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Title: Autobiography as a curiosity : generic (in)definition, narrative time and figuration in Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory, Georges Perec's W or the Memory of Childhood and Javier Marías's Dark Back of Time
Author: Diaz, Maria
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2013
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The thesis is an investigation of the relation between generic indeterminacy, narrative time and figuration through a comparative analysis of three generically ambiguous texts: Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory(1951/1966), Georges Perec’s W or the Memory of Childhood (1975) and Javier Marías’s Dark Back of Time(1998). Those issues will be examined with the help (or the hindrance) of a metaphor —the “curiosity”. Although it was initially employed by Brian Richardson to describe the non-mimetic temporal structure of Speak, Memory, the figure is used here not only in relation to narrative time but also as an alternative way of exploring the critical debates around the definition of autobiography as a literary genre. The “curiosity” metaphor is first considered in relation to other figures of definition and indefinition employed in critical discourses about autobiography. The metaphor articulates the tensions between boundary-based definitional models (such as Philippe Lejeune’s), hybrid “renaming” approaches (as evidenced in portmanteau tags such as ‘autobiografiction’ or ‘autofiction’) and anti-models such as Paul De Man’s, suspicious about the possibility of containing, defining or naming autobiography (highlighted by their use of temporallyimpossible or paradoxical figures). Through the curiosity (a figure of generic oddity defined against a norm it disturbs), the thesis explores the problematic nature of boundary-based definitional approaches and argues that it is only by an explicit and immersive mirroring of the circular and seemingly paralysing nature of autobiography (and its definition) that the genre can be described and kept alive. The thesis’s “curious” approach to autobiography involves a joint study of the metaphor not only in relation to genre but also to questions of narrative time and temporal indeterminacy (the “origin” of the figure). It seeks to explore this twinned process of indefinition through the medium of figurative mirrors—in particular, through self-referential and paradoxical devices such as mise en abyme. The procedure for this study involves a series of obsessive and patient readings of three “curiosities”: Speak, Memory, W or the Memory of Childhood, and Dark Back of Time. Their use of mise en abymedevices will be examined in parallel to their generic indefinition and their temporal structure. Narrative time will be analysed both through classical narratological models (such as the fabulaand sjuzhetdistinction) and “fuzzier” approaches to narrative temporality (as David Herman’s concept of polychrony). The thesis thus seeks to gather together a series of ambiguous figural and temporal motifs in the three texts (some of them left “uncollected” by previous critical approaches) in order to determine whether it mightbe possible to approach autobiography through less confining frames than those of the frontier/boundary/hybrid models.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available