Locating the self : re-reading autobiography as theory and practice, with particular reference to the writings of Janet Frame
The thesis is a three-part study of the theory and practice of autobiography. The writing of the New Zealand novelist, poet and autobiographer Janet Frame (1924-) is used as casestudy throughout, juxtaposed to canonical texts of autobiography (typically written by white western males) which have been used to draw conclusions about the self. Frame's 'autobiographical' writings (in particular her three-volume autobiography, To the Is-Land, An Angel at My Table and The Envoy From Mirror City; and her novels Faces in the Water and Owls Do Cry) are used to suggest a new approach to interpreting both the self in society and the relationship between narrated self and context. Part One is a re-reading of three classic texts of the genre, St.Augustine's Confessions, Dante's Vita Nuova and John Bunyan's Grace Abounding. The assumption that such texts describe an 'autonomous, unitary' male protagonist is thoroughly questioned and the texts are read to reveal instead the characteristics of fragmentation and alterity usually reserved for descriptons of the self in women's autobiographies. The point is emphasised that the narrated self of autobiography must always be precisely located in time and space. In Part Two, the definition of autobiography as genre is explored. Two schools of thought are identified: one which focuses on the contract between reader and writer (Lejeune), the other which highlights that the self is constructed in and through the narrative which purports to represent it (Bruss, Barthes). Frame's writing is then used to test the application of such models. The relationship between 'history' and 'fiction' is discussed as the pivotal distinction on which the notion of autobiography hinges. Through a reading of Frame's autobiographies and Paul Ricoeur's Time and Narrative, the notion of a 'textual contract' as a new definition of autobiography as genre is developed: this definition maintains both the importance of the life outside the text but also the representative nature of narrative to transform that reality within the text. Part Three puts into practice the theory of 'locating the self'. Frame's autobiographies are first analysed through a series of categories of 'belonging': gender, class, race, nationality and coloniality. It is suggested, using Elspeth Probyn's notion of Outside Belonging, that Frame invents and performs the categories of both poet and schizophrenic in order to find a place to belong. Finally, Frame's narrated self is analysed in the very specific context of the local and national writing culture, demonstrating that the narrated self of autobiography is, to a large extent, instructed in society and rehearsed by the author long before she puts pen to paper. The thesis concludes with the notion of autobiography as metaphor which is seen as resolving many of the theoretical dilemmas posed throughout.