"Autobiography as Criticism, Criticism as Autobiography" (part 1)
"Okay, okay, okay, we get it: you stutter and so, irredeemably self-conscious, you're devoted to yourself as a subject, also as a symbolic subject, even as some sort of featured player in a collage movie. Don't you finally want to get outside yourself? Isn't that finally what this has to be about, getting beyond the blahblahblah of your endless—" Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Or, rather, yes and no. I want to get past myself, of course I do, but the only way I know how to do this is to ride along on my own nerve endings; the only way out is deeper in; the only portraits I'm really interested in are self-portraits as well. I'm just trying to be honest here.
I'm drawn to writers who appear to have Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle tattooed across their forehead: the perceiver by his very presence changes the nature of what's being perceived. In the Afterword to Lolita, Nabokov mentions "a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes which, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage."
I admire Hilton Als's The Women, W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants, and V.S. Naipaul's A Way in the World—books in which the chapters, considered singly, are relatively straightforwardly biographical, but read as a whole and tilted at just the right angle, refract brilliant, harsh light back upon the author. "I only know an object in so far as I know myself and my own determination through it," Hegel says, "for whatever I am is also an object of my consciousness, and I am not just this, that or the other, but only what I know myself to be. I know my object, and I know myself; the two are inseparable."
About Iowa Writes
Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.
In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.
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David Shields is the author of fourteen books, including How Literature Saved My Life (2013) and Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (2010). He is the co-author of an oral biography, The Private War of J.D. Salinger (September 2013).
"Autobiography as Criticism, Criticism as Autobiography," published in issue 39.1 of The Iowa Review, is available on the magazine's online archives.
"Autobiography as Criticism, Criticism as Autobiography" will appear on the Daily Palette in two parts. Don't miss part 2 on tomorrow's page!
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on July 02, 2013