Date of Award

1998

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

William W. Demastes

Abstract

In this study, I look at the mutually reflective changes in society and autobiography in works definitive for their various periods: Augustine's The Confessions from antiquity; Rousseau's The Confessions from the eighteenth century; the autobiographical writings of Gertrude Stein, from the modernist period; and, most importantly here, the focus on the development of David Antin's work as representative of both postmodernism and current culture. Specifically, I consider the construction of the self in respect to art, literary theory, memory research, and science and technology. During the second half of the twentieth century, computers have permeated almost every facet of society. Transmission of information in a high-speed, electronic society is represented as fragments and collage, and Antin's early disjointed autobiographies reflect this. His work, however, does not merely extend or expand upon traditional autobiographical methods; it turns sharply and breaks from long-held cultural notions of how nature and the self function as illustrated in autobiography, rejecting all previous beliefs of order and where the self may be located. As he ages, his work moves toward a radical type of order or unity, reflecting the current technology and the ongoing cultural desire for order. This desire is reinforced by the growing interest in neural networks, quantum physics, and chaos theory, all of which promote the premise that underlying patterns or recursions exist throughout various levels of a highly interconnected system. By finding the recursion, we allow the order of the system to emerge. However, because patterns may not be immediately observable when a system is in a particular stage of change or scale of measurement, a system often is mistakenly considered random or without order. Essential to finding the pattern or order of the system is increasing the scale used to measure the system until period doubling, repetition, or a strange attractor is established. Similarly, Antin believes that no definitive view of the self can be constructed in a limited, single text called an autobiography. Instead, numerous works spanning a vast time period are necessary to allow patterns that create sense and coherency to emerge, thus defining the self.

ISBN

9780599213678

Pages

265

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