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By G. Thomas Couser

This paintings explores the "authority" of autobiography in numerous comparable senses: first, the concept that autobiography is authoritative writing since it is most likely verifiable; moment, the concept that one's existence is one's particular textual area; 3rd, the concept that, as a result obvious congruence among the implicit ideology of the style and that of the state, autobiography has a distinct status in the US. conscious of the hot reviews of the idea of autobiography as issuing from, decided via, or concerning a pre-existing self, Couser examines the ways that the authority of specific texts is termed into question--for instance, simply because they contain pseudonymity (Mark Twain), the revision of a possibly spontaneous shape (Mary Chesnut's Civil battle "diaries"), bilingual authorship (Richard Rodriguez and Maxine Hong Kingston), collaborative construction (Black Elk), or outright fraud (Clifford Irving's "autobiography" of Howard Hughes). Couser examines either the way canonical autobiographers may well playfully and purposely undermine their very own narrative authority and how during which minority writers' keep an eye on in their lives should be compromised. Autobiography, then, is portrayed the following as an area within which members fight for self-possession and self-expression opposed to the restrictions of language, style, and society.

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In a gesture befitting Turgot's epitaph, which praised him for snatching the lightning from the The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin 37 sky and the scepter from tyrants, he transfers authority over personal narrative from Heaven to earth, or from God to self. "17 In the epitaph, then, Franklin took the liberty of playfully creating a God in his own image. But in the opening of the autobiography, he went further, and usurped divine authority: by the logic of his trope, the self-written life becomes the "new and more perfect Edition, Corrected and amended by the Author" that his soul was to be in the epitaph, and Franklin becomes the Author of his own (unconditional) immortality.

Charles Hendel has observed that "[ajuthority . can hardly be dissociated from the notion of the Author of all being. The metaphor in the term 'authority' is of the word spoken by the Supreme Being declaring the law, the requirement, or the responsibility enjoined upon his creatures here below" (8). One of Franklin's most fundamental, and audacious, gestures in writing his life, however, was to effect just such a dissociation, and to negate the metaphor Hendel refers to. The most compact expression of Franklin's seizure of authority in and over his narrative is a trope in the very first paragraph, which radically revised one informing an epitaph he had composed for himself in 1728.

Some critics see autobiography as nonexistent or exhausted, while others see it as inescapable and universal. If anything is clear in contemporary autobiography studies, it is that recent developments in theory have challenged the most fundamental assumptions of the genre. Indeed, because the term autobiography, the idea of the author as the sole originator and proprietor of a text, and America itself were all produced at about the same time by related forces, contemporary theory poses an especially stimulating challenge to the student of American autobiography.

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