Learning to live between the lines : the survival of autobiography as genre and the example of Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life

Název: Learning to live between the lines : the survival of autobiography as genre and the example of Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life
Zdrojový dokument: Brno studies in English. 2010, roč. 36, č. 2, s. [153]-170
  • ISSN
    0524-6881 (print)
    1805-0867 (online)
Type: Článek
Licence: Neurčená licence

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Taking my cue from the seemingly paradoxical title of this special issue of Brno Studies in English: – "Living Between the Lines: Transgressive (Auto)Biography as Genre and Method" – this paper examines a critically acclaimed and enormously popular American memoir of the late twentieth century: Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life (1989). Well-written, straightforward, beginning at the beginning and ending at the ending, this old-fashioned memoir simply attempts to tell the truth about Wolff's past while imagining the self in conventional Cartesian terms as stable, unitary, and essential. This seemingly naïve approach to memoir is surprising, especially since, as a creative writer who has found a home in academia, Wolff might have been expected to produce a self-reflexive text that more obviously challenged the lines typically drawn between autobiography and fiction. After all, it has been twenty years since Sidonie Smith remarked that "It has been the critical fashion to speak knowingly of autobiography's fictiveness for at least a decade now" (145). Smith alludes to Paul de Man's influential essay, "Autobiography as Defacement" (1979), which prompted many critics to regard autobiography as nothing more than a mere mask behind which no real self can ever hide, since the self is itself a linguistic construct. Early reports of the death of autobiography were, however, exaggerated. In my analysis of Wolff's This Boy's Life, I hope to show why a sophisticated and long-time academic such as Wolff might still write a conventional yet knowing memoir. His memoir reminds us why autobiography remains indispensible, no matter how fully we absorb the truths that language inevitably disfigures while our memories inevitably betray us. In the end, Wolff's memoir suggests, only the heartfelt autobiographical account satisfies the autobiographical impulse, since confession and faith – if not necessarily a faith in God – remain the existential imperatives that have motivated autobiography since Augustine.
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