By James Olney
Professor Olney gathers jointly during this publication the superior and most crucial writings on autobiography produced some time past decades.
Originally released in 1980.
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Extra info for Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical
Just as Leiris "fears and loathes the fact and idea of death," so his quest fears and loathes conclusion Autobiography and the Cultural Moment 21 and so also his readers fear and loathe conclusion. Germaine Bree, John Sturrock, Henri Peyre, Jeffrey Mehlman, and Philippe Lejeune (in both Lire Leiris and Le pacte autobiographique) have all given shrewd readings to Leiris as the modern autobiographer. As Rousseau was the classic autobiographer of his time, so Leiris seems well on the way to becoming that for our time (if one can speak of a classic in the contemporary world and if one can apply the word to an art that is, as Germaine Bree says, "antiautobiographic").
Throughout most of human history, the individual does not oppose himself to all others; he does not feel himself to exist outside of others, and still less against others, but very much with others in an interdependent ex istence that asserts its rhythms everywhere in the community. No one is rightful possessor of his life or his death; lives are so thor oughly entangled that each of them has its center everywhere and 30 Georges Gusdorf its circumference nowhere. The important unit is thus never the isolated being—or, rather, isolation is impossible in such a scheme of total cohesiveness as this.
Autobiography becomes possible only under certain metaphysi cal preconditions. To begin with, at the cost of a cultural revolution humanity must have emerged from the mythic framework of tradi tional teachings and must have entered into the perilous domain of history. The man who takes the trouble to tell of himself knows that the present differs from the past and that it will not be repeated in the future; he has become more aware of differences than of similarities; given the constant change, given the uncertainty of events and of men, he believes it a useful and valuable thing to fix his own image so that he can be certain it will not disappear like all things in this world.
Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical by James Olney