Reviving the vanishing subject: the subject as abject in postmodern memoir
My dissertation contemplates rhetorical and ontological problems of self-representation in twentieth century postmodern memoir. Many postmodernists contend the self merely deteriorates amid the fallibility of memory, instabilities of ‘truth’, a Lacanian notion of language as inexpressible of the self, and a subjectivity so multiplicitous and constructed that it is impossible to write. Yet Julia Kristeva’s psychoanalytic notion of abjection – a dialectical process that simultaneously dismantles and reinforces the self – illuminates postmodern autobiographical subjectivity as ultimately revived through literary self-alienation. As such a process of abjection, postmodern autobiography thus involves reconstruction amid deconstruction – wherein a “weight of meaninglessness . . . crushes me” (Kristeva Powers 2) while also ensuring “that ‘I’ does not disappear in it but finds, in . . . sublime alienation, a forfeited existence” (Kristeva Powers 9). This approach resituates the genre as an ethical form of heteroglossic self-renewal, wherein the recognition of self-as-other facilitates an ethical engagement with community in an increasingly pluralistic world. Postmodern autobiography is thus revealed as a relevant, productive space of renewal despite its own claims of futility. I focus on five exemplars of postmodern autobiography – texts written by Lucy Grealy, Suniti Namjoshi, Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Kroetsch, and Michael Ondaatje – to demonstrate how a view of postmodern autobiography as abject translates across such diverse social constructs as nation, gender, diaspora, physicality, memory, class, and the family.