By James Olney
Professor Olney gathers jointly during this booklet the superior and most vital writings on autobiography produced some time past decades.
Originally released in 1980.
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Extra resources for Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical
There is, then, a considerable gap between the avowed plan of autobiography, which is simply to retrace the history of a life, and its deepest intentions, which are directed toward a kind of apolo getics or theodicy of the individual being. This gap explains the puzzlement and the ambivalence of the literary genre. The man who sets about writing his memoirs imagines, in all good faith, 40 Georges Gusdorf that he is writing as an historian and that any difficulties he may discover can be overcome through exercise of critical objectivity and impartiality.
The appearance of autobiography implies a new spiritual revolution: the artist and the model coincide, the historian tackles himself as object. That is to say, he considers himself a great per son, worthy of men's remembrance even though in fact he is only a more or less obscure intellectual. Here a new social area that turns classes about and readjusts values comes into play. Montaigne had a certain prominence, but was descended from a family of mer chants; Rousseau, no more than a common citizen of Geneva, was a kind of literary adventurer; yet both of them, in spite of their lowly station on the stage of the world, considered their destiny worthy of being given by way of example.
3 The author of an autobiography gives himself the job of narrating his own history; what he sets out to do is to reassemble the scattered elements of his individual life and to regroup them in a comprehensive sketch. The historian of himself wishes to produce his own portrait, but while the painter captures only a moment of external appearance, the autobiographer strains toward a complete and coherent expression of his entire destiny. The catalogue of Bredius lists sixty-two portraits of Rembrandt accepted as authen tic and painted by himself at all ages in his life.
Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical by James Olney