Memory and Narrative: The Weave of Life-writing

Presenting an account of how the weave of life-writing has altered over time to arrive at its present form, this text tells the story of an evolving literary form that took its origins in the autobiographical writings of St. Augustine, underwent profound and disruptive changes in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's life-writing trilogy, and finds its momentary conclusion in the whole body of Samuel Beckett's work. In works such as the Confessions and the Trinity Augustine laid down a theory of life-writing that has survived to the present day. Rousseau's great innovation was to turn the focus of life-writing away from the Augustinian model of the course of a life onto the isolate Romantic self, and though Rousseau's autobiographical volumes failed to show readers what was within and under the skin, they succeeded (perhaps too well) in setting an agenda of self-confessed failure for later writers. James Olney investigates the consequences of the Rousseauvian refiguration of Augustinian life-writing for a range of writers, focusing on Beckett as paradigmatic. Among other issues, Olney considers the rejection of the pronoun I by many post-Rousseau writers; the uses of narrative in the works of Beckett, Franz Kafka, and the sculptor Alberto Giacometti; and the role of literary memory in light of recent memory work from a variety of scientific disciplines. Giambattista Vico, Henry Adams, Gertrude Stein, Richard Wright, and Christa Wolf are some of the other writers examined in this study.