PLAINTEXT: DECIPHERING A WOMAN'S LIFE (ESSAYS, FEMINIST-THEORY, LITERARY CRITICISM, AUTOBIOGRAPHY).
KeywordsAutobiography -- Women authors.
Mairs, Nancy, 1943-
Authors, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
Women authors -- Biography.
AdvisorAiken, Susan Hardy
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractBecause of woman's peculiar relationship to language, and therefore to the means of comprehending and expressing her experience, female autobiographical writing is a problematic undertaking. An exploration of several premises about Western culture can help to illuminate the difficulties the female autobiographer encounters in creating her life/text. Among these premises are the following: (1) that the culture that provides the context for female experience is what feminist theorists call "patriarchal," that is, a culture dependent upon and reinforced by the supremacy of male interests, pursuits, and values. (2) that the habit of mind of this culture is essentially dichotomous, and that this bifurcation, although it serves very well to enable one person or group to gain power over another, fails to account for the sense of relatedness characteristic of female moral development as demonstrated by recent feminist psychologists. (3) that one lives through telling oneself the story of one's life (that is, that living itself is an essentially autobiographical act); that this narrative conforms to certain cultural conventions; and that these conventions present distinct problems to the narrator who is female. (4) that the human being constructs its self through language, and that the language of a patriarchal culture is problematic to female authenticity. In order to confront these theoretical problems in practice, twelve essays explore some experiences of a middle-aged, middle-class white American woman in the second half of the twentieth century. These include illness, both physical (multiple sclerosis) and emotional (depression, agoraphobia); suicide; relationships with men, strangers, and cats; motherhood; and above all, writing. They form a feminist project whose purpose is so to merge theory with praxis, nonfiction with fiction and poetry, scholarship with creation, that such distinctions become meaningless and the female writer can get on with the real business of making and contemplating her text. An annotated selected bibliography lists works in feminist theory and criticism, some of which inform the essays, thus providing a program for extensive feminist study, especially in literature, anthropology, and psychology.