Threads of Life: Autobiography and the Will

Front Cover
University of Chicago Press, 2001 - Literary Criticism - 394 pages
Many autobiographers share profound questions about human life with their readers—questions like: To what extent was my life imposed on me? To what extent did I bring it about through particular choices and actions, through the activity of my own will? Indeed, the issue of the will is central to autobiographical writing, and some of the greatest autobiographies give extended consideration to the will—its nature; its powers; its limitations; the forms of freedom, constraint, and expression it finds in various cultures; its role in particular human lives.

In this new study, unprecedented in subject and scope, Richard Freadman offers the first sustained account of how changing theological, philosophical, and psychological accounts of the human will have been reflected in the writing of autobiography, and of how autobiography in its turn has helped shape various understandings of the will. Early chapters trace narrative representations of the will from antiquity (the Greeks and Augustine) to postmodernism (Derrida and Barthes), with particular emphasis on late modernity's culture of the will. Later chapters then present detailed and powerfully original readings of autobiographical texts by Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, B. F. Skinner, Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir, Arthur Koestler, Stephen Spender, and Diana Trilling.

Freadman's interdisciplinary approach to autobiography and the will includes a theoretical defense of the view that autobiographers are, in varying degrees, agents in their own texts. Threads of Life argues that late modernity has inherited deeply conflicted attitudes to the will. Freadman suggests that these attitudes, now deeply embedded in contemporary cultural discourse, need reexamining. In this, he contends, 'reflective autobiography' has an important part to play.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.

Contents

Threads Autobiography Theory
11
Late Modernity and the Will
51
Theory and Practice Willless Autobiography? Althusser Skinner and Barthes
84
Moral Luck in Paris Luck and Ethical Will in Hemingways A Moveable Feast
117
Being and Making Oneself Be Will and Contingency in Simone de Beauvoirs Autobiography
140
Factor x Arthur Koestler and the Ghost in the Machine
175
Strange Identity Stephen Spender and Weakness of Will
205
Custodians of Their Own Fates? Diana and Lionel Trilling in The Beginning of the Journey
244
CONCLUSION
283
SOME EARLIER CONCEPTIONS OF THE WILL MAIMONIDES TO MILL
289
SOME OTHER LATE MODERN INSTANCES
318
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
325
NOTES
331
INDEX
375
Copyright

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2001)

Richard Freadman is a professor of English and director of the Unit for Studies in Biography and Autobiography at La Trobe University. He is the author of Eliot, James, and the Fictional Self, co-author of Re-thinking Theory: A Critique of Contemporary Literary Theory and an Alternative Account, and co-editor of Renegotiating Ethics in Literature, Philosophy and Theory and On Literary Theory and Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Encounter.

Bibliographic information