chapter  2
17 Pages

Relational Selves

In both texts analysed in the previous chapter, the achievement of individual Selfhood, whether understood as centred or decentred, is not their protagonists’ sole, or perhaps even prime, objective. Thus, Equiano constructs himself even on his title-page in a representative role as ‘the African’. Equally, Morgan increasingly de-centres herself to make room for other first-person family voices, which comprise nearly a third of My Place, thereby shifting it away from individual towards collective auto/biography. Indeed, the privileging of the latter focus is implied in the epigraph: ‘How deprived we would have been if we had been willing to let things stay as they were. We would have survived, but not as a whole people. We would never have known our place’ (MP : n.p.). The addition of the indefinite article ‘a’ suggests a crucial change of emphasis from the source of the epigram in the text itself, which reads: ‘We would have survived, but not as whole people’ (MP : 233). Such preoccupations point to a second thematic of auto/biographical sub-

jectivity, which will be the focus of this chapter. Auto/biography Studies has traditionally advanced a view of autobiographical personhood as monadic and autonomous. For example, Gilmore argues that historically the canonical Subject is deemed to be ‘contained within a set of boundaries that distinguish it from everything else around it’.1 There is considerable support for such interpretations within the history of Auto/biography Studies. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Misch proposed that the objective of the autobiographer is to ‘stand as an I, or, more exactly, as an “I”-saying person, over against other persons and living beings’.2 During the second phase of Auto/biography Studies, Gusdorf corroborated this argument. The ‘conscious awareness of the singularity of each individual life’, which he saw as the primary impulse animating the genre, could not exist if ‘the individual does not oppose himself to all others … does not feel himself to exist outside of others, and still less against others’.3 Such attitudes are repeated among male critics in the most recent phase of the critical field, despite the advent of postmodernism.4 Thus, Olney, in recognising in women’s life-writing ‘a quite different orientation towards the self and others from the typical orientation to be found in autobiographies by men’, reinforces the perspectives of his predecessors about this aspect of canonical autobiographical subjectivity.5