How reliable is the history that human memory produces? Does the self, creating for others, become other? Elizabeth de Mijolla approaches these questions using a descriptive, nonprescriptive approach to the writings of four notable autobiographers: the early Church Father Augustine; the Renaissance essayist Montaigne; the French Romantic philosopher Rousseau; and the English Romantic poet Wordsworth. Exploring theories of memory, time, and autobiographical design and disorder, she argues against the imperative of traditional mimesis and instead, for the variety of autobiographical renderings that personal memory permits. Autobiographers writing rational retrospective narratives may depict their lives in accepted literary designs. But these designs can be undone by the inclusion of irrational reveries, varying visions, or other obscure memories. And these incongruities impose independent meanings upon the autobiographical stories.
Discussing Augustine's "Confessions", Montaigne's "Essays", Rousseau's "Confessions" (along with the "Dialogues" and "Reveries"), and Wordsworth's "Prelude", Mijolla demonstrates the necessity of revisionary autobiography for authors who acknowledge the irrational, the variable, and the ineffable. Mijolla sees the central tension of autobiography as springing from the two impulses vying for supremacy - mimesis, orderly and sequential; and memory, achronological and emotional: one or the other prevails, in varying degrees, to individualise both form and outlook. Augustine is presented as the classical embodiment of the rigorously mimetic school, and his work offers a single take on the past - conversion to wisdom. Montaigne, Rousseau, and Wordsworth represent a spectrum of divergence from strict temporal order into the territories of memory and the writing moment. They offer double takes on the past that are comprised of both past and present understanding.
In allowing the idiosyncrasies of memory into their autobiographies, they must navigate between traditional mimetic form and the transgressions of personal experience, with the result that established autobiographical forms are reworked and individual beliefs reconsidered.
Publisher: University of Virginia Press
Number of pages: 208
Weight: 485 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 21 mm