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Unlocking the self in self-writing

Unlocking the self in self-writing

North, Polly (2016) Unlocking the self in self-writing. PhD thesis, University of Greenwich.

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In this thesis I develop a critical approach to self-writing and especially to the ‘deliberately introspective’ diary. An important element in the work is an analysis of how issues surrounding the discussion of the self, free-will, and voice have been negotiated by critics of self-writing and two exemplars of deliberately introspective writing: Marcus Aurelius and Susan Sontag. It is proposed that consideration of the deliberately introspective diary – by being so obviously personal and therefore concerned with issues bearing on the elusive concept of self - uniquely energises discussion of the self and self-writing.

Close analysis of current self-writing commentary finds that critics tend to become entangled in futilely reconciling what the thesis argues are unavoidable contradictions between and within two competing accounts of the self and personal autonomy, broadly to be characterised as Humanist and ‘post-modern’. Criticism is also found to stumble on the ineluctable complexities of such concepts. Philippe Lejeune (in, On Diary); Jacques Derrida (in, The Postcard: from Socrates to Freud and Beyond and, Writing and Difference); Ihab Hassan (in, ‘Quest for the Subject: The Self in Literature’); Patricia Meyer Spacks (in, ‘How to Read a Diary’); Shirley Neuman (in, ‘Autobiography: From Different Poetics to a Poetics of Differences’); and Susan Sontag (in her critical work and diaries) are signal amongst several astute critics of self-writing. Even amongst these there is some critical confusion and even angst. As a remedy, a critical approach of ‘deliberate eclecticism’ is developed. The approach is designed to prompt and enable the critic to interrogate and to deploy the merits of competing and conflicted interpretative perspectives without attempting to resolve their irresolvable tensions. Having developed the case for deliberate eclecticism the thesis returns to intertextual analysis of the deliberately introspective writing of Aurelius and Sontag and finds that the approach is robust. It is concluded that the approach, the strategy of judiciously deploying different vantage points at different times, is a useful analytical tool and frees criticism of self-writing from dialectical partisanship. It is more tentatively concluded that the critical approach of deliberate eclecticism can be applied to wider literary criticism, and to any other discipline that returns to consideration of the self and free-will.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: self-writing; diary writing; literary criticism; Marcus Aurelius; Susan Sontag; the self;
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS)
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2019 16:10

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