chapter  1
16 Pages

Centred and decentred Selves

Turning to the first thematic of subjectivity identified in the Introduction, feminist critics within Auto/biography Studies have persistently complained that male colleagues have traditionally promoted a normative view of autobiographical Selfhood as centred and unified (as well as ‘sovereign’). Sidonie Smith, for example, claims of canonical autobiography that it is presumed historically that ‘the teleological drift of selfhood concedes nothing to indeterminacy, to ambiguity, or to heterogeneity’.1 There is ample evidence to support such arguments across the history of the critical field. Thus, more than a century ago, Misch argued that: ‘In this single whole all [elements of the personality] have their definite place, thanks to their significance in relation to the whole.’2 At midcentury, Gusdorf insisted that the task of the autobiographer was ‘to reconstitute himself in the focus of his special unity and identity across time’ in order to express the ‘mysterious essence of his being’.3 Such perspectives persist into the most recent phase of the critical field, despite the advent of post-structuralism.4

For example, Spengemann asserts that the genre provides the ‘ground upon which conflicting aspects of the writer’s own nature might be reconciled in complete being’.5