Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical by James Olney

By James Olney

Professor Olney gathers jointly during this booklet the very best and most crucial writings on autobiography produced long ago decades.

Originally released in 1980.

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Hopkins, who was modern but not postmodern: "that taste of myself, of / and me above and in all things, which is more distinctive than the taste of ale or alum, more distinctive than the smell of walnutleaf or cam­ phor"). If this is indeed the case—that it is the lure of the self quite imme­ diately and doubly revealed that has drawn students of literature to autobiography—then critics of the autobiographical mode have felt much the same pressure as contemporary thinkers in other areas, and they have reacted to it in much the same way.

Montaigne discovers in himself a new world, a man of nature, naked and artless, whose confessions he gives us in his Es­ says, but without penitence. The Essays were to be one of the gospels of the modern spiritual­ ity. Freed of all doctrinal allegiance, in a world well on its way to becoming secularized, the autobiographer assumes the task of bringing out the most hidden aspects of individual being. The new age practises the virtue of individuality particularly dear to the great men of the Renaissance, champions of free enterprise in art as in morals, in finance and in technical affairs as in philosophy.

Narcissus, contemplating his face in the fountain's depth, is so fascinated with the apparition that he would die bending toward himself. According to most folklore and myth, the apparition of the double is a death sign. Mythic taboos underline the disconcerting character of the dis­ covery of the self. Nature did not foresee the encounter of man with his reflection, and it is as if she tried to prevent this reflection from appearing. The invention of the mirror would seem to have disrupted human experience, especially from that moment when the mediocre metal plates that were used in antiquity gave way at the end of the Middle Ages to silver-backed mirrors produced by Venetian technique.

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