The Art of Life: Studies in American Autobiographical Literature

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Autobiographical literature especially reveals the processes by which writers convert their own historical experience into fictional form and suggests how literary forms function in life. This volume defines an original theory of autobiographical writing and provides intriguing analyses of major American works of literature. The Art of Life examines the transformation of history into literature in Walden, Song of Myself, Henry James's Prefaces, The Education of Henry Adams, Paterson, and the poetry of Frank O'Hara. These works are approached as events in themselves and are analyzed as conversions of form and history, fiction and fact, and even aesthetics and politics. Thus the work of literature is set in the total experience of living, and the writer is seen not only as an artist but also as a person in a historical, political, and cultural environment. As well as a creator of literature, the writer is viewed as a social, psychological, and biological being. Chapters on the narcissistic economy of Walden, the mythicizing of history and personality in Song of Myself, the self-conscious relation that makes the Prefaces of Henry James the autobiography of an artist. the comic perspective of The Education of Henry Adams, and the radical innovation of Paterson and O'Hara's poetry provide new readings of major American works. Each chapter contains some distinct critical insight which not only contributes to, but can be relished apart from, the book's overarching theoretical argument. The Art of Life is a sophisticated theoretical discussion of autobiography with rich psychological, philosophical, and cultural ramifications.