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David Birdsong, Chair 201 W 21ST STREET STOP B7600, HRH 2.114A, AUSTIN, TX 78712 • 512-471-5531

Fall 2007


Unique Days Time Location Instructor
37738 TTh
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
CAL 221

Course Description

Today, memoirs, confessions, diaries and autobiographies are as popular as novels. And not by chance! The first person narrative, I, invites the reader to invade the inner sanctum of an individual, particularly of someone famous, and live another's life intimately. The works we shall read are autobiographical writing of the highest quality and have achieved the status of masterpieces. The memoir searches to create, invent, and justify the self as a unique valid creation but given its inherent rhetoric of reaching a reader, the narrative voice seeks to insinuate a communal identity as well. The very language of the text becomes an initiation into the narrating first person. The self-narrating assumes a verbal nexus of identity that becomes woven into the body politic of the consuming recipient. I am, we are. You are both I and Other. Narration becomes a bleeding of the self into a communal if not national identity..

Why write about oneself? Proust argues that it is a way of restoring the past. Casanova writes: "In remembering the pleasures I had, I renew them; I enjoy them a second time!" [You can imagine!] Others wish to give meaning to their existence and use their life as an illustration of the good or bad life. St. Augustine in his Confessions traces his route to a spiritual life. Rousseau in his Confessions taxes himself at times too heavily but the wild Russian heretic priest, Avakum, justifies his life of suffering in unforgettable terms.

Others use the first person narrative to discover themselves, their authentic identity, in the act of writing. Gluckel von Hameln depicts her life working to find understanding in her complicated existence. For some memorialists, they write to depict the world and its meaning as they observed it, Mme Sévigné, for example, in her celebrated letters. Saint Simon, too, captures the mirrored self against the court life at Versailles, its intrigues and his desire for status. Sei Shonagon captures a woman's perspective and personal fate in the Heian Court of Japan 1,200 years ago with exquisite sensibility, as does Lady Murasaki in her private diary. Herzen depicts the self struggling to better himself and mankind while providing an overview of 19th century Europe. For autobiographers, it may be a more inward journey. Writers of their childhood like Chateaubriand or Tanizaki seek to capture that unique moment that shaped them. Some are drawn to fictionalize their life and others like Berlioz blatantly admit: "I shall say only what pleases me to say." But all first person narratives place the individual at the center of the narrative. Key theoretical texts will provide interpretative frames to approach this most inventive of genres.

From the embarrassment of riches of this rich genre, we shall study a limited few. We shall read a few in their entirety but the majority we shall encounter in Selections.

Grading Policy

- One class presentation/explication du texte: 30%
- Midterm: 30%
- Final /paper: 40%


Selections to be taken from the following authors and works: Fictionalized 1st person: Proust: Combray; Guilleragues, Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun, [Les Lettres Portugaises]
Confessions: Saint Augustine, Confessions; Rousseau, Confessions; Avakum, His Life
Childhood Remembrances: Tolstoy, Remembrances; Chateaubriand, Memoirs from Beyond the Grave [Mémoires D'Outre-Tombe]; Tanizaki, Junichiro, Childhood Memoirs; Benvenuto Cellini, My Life.
Memoirs: Casanova, Mémoires; Berlioz, Mémoires; Herzen, Memoirs; Duc de Saint-Simon, Mémoires, Barburnama
Diaries of Women: Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book; The Gossamer Years;
The Confessions of Lady Nijo; Gluckel of Hameln, Writings; The Diary of Lady Murasaki
Letters: Mme de Sévigné


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