True Relations: Essays on Autobiography and the Postmodern

True Relations: Essays on Autobiography and the Postmodern

True Relations: Essays on Autobiography and the Postmodern

True Relations: Essays on Autobiography and the Postmodern


Examines the state of autobiography in the postmodern world, demonstrating how writers use the experience of fragmentation to forge new kinds of collaborative identities.


Joseph Fichtelberg

A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a
fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before.

J. F. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition

The chapters in this volume, like the title of the collection itself, express a philosophical scandal, a scandal inherent in the generic history of autobiography. Having arisen as heir to the Kantian defense of an autonomous self, autobiography has survived into an era when the notion of autonomy has paled and Kant has given way to Foucault. If Kant, in the Critique of Judgment, cannot imagine a world in which “organized beings” are driven by “mere mechanical principles of nature,” Foucault, in The Order of Things, cannot imagine a subject “whose laws and demands” are not “imposed upon him like some alien system.” Kant, to use Hilary Putnam's term, is an “internalist” who found truth in the activities of a subject imposing a human frame on the world. Equally internalist is classic autobiography, whose subject imposes aesthetic order on the messy materials of life. Foucault, by contrast, is a marginalist, whose goal is to evade the “universal, necessary, obligatory” for what is singular, contingent, and fragile. Such are the aims of Foucauldian critique; and it may not be by accident that the contemporary criticism of autobiography has coincided with Foucault's project. From Roy Pascal's Design and Truth in Autobiography and James Olney's Metaphors of Self through the myriad theoretical approaches of the last twenty years, discussion of autobiography has been both symptom and subject of the postmodern attempt to define its own authority.

From one point of view, the postmodern concern over the subject represents the spectacular success of the Kantian project. By splitting off the active intelligence from the world it examines, Kant allowed for the orderly building of scientific systems without their impinging on human freedom. But as system building overran the human sciences, it inevitably dissolved the transcendental . . .

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