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Understanding Our Selves

The Dangerous Art of Biography

Series:

Susan Tridgell

Modern Western biography has become one of the most popular and most controversial forms of literature. Critics have attacked its tendency to rely on a strong narrative drive, its focus on a single person’s life and its tendency to delve ever more deeply into that person’s inner, private experience, though these tendencies seem to have only increased biography’s popularity. To date, however, biography has been a rarely studied literary form. Little serious attention has been given to the light biographies can shed on philosophical problems, such as the intertwining of knowledge and power, or the ways in which we can understand lives, or terms like ‘the self’. Should selves be seen as relational or as autonomous? What of the ‘lies and silences’ of biographies, the ways in which embodiment can be ignored? A study of these problems allows engagement with a range of philosophers and literary theorists, including Roland Barthes, Lorraine Code, Michel Foucault, Emmanuel Levinas, Alasdair MacIntyre, Ray Monk, Friedrich Nietzsche, Paul Ricoeur, Richard Rorty and Charles Taylor. Biography can be a dangerous art, claiming to know ‘just how you feel’. This book explores the double-edged nature of biography, looking at what it reveals about both narratives and selves.

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Index 229

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Index accountability, moral 15, 85–101 Ackroyd, Peter 34 Adamson, Jane 110–111, 128 ambivalence of biography 133–163 of narrative 100–101 Anderson, John 115, 166 Anglo-American biography, cultural centrality of 11, 21, 103 Aristotelian approach 17–18, 135–136, 140, 158, 165–171, 175–176, 180, 186 Aristotle 17, 135–136, 178, 180 Ashton, Rosemary 32, 34–40, 43, 46–47, 49–53, 60, 145, 155 Auden, W.H. 14, 146, 148–149 Augustan tradition 56, 58, 82, 108, 148 Augustine 72 Austen, Jane 49, 56, 161–162, 186 autobiography 26–27, 29, 37, 48, 54–55, 61, 81, 104, 107, 114, 116, 123, 166 postmodern 126–130 autonomous self 16, 44–45, 103–114, 175–176, 181–187 Backscheider, Paula R. 31, 187 Barnes, Julian 14 Barthes, Roland 10, 12–13, 17, 116, 123– 131, 188 Bauby, Jean-Dominique 54–55, 74 Beardsley, Munroe C. 12 Beckett, Samuel 117 Bentham, Jeremy 140, 146 Berenson, Bernard 112 Bernstein, John 152, 159 Besemeres, Mary 9, 74, 107 Bhaskar, Roy 167, 169 biography ambivalence of 133–163 as argument 25–46, 60, 115, 119, 166, 171 belittling qualities of 146–150 controversies over 11–17, 103, 109 cross-cultural perspectives on, 13, 18– 20, 106–107, 110–111, 184 definitive 14, 25–46, 121, 165 ethical problems with 133–163, 181– 186 evaluating 25–46 event-driven 75–83 facts in 40–45, 171–174 focus on a single self 103–114 forms of 15–17, 103–131 group 112–114 Holocaust 90–101...

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