November 21, 2006

Paul de Man on ‘Autobiography as Defacement’

Writing about web page http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/litlinks/critical/man.htm

Paul de Man’s essay on ‘Autobiography as Defacement’ focuses mainly on Wordsworth, but he also makes some interesting general points about autobiography.

de Man begins by suggesting that the treatment of autobiography is ‘confining’ and that it makes many problematic assumptions. One problem is ‘the attempt to define and treat autobiography as if it were a literary genre among others’ and the difficulty in it being a genre that supposedly brings together history and the aesthetic (919). Autobiography may seem whimsical and indulgent in comparison to other genres of art

Can autobiography be written in verse? Even some of the most recent theoreticians of autobiography categorically deny the possibility though without giving reasons why this is so. Thus it becomes irrelevant to consider Wordsworth’s The Prelude within the context of a study of autobiography, an exclusion that anyone working in the English tradition will find hard to condone. (920)

de Man concludes that it is redundant to define autobiography as a ‘generic definition’ (920). Perhaps a comparison of fiction and autobiography might be more fruitful, since autobiography depends on ‘actual and potentially verifiable events’, doesn’t it (920)? Could it be ‘a simpler mode of referentiality, of representation, and of diegesis’ which is ‘rooted in a single subject as in Rousseau’s Confessions? de Man is unconvinced.

We assume that life produces the autobiography as an act produces its consequences, but can we not suggest, with equal justice, that the autobiographical project may itself produce and determine the life and that whatever the writer does is in fact governed by the technical demands of self-portraiture and thus determined in all its aspects, by the resources of his medium? (920)

Proust quotes Gérard Genette’s analysis of Proust, which suggests that Proust’s writings are ‘an endless discussion between a reading of the novel as fiction and a reading of the same novel as autobiography’ (921). de Man concludes that autobiography is ‘a figure of reading or of understanding that occurs, to some degree, in all texts’ (921). This is not to say though that all texts are autobiographical, but rather the importance of autobiography ‘is not that it reveals reliable self-knowledge—it does not—but that it demonstrates in a striking way the impossibility of closure and of totalization (that is the impossibility of coming into being) of all textual systems made up of tropological substiutions’ (922).

de Man, Paul. ‘Autobiography as Defacement’. MLN. Vol 94, no. 5, Comparative Literature. (Dec., 1979), pp. 919-930.


- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Hey Zo – I have to read this essay for a class tomorrow, Googled it and came up with your name! It’s a small literary-critical world… E xx

    12 Nov 2007, 21:43

  2. That’s really weird! Hope you are having a good time out there.

    13 Nov 2007, 18:57


Add a comment

You are not allowed to comment on this entry as it has restricted commenting permissions.

...

Facebook Widget

The Midnight Heart

“Zona de plagas donde la dormida come / lentamente / su corazón de medianoche” – Alejandra Pizarnik


Night ramblings of insomnia, and day ramblings for the sleep deprived.

Search this blog

November 2006

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
Oct |  Today  | Dec
      1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30         

Galleries

Goodreads

my read shelf:
Zoe's book recommendations, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Red Room

Visit me in the Red Room

The Secret

Book Cover

Blog archive

Loading…

Books



Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)


Comment Policy

Feel free to leave a comment on this blog, but I want to let readers know that I only accept comments that are linked to a valid homepage, e-mail or blog. I don’t accept anonymous comments. If a conversation is going to work, I want to know who it is that I’m talking to. If you really have a good reason for remaining anonymous, drop me a line instead by e-mail.

Most recent comments

  • Yes, you're right it does make you think and I know what he means. I also like the fact that it's su… by Sue on this entry
  • True, I hope so too, but it makes you think! by on this entry
  • He takes a very pessimistic view of things. I think the human spirit will prevail. I don't see the p… by Sue on this entry
  • Hi Zoe, do you know the glass dresses made by the artist Diana Dias Leao? They're not meant to be wo… by redbotinki on this entry
  • We're having some technical issues with this blog post, so please bear with me! by on this entry

Favourite blogs

Spanish Daily Word

<-- END WORD-A-DAY TEXT -->
Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder
© MMXXI