The Dangerous Art of Biography
Chapter Five: Autonomous and Relational Selves 103
Chapter Five: Autonomous and Relational Selves Controversies over autonomy One of the more controversial aspects of many modern Western biographies is their tendency to focus on a single person, a single self. A stress in the narrative on what the biographical subject thought and felt gives an inward-turning quality to these biographies, as hopes and thoughts, rather than deeds, are emphasised. These controversial aspects of modern Western (and especially Anglo-American) biography need to be seen in the light of broader cultural debates about autonomous and relational conceptions of the self, as well as debates over inward-turning conceptions of the self. Critics of autonomous conceptions of the self object to the self be- ing portrayed in isolation from others. The critics of inward-turning conceptions of the self also object to the isolation of the self from its deeds, its actions in the world. Some critics of inward-turning concep- tions of the self have commented that such a conceptualisation greatly increases biographical intrusiveness, as well as its speculative nature. Feminist objections to autonomous conceptions of the self Let us start with an overview of some of the major objections to narratives centred on a single self. Many of the objections to this type of narrative have come from feminist commentators, who note the ways in which any self can be seen as relational rather than autonomous, and who point out that the focus on a single person falsifies both our impression of the world and our impression of the person by throwing...
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