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Title:The Poetics of Conversion: Salvation and Self-Justification in the Modern Autobiographical Novel
Author(s):Peters, Gerald Nicholas
Department / Program:Comparative and World Literature
Discipline:Comparative and World Literature
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, Comparative
Abstract:In Western literature the ideas of conversion and salvation have traditionally been associated with Christianity, beginning in the New Testament with conversions like that of St. Paul and continuing later in confessional writings like St. Augustine's Confessions, Dante's La vita nuova, Bunyan's Grace Abounding..., and Newman's Apologia pro vita sua. But the question, "What must I do to be saved?" need not be restricted to the Christian world. Many recent critics of autobiography have remarked upon the fact that conversions are prevalent in secular autobiographies and may well be an integral part of the structure and goals of the genre itself. The evidence that many modern secular autobiographies follow a similar pattern of loss and compensatory gain found in earlier religious confessions suggests grounds for a comparison and for carrying over the language of religion into the secularized quest for identity and justification.
In order to compare the poetic structures of modern secular conversions with those of earlier religious works a means for mediating between the different forms of discourse must be developed. A comparison of works ranging from the confessional writings of St. Paul, St. Augustine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas De Quincey to autobiographical novels by Thomas Carlyle, James Joyce, Rainer Maria Rilke, and George Orwell reveals that the problem of salvation is directly linked to changes in the writer's relation to language. As language becomes secularized, interest in a universal soul gives way to a belief in an individual soul or self thus undermining a metaphysical tradition of introspection and replacing it with an empirically-based, psychological tradition. Psychoanalysis, in particular, becomes the modern paradigm for the confessional situation and the psychoanalytic "cure" the turning point in which the patient tries once and for all to create a unified image of the self out of a formerly fragmented one. By adding a psychoanalytic component to the inquiry, specifically the language-oriented theories of Jacques Lacan, it is possible to bridge the gap between religious confession and modern secular autobiography. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.)
Issue Date:1986
Description:281 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1986.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8623389
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-16
Date Deposited:1986

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