Regard for the Other: Autothanatography in Rousseau, De Quincey, Baudelaire, and Wilde

Overview

Although much has been written on autobiography, the same cannot be said of autothanatography, the writing of one's death. This study starts from the deconstructive premise that autobiography is aporetic, not or not only a matter of a subject strategizing with language to produce an exemplary identity but a matter also of its responding to an exorbitant call to write its death. The I-dominated representations of particular others and of the privileged other to whom a work is addressed, must therefore be set ...
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Regard for the Other: Autothanatography in Rousseau, De Quincey, Baudelaire, and Wilde

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Overview

Although much has been written on autobiography, the same cannot be said of autothanatography, the writing of one's death. This study starts from the deconstructive premise that autobiography is aporetic, not or not only a matter of a subject strategizing with language to produce an exemplary identity but a matter also of its responding to an exorbitant call to write its death. The I-dominated representations of particular others and of the privileged other to whom a work is addressed, must therefore be set against an alterity plaguing the I from within or shadowing it from without. This alterity makes itself known in writing as the potential of the text to carry messages that remain secret to the confessing subject.

Anticipation of the potential for the confessional text to say what Augustine calls "the secret I do not know," the secret of death, engages the autothanatographical subject in a dynamic, inventive, and open-ended process of identification. The subject presented in these texts is not one that has already evolved an interior life that it seeks to reveal to others, but one that speaks to us as still in process. Through its exorbitant response, it gives intimations of an interiority and an ethical existence to come.

Baudelaire emerges as a central figure for this understanding of autobiography as autothanatography through his critique of the narcissism of a certain Rousseau, his translation of De Quincey's confessions, with their vertiginously ungrounded subject-in-construction, his artistic practice of self-conscious, thorough-going doubleness, and his service to Wilde as model for an aporetic secrecy.

The author discusses the interruption of narrative that must be central to the writing of one's death and addresses the I's dealings with the aporias of such structuring principles as secrecy, Levinasian hospitality, or interiorization as translation. The book makes a strong intervention in the debate over one of the most-read genres of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

In an extraordinarily demanding revision of the autobiographical genre, Brut zeroes in on how the subject engages with language not merely to produce an exemplary identity but to write its own demise . . . Highly recommended.-K.M. Sibbald

Examines the shadowy forms of self that emerge in autobiography's call to represent the unrepresentable, or the subject's death.

An adventurous, incisive, and vigorous work of reading and theory that aspires to engage its subject - the autobiographical 'I' understood in its relation to an otherness exceeding representation-at a high level of intellectual responsibility.-Joshua Wilner

"If writing about autobiography has cutomarily focused on the narrative of the self, the project of self-knowledge, and self-revelation, E.S. Burt's challenging new book, Regard for the Other, declares its distinctiveness right up front."-Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780823230914
  • Publisher: Fordham University Press
  • Publication date: 10/18/2009
  • Edition description: 4
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

E. S. BURT is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Poetry's Appeal: The Nineteenth-Century French Lyric and the Political Space.

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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. A Clutch of Brothers: Alterity and Autothanatography 1

I Autobiography Interrupted

1 Developments in Character: "The children's Punishment" and the "the Broken Comb" 33

2 Regard for the other: Embarrassment in the Quatrième promenade 61

3 The shape before the Mirror: Autobiography and the Dandy in Baudelaire 83

II Writing Death, with Regard to The Other

4 Hospitality in Autobiography: Levinas chez De Quicey 109

5 Eating with the other in Les Paradis artificels 140

6 Secrets Can Be Murder: How to Write the Secret in De Profundis 185

Notes 221

Works Cited 255

Index 263

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