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Regard for the Other

Autothanatography in Rousseau, De Quincey, Baudelaire, and Wilde

E.S. Burt

Publication Year: 2009

Although much has been written on autobiography, the same cannot be said of autothanatography, the writing of one's death. This study starts from the deconstructive premise that autobiography is aporetic, not or not only a matter of a subject strategizing with language to produce an exemplary identity but a matter also of its responding to an exorbitant call to write its death. The I-dominated representations of particular others and of the privileged other to whom a work is addressed, must therefore be set against an alterity plaguing the I from within or shadowing it from without. This alterity makes itself known in writing as the potential of the text to carry messages that remain secret to the confessing subject. Anticipation of the potential for the confessional text to say what Augustine calls the secret I do not know,the secret of death, engages the autothanatographical subject in a dynamic, inventive, and open-ended process of identification. The subject presented in these texts is not one that has already evolved an interior life that it seeks to reveal to others, but one that speaks to us as still in process. Through its exorbitant response, it gives intimations of an interiority and an ethical existence to come. Baudelaire emerges as a central figure for this understanding of autobiography as autothanatography through his critique of the narcissism of a certain Rousseau, his translation of De Quincey's confessions, with their vertiginously ungrounded subject-in-construction, his artistic practice of self-conscious, thorough-going doubleness, and his service to Wilde as model for an aporetic secrecy. The author discusses the interruption of narrative that must be central to the writing of one's death and addresses the I's dealings with the aporias of such structuring principles as secrecy, Levinasian hospitality, or interiorization as translation. The book makes a strong intervention in the debate over one of the most-read genres of our time.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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pp. i-iii

Title page, copyright

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pp. iv-v


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pp. vi-vii


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pp. viii-ix

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pp. x-xiii

Because this book had two widely separated periods of gestation, with one piece dating from an early monograph on Rousseauian autobiography that never saw light of day, I am overdue with thanks to some of those friends and colleagues who generously read, commented on, encouraged, or otherwise contributed to the writing of some part...

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pp. 1-30

In the numerous studies that have been devoted to autobiography in the past 30 years, surprisingly few take on directly the question of the other. The reason for the surprise is simple enough: One can hardly envision the self without the other against which it is defined or an autobiography that does not involve the other both in its narrative and as the one to whom the ‘‘I’’ addresses itself in its act of confessing. In...

Part I: Autobiography Interrupted

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pp. 31-32

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1. Developments in Character: ‘‘The Children’s Punishment’’ and ‘‘The Broken Comb’’

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pp. 33-60

‘‘Reading’’ is a term that, through overuse, can easily become confused with interpretation. In fact, there is a crucial difference: Reading involves the undoing of interpretative figures; because it is not an operation opposed to the understanding but rather a precondition for it, it allows us to question whether the synthetic moves of the understanding can close off a text. It leads away from meaning to such problems...

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2. Regard for the Other: Embarrassment in the Quatrie`me promenade

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pp. 61-82

One difference between shame and embarrassment in Rousseau can be stated quite simply. Shame is a passion productive of discourse. The confessing done under its aegis seems marvelously able to serve as an action of which to be ashamed, and so to provoke more confession. Embarrassment, on the other hand, is tonguetied, an...

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3. The Shape before the Mirror: Autobiography and the Dandy in Baudelaire

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pp. 83-106

Baudelaire’s work is far from self-evidently autobiographical. Les Fleurs du mal, for instance, cannot be easily compared with a self-declared poetic autobiography like Victor Hugo’s Contemplations, whose poems are of decidedly personal inspiration, bear dates that attach them to experience, and lay out a plausible narrative of poetic development. In contrast, Baudelaire’s undated poems appear...

Part II: Writing Death, with Regard to the Other

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pp. 107-108

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4. Hospitality in Autobiography: Levinas chez De Quincey

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pp. 109-139

What would a Levinasian autobiography look like? Is such a thing imaginable? The question is directed in the first instance at autobiography, as a question concerning its ability to go beyond the representation of the subject to write the encounter with the absolutely other for which Levinas’s ethical philosophy calls. But it is also, in the second...

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5. Eating with the Other in Les Paradis artificiels

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pp. 140-184

Critics of autobiography who have cut their teeth on Rousseau’s Confessions cannot help but be sensible to numerous differences when they begin reading De Quincey and Baudelaire. One of those differences, at first little more than a direction given a motif, is indicative of a shift in the strategies for responding to the other in Modernist...

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6. Secrets Can Be Murder: How to Write the Secret in De Profundis

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pp. 185-220

De Profundis, Wilde’s autobiographical letter, is motivated by a double silence, and with it, a double secret and a double responsibility that say much about Wilde’s concept of the I in its relation to the other. As we shall see, these two silences, which bring us into the arena of autobiography yet also bar entrance to it because muteness...


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pp. 221-254

Works Cited

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pp. 255-262


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pp. 263-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246762
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230907
Print-ISBN-10: 0823230902

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 662405164
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Regard for the Other

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Authors -- Biography -- History and criticism.
  • Autobiography.
  • Other (Philosophy) in literature.
  • Self in literature.
  • Identity (Psychology) in literature.
  • Death in literature.
  • Baudelaire, Charles, -- 1821-1867 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, -- 1712-1778 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • De Quincey, Thomas, -- 1785-1859 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Wilde, Oscar, -- 1854-1900 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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