Autobiographical Occasions and Original Acts: Versions of American Identity from Henry Adams to Nate Shaw

Autobiographical Occasions and Original Acts: Versions of American Identity from Henry Adams to Nate Shaw

Autobiographical Occasions and Original Acts: Versions of American Identity from Henry Adams to Nate Shaw

Autobiographical Occasions and Original Acts: Versions of American Identity from Henry Adams to Nate Shaw

Synopsis

"Stone displays a breadth of scholarship that is impressive. There are scores of allusions to lives other than the ones under discussion, and there are frequent references... which make this a truly interdisciplinary study and for which Stone should be strongly commended."- Literature and History

Excerpt

Alfred Kazin is quite CORRECT: constantly explaining oneself by telling one's own history is both theme and motive in many enduring works of American literature. Less highbrow culture, too, has as a chief staple similar stories of the private self. True Confessions, like Woody Allen's later movies and "The Today Show," touches the same deep currents and curiosities which animate Song of Myself, Roughing It, Long Day's Journey into Night, or Invisible Man. a powerful need to listen to each others' personal histories (and thus to learn more about our own) runs throughout our mobile, polyglot culture. This helps explain the ubiquity and popularity of autobiographical acts, which in many variations of narrative mode have flourished since the early years of the republic, and even before. Certainly autobiography in its many forms is widely produced and enthusiastically consumed today. One finds personal histories everywhere one finds books: on library shelves and in the syllabi of college courses; at the checkout counters of drugstores and supermarkets; on best-seller lists, as book club selections, and in reviews (almost weekly, it seems) of the New York Times; in the knapsacks of high school students and hitchhikers. the paperback revolution has made it possible, on the one hand, for a poet's or movie star's memoir to rival the latest detective story and, on the other hand, for the account of a forgotten runaway slave's life to be relived in a class on Afro-American history. No longer is autobiography a minor and neglected branch of American prose (as it was a scant fifteen years ago), and its history cannot be summarized in a few familiar names and titles. As the 1980s open, the popular appreciation and critical assessment of autobiography are signal features of American studies.

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