Altered Egos: Authority in American Autobiography by G. Thomas Couser

By G. Thomas Couser

This paintings explores the "authority" of autobiography in different similar senses: first, the concept that autobiography is authoritative writing since it is most likely verifiable; moment, the concept one's existence is one's particular textual area; 3rd, the concept that, as a result of the obvious congruence among the implicit ideology of the style and that of the kingdom, autobiography has a distinct status in the US. conscious of the new evaluations of the inspiration of autobiography as issuing from, decided by means of, or pertaining to a pre-existing self, Couser examines the ways that the authority of specific texts is named into question--for instance, simply because they contain pseudonymity (Mark Twain), the revision of a possibly spontaneous shape (Mary Chesnut's Civil struggle "diaries"), bilingual authorship (Richard Rodriguez and Maxine Hong Kingston), collaborative construction (Black Elk), or outright fraud (Clifford Irving's "autobiography" of Howard Hughes). Couser examines either the best way canonical autobiographers might playfully and purposely undermine their very own narrative authority and how within which minority writers' regulate in their lives should be compromised. Autobiography, then, is portrayed the following as an area during which participants fight for self-possession and self-expression opposed to the restrictions of language, style, and society.

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This collective American autobiography called forth a subgenre that would amend the original document by, in effect, restoring the missing philippic. Slave narrative was in this sense evoked— or provoked—by a master text whose comprehensiveness and moral authority it questioned. Unlike the Declaration, a unique speech act addressed to a particular historical moment, the Constitution was intended, according to White, to establish the conditions on which, and many of the materials with which, life will actually be led by a people no longer claiming to be united in a splendid moment of common sentiment but now engaged in, and divided by, their ordinary activities and moved by their ordinary motives (240) One of its conscious and explicit purposes is to create some of the rhetorical rules, conventions, and precedents of American political discourse: At its most successful, [the Constitution] can be said to establish the fundamental terms of new kinds of conversation; for it creates a set 30 ALTERED EGOS of speakers, defines the occasions for and topics of their speech, and is itself a text that may be referred to as authoritative.

Fliegelman has called the autobiography an "antipatriarchal classic" because it demonstrates the advantages of Lockean contractualism between parent and child (42); however, this is truer of the career of the autobiographical character—as he chafes under, and eventually liberates himself from, patriarchal restraints—than it is of the performance of the narrator. Whatever the intention of the salutation, its effect is to cast the autobiographer in the role of a father— one, as it happens, who is concerned with defining and exerting authority in terms of a tradition.

They began to function as self-constituting and self-commanding figures (46). Franklin's involvement in this crisis of authority as a historical figure is obvious; it is part of what we mean when we identify him as a Founding Father (a term that itself plays a powerful role in the transference and securing of authority). Since he began his Memoirs (as he called his narrative) several years before the War of Independence began, however, and since the narrative line never reaches the 1770s, the degree of his participation in the crisis as an autobiographer is not so obvious.

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