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Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of Self-Invention (Princeton Legacy Library) Paperback – March 21, 1988

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Eakin conceives of autobiography as a performative act in which the self is created in language. In brilliant readings of Mary McCarthy, Henry James, and Sartre he explores the role of fiction in the process of self-invention, arguing that with autobiography fiction is not deception but a means of self-revelation that captures psychological truth. The study is somewhat disjointed, as the last two chapters veer away from the attention to fictionalizing that binds together the first three. But the entire text shimmers with fresh insight into the nature of autobiography. Eakin surfs the roiled waters of theoretical discourse with ease and grace. The performative act of his own study is nothing less than dazzling. Leland Krauth, English Dept., Univ. of Colorado, Boulder
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Paul John Eakin's Fictions in Autobiography does so many things so well that it is difficult to know where to begin to praise the book. . . . As autobiography has been the dominant mode in literature of the twentieth century, so critical attention to the questions posed by the autobiographical act has become the principal preoccupation of theorists across the entire critical spectrum. And Eakin's book is both a superb exercise in thinking through these questions as they rise out of a consideration of half a dozen exemplary texts and at the same time an admirable summary, recapitulation, and extension of what has been said, directly and indirectly, on the subject in the past quarter of a century."--James Olney, American Literature

"Fictions in Autobiography is a judicious, far-ranging, immensely clarifying discussion of the modern art of self-construction which addresses several issues long perplexing readers and critics. . . . If story-telling is a basic mode of existence as well as a specific literary form, this is best demonstrated in autobiographies, particularly those by Mary McCarthy, Henry James, Jean-Paul Sartre, Vladimir Nabokov, Alfred Kazin, Frank Conroy, Saul Friedlnder, and Maxine Hong Kingston. Eakin selects these texts because each is about the making of existential fictions by both actor and author."--American Studies


Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Legacy Library
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 21, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691014450
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691014456
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,782,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Eakin describes autobiographies as performative acts in which the self is created through language and narrative. He describes the autobiographical works of Mary McCarthy, Henry James, and Sartre, and points out that although we have no problems with autobiographical elements in works of fiction, we do struggle with elements of fiction in autobiographies. Eakin then continues to point out that fiction plays an important role in this narrative process of self-construction and that there is something as a psychological truth. Moreover, Eakin tells us that the narrative strategy of self-invention is a way for writers and novelists to regain the strengths of their imagination.

In chapter four Eakin focuses on The Words by Jean-Paul Sartre, a work that has started the debate on the question of whether the self is autonomous or provisional, dependent on language, narrative and others. Sartre describes the childhood illusion of the self as an existing entity that creates the world through language. At this point in the text, I had troubles understanding the example of the fable of the train in Sartre's The Words.

Selfhood has a fictive nature, but it is held to be a biographical fact. Because of this, and previously mentioned ideas of the self as constructed in narrative, critical debates are surrounding the nature of autobiographies, as this has become an ontological issue about the status of the self.

Eakin describes the "French" (inspired by French critics) challenge of the autobiographical act as the thought that the reality of the self can be denied, and that it is impossible for the self to be the author, the originator, of his own discourse.
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