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

By G. Thomas Couser

This paintings explores the "authority" of autobiography in numerous similar senses: first, the concept autobiography is authoritative writing since it is possibly verifiable; moment, the concept one's existence is one's particular textual area; 3rd, the concept that, as a result of the obvious congruence among the implicit ideology of the style and that of the country, autobiography has a different status in the USA. conscious of the hot opinions of the concept of autobiography as issuing from, made up our minds by means of, or relating a pre-existing self, Couser examines the ways that the authority of specific texts is named into question--for instance, simply because they contain pseudonymity (Mark Twain), the revision of a most likely 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 could playfully and purposely undermine their very own narrative authority and how within which minority writers' regulate in their lives will be compromised. Autobiography, then, is portrayed the following as an enviornment during which members fight for self-possession and self-expression opposed to the limitations of language, style, and society.

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Franklin's narrative of his life, which he began shortly before the Revolution and worked on intermittently until just after the public announcement of the Constitution's adoption, is, in this context, an especially authoritative American text because in it this eldest Founding Father established the conventions of American self(re)constitution. II Of course, both the Constitution and the Autobiography are verbal constructs, and thus their authority is open to question from various perspectives.

The result is that the dynamic social relations which always exist in literary production—the dialectic between the historically located individual author and the historically developing institutions of literary production—tends [sic] to become obscured in criticism (81). 18 As he puts it, those relations of production do not sanction a theory of textual criticism based upon the concept of the autonomy of the author.. "Final authority" for literary works rests neither with the author nor with his affiliated institution; it resides in the actual structure of the agreements which these two cooperating authorities reach in specific cases (54).

Introduction 23 IV As we have seen, this last is the feature on which Elizabeth Bruss staked the authority of the genre. 17 A consideration of his vigorous Marxist critique of Lejeune will illuminate the predicament of the critic of American autobiography today, for the assumptions that Ryan challenges are precisely those on which the supposed congruence of autobiography and American culture is based. For Lejeune, the existence of an autonomous, self-identical individual is a self-evident truth, and the institution of autobiography is founded on the oneness of author, narrator, and subject.

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