued that the Testimonio challenges the norms of autobiography as the narrative of an irreducibly collective subject whose acts of witnessing address the hegemony of Western individualism. In tracking multiple sites of identity and emphasizing the collectivity of subjects who talk back to Western concepts of the autonomous individual, these and many other theorists of postcolonial writing make clear how postcolonial texts have intervened to reframe the terms of subjectivity.
Each term carries its own historical and theoretical valences. All name aspects of the complex conditions of subjectivity in the late-twentieth-century world. As they ponder this complexity, postcolonial critics of autobiography draw attention to narrative practices in diverse global locations, from the writing practices of indigenous Australians to the narratives of African American women identifying themselves with the black diaspora; from the stories of the First Peoples of Canada to the narrative testimony of Bessie Head in South Africa; from the memoirs of postcolonial intellectuals living in the West to the resistance literature of the imprisoned, the institutionalized; from the narratives of the immigrants to the New Europe to the narratives of diasporic Chinese.
Developing reading practices attentive to these migratory subjects in all their diversity has led theorists to develop new models of transnationalism and transculturation. It has also spurred incisive critiques of readings framed by Western interpretive approaches. Postcolonial theory remains contentious and fractured; it is not monolithic. There are critiques coming from within of the problematic basis upon which postcolonial theorists found their analyses. The critique of Western values as purely Western takes away the transformative agency of cultures as well as their active transformation of inherited Western values as those values are incorporated through indigenous traditions.
Feminism and the Postcolonial Condition. Subsequent feminist theorists, suspicious of feminist metanarratives, pointed to the essentializing and universalizing effects of this way of understanding difference in voice Butler and Nicholson, Words, that is, are argumentative. The utterance of the subject is irreducibly dialogic, contestatory, heteroglossic. The concept of heteroglossia provides a means to join theories of consciousness to theories of culture and to refocus questions of textuality. Dialogism supports the claim that there are always other voices in the text, that even the most monologic of texts can be read for heteroglossia and that the autobiographical subject is a subject of the play of voices.
Heteroglossia assumes a pervasive and fundamental heterogeneity to human subjectivity.
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The text is multivocal because it is a site for the contestation of meaning. By this tactic they avoid the paralyzing polarization of the total determination of the subject, on the one hand, or the total freedom of the subject to make meaning, on the other. Thus the notion of the dialogism of the word precludes theorizing any essential or universal difference. In their inclusionary and democratizing projects, these theorists of dailiness focus on differentiating the kinds of subjects who speak in letters, diaries, journals, and memoirs.
And they rethink issues of temporality, noting the apparent discontinuity in diurnal forms. Moreover, the ongoing effect of time in the diary means that the outcome of time is unknown by both diarist and reader, so that self-positioning is always in flux. Thus, women letter writers develop strategies of deflection, preoccupation with others, protestations of insignificance, or identification with women as a collectivity, that enable them to engage in the self-assertion of epistolary correspondence. Up until the s, feminist critics who focused on forms of dailiness confronted criticism that these modes had a secondary or marginal status as literature.
But since the end of the eighties, the methods and models of cultural studies have been brought to bear on forms of dailiness and generated theories of the everyday constructions of experience. Bunkers and Cynthia A. Contributors to this collection considered the different audiences for diaries; the diary as fragments; the broadened textual boundaries of diaries into which women insert various materials; and the intertextualities of diaries by family members.
As Jerome Bruner has argued persuasively, everyday life can be understood as an ongoing narrative negotiation. Life narratives are articulated in collaborative everyday projects, such as family stories and interactions. Or, as the contributors to our collection Getting a Life: Michel de Certeau has theorized the significance of everyday negotiations as tactics of social groups and noted how self-signification proliferates in an era of advanced capitalism. Culture is, in its broadest sense, understood as an ever-negotiated site of conflict.
And so popular forms become endlessly productive venues for the social constitution of subjects and for their everyday resistances. Biddy Martin has pointed to the social uses and the everyday politics of coming-out narratives. Other cultural critics have become fascinated with contemporary visual practices, performance art, talk show confessions. Asking us to read all kinds of texts as autobiographical, cultural critics require us to refine our mode of reading.
The autobiographical thus becomes an aspect of textuality rather than a narrowly defined generic practice about lives lived chronologically.