By James Olney
Professor Olney gathers jointly during this ebook the very best and most vital writings on autobiography produced long ago decades.
Originally released in 1980.
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Extra resources for Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical
Little by little the infant discovers an essential aspect of his identity: he distinguishes that which is without from his own within, he sees himself as another among others; he is situated in social space, at the heart of which he will become capable of reshaping his own reality. 1 Cf. in particular the research of Jacques Lacan: "Le stade du miroir comme formateur de la fonction du Je," Revuefrattfaise depsychanalyse 4 (1949). Conditions and Limits of Autobiography 33 The primitive who has not been forewarned is frightened of his reflection in the mirror, just as he is terrified by a photographic or motion-picture image.
Now that I have briefly sketched the history and themes of theoretical and critical writing on autobiography, I want to turn back to the central questions, Why? Why now? Why not earlier? Much of the early criticism of the autobiographical mode was di rected to the question of autos—how the act of autobiography is at once a discovery, a creation, and an imitation of the self (it was on this issue that Gusdorf's two essays and my own book crossed paths so frequently). Here I think we come at one of the most im portant explanations for the critical turn toward autobiography as literature, for those critics who took autos for their primary focus tended to be very free in their understanding ofhios, seeing it as the entire life of the individual up to the time of writing, the psychic configuration of the individual at the moment of writing, the whole history of a people living in this individual autobiographer, or any combination of these and various other possible senses of bios.
But this unconsciousness of personality, characteristic of primitive societies such as ethnologists describe to us, lasts also in more advanced civilizations that subscribe to mythic structures, they too being governed by the principle of repetition. Theories of eternal recurrence, accepted in various guises as dogma by the majority of the great cultures of antiquity, fix attention on that which remains, not on that which passes. " Likewise, beliefs in the trans migration of souls—beliefs to be found throughout the IndoEuropean sphere—grant to the nodes of temporal existence only a sort of negative value.