Date of Graduation
This dissertation focuses on the use of death as a metaphor for lived experiences in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American autobiographical writing. Adopting Paul de Manâ€™s definition of autobiography as a figure of reading rather than a genre or mode, the study analyzes autobiographical death acts in a variety of writings, including political discourse, fiction, and poetry. The writers discussed stage deaths-of-the-self to facilitate descriptions of traumatic events that might otherwise defy verbal expression. They â€œplay deadâ€ figuratively in their texts, similarly to the way one might play dead literally as a survival strategy in the presence of an animal or human attacker. When they do so, they launch a resistance to power that disguises itself as surrender. They practice what this study defines as surrendered resistance. A surrendered resistance complicates Foucaultâ€™s perception of panopticism, the condition under which the individual conforms himself to the demands of a subjectivizing regime, by suggesting that there is more to the Foucauldian subject than meets the panoptical eye. Disguised as submissions to power, surrendered resistances allow subjects to endure or even to prevail over the traumas of subjectivization. Autobiographical death acts rely upon the interrelationship of the personal and the political. Figurative deaths may infuse political rhetoric, such as the writings of Henry David Thoreau. Death acts may be race-inflected, such as those identifiable in the slave narratives of Henry Box Brown and Harriet Jacobs and the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois. They may also be gender-inflected, such as those found in Emily Dickinsonâ€™s poetry, and in Sarah Orne Jewettâ€™s, Edith Whartonâ€™s, H.D.â€™s and Henry Jamesâ€™s prose. In all of these cases, however, autobiographical death acts emerge from the writerâ€™s engagement in scriptotherapy: writing used to combat the effects of trauma by imagining a death and re-creation of the self.
Kreiger, Georgia R., "Surrendered resistance: Playing dead in American autobiographical writing, 1840-1933." (2006). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 9232.