MEMORY AND NARRATIVE

THE WEAVE OF LIFE-WRITING

In his monumental study of the European tradition of life-writing, Olney traces the dialectic of autobiography from the early Middle Ages through the Enlightenment to postmodernism, focusing on St. Augustine, Rouseau, and Beckett and drawing on a range of personalities including Montaigne, Vico, Stein, Kafka, and Giacometti. As the first autobiographical writing in the West, St. Augustine’s Confessions and Trinity established a long-lasting literary canon that would be challenged only 13 centuries later by Rousseau’s trilogy: Confessions, Dialogues, and Reveries. While St. Augustine adopted past events as his subject matter, Rousseau tended to recount feelings about events rather than the events themselves. St. Augustine used the story of his long journey to God to present an exposition of Christian doctrine, while Rousseau intended to teach others self-knowledge by communicating his own vulnerabilities and emotions and inviting the reader to feel the same. In featuring himself as a model, Rousseau indulged in self-praise, transforming St. Augustine’s confession into apologia. Another cardinal shift effected by Rousseau and passed along to latter-day writers was fragmentation of the “I” and skepsis about the adequacy of language for life-writing. A prominent inheritor of the autobiographical tradition, Beckett declared the whole enterprise impossible, based on a postmodern doubt of reason, cohesive narrative, and the unified voice. In Krapp’s Last Tape, The Unnamable, and other works, Beckett wrote specifically on the life-writer’s failure to account for the past in any objective way. Mixing the first and third person, Beckett’s narrators reminisce about their prior acts of memory, incapable either of pinning down the original event or completing their narrative. Detached from reality and trapped in incessant self-referentiality, the memory of postmodern writers signs a death sentence to the genre of autobiography. Olney’s study is full of insights. It is regrettable, however, that it takes great effort to cut through the author’s dry academic style and convoluted syntax to reap the benefits of his solid research and excellent analysis.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-226-62816-7

Page Count: 422

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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