Alternate versions: the duplicities of life writing in the novels of Carol Shields

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Kong, Ying
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Life writing is always constituted of alternate versions of the self and the lived life of the self. The duplicities inherent in life writing are central to this study. These duplicities refer not only to the doubleness, but also to the constructedness, of life writing. My enabling assumption is that a life lived is never the same as the life written. Some of the questions at stake in the discourse of life writing include: How may the self be represented in literary form? How is biography a necessary ground of autobiography? What is the borderline between history and life story? Why and how is a lived life different from a written life? How much "truth" is there in life writing? One obvious starting point is to trace the history of selfhood, or the identity of the self. Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (1989) provides a thorough analysis of the sources of the self in its historical transformation from Plato's time to our era. However, only recently have media theorists such as Eric Havelock (1963), Benedict Anderson (1991), Mark Poster (1995) and Ronald J. Deibert (1997) offered an estimate of how self-identity changes as technology varies, and how the form of communication alters the bases of identity. Based on discoveries in neuroscience, Paul Eakin (1999) uses narrative theory to explain why life writing is always made up of multiple versions and how the notion of selfhood is profoundly shaped by culture. William Spengemann's historical and philosophical analysis of traditional autobiographies helps to explain different forms of autobiography in terms of personal motives and cultural reasons for writing. This study shows that life writing is necessarily a process of translation in which facts must be transmuted into stories. In the process of translation, there are always alternate versions of the self, forms, media, voices, narratives, realities and finally alternate versions of fictions. By looking at seven of Carol Shields's fictions, this study aims to illustrate how Shields goes beyond models of historical, philosophical, and poetic self-presentation to find new ways and new forms for self-presentation in life writing.
life writing, autobiography, alternate versions, duplicities