From the Course of my Life: Autobiographical Fragments

How Alison Bechdel Understands Her Life as Fiction
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Individuals may experience a sense of exhilaration and empowerment in telling their new personal histories, in speaking the unspeakable; but exhilaration and empowerment are neither guaranteed by the telling of their life stories nor necessarily and reliably liberating. Storytelling occurs in a dialogical, social context. We see this clearly in the case of self-help groups.

The narrative is reworked and performed—if not preformed—until the teller experiences healing.

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Many institutions established to help people change their stories impose specific new stories. The negotiation of everyday narratives is an ongoing process rather than a certain achievement. But owning the stories that shape us as subjects is a different, more political issue, and an act of collective consciousness informing newer notions of what is at stake in autobiography.

As Jana Sawicki argues, certain practices are not inherently or universally complicitous or resisting. Instead, it is itself an arena of struggle. There are no inherently liberatory or repressive [narrative] practices, for any practice is co-optable and is capable of becoming a source of resistance. Of course, we are not autobiographical subjects at every moment of the day, but we are called on to become autobiographical subjects in a variety of situations, a range of temporalities. Thus we move in and out of autobiographical subjectivity, sometimes by our own desire and purposes, sometimes through the exertions or coercion of others.

Rather than viewing the autobiographical production of identity as a solitary and introspective process of articulating individual difference, we read the production of identity as generated by encounters that are social, collaborative, contestatory. The essays in our collection frame sites or media where the negotiation of identity takes place, moving from the most direct experience of the body as a context of subjectivity through the social sites, mediations, and family-centered processes of ordering identity, to some macro-institutional frames whose attempts to regulate the forms of identity may trigger subversion by resistant subjects.

Almost everything, from bumper stickers to clothing to reshaping personal stories with migration, could be regarded as implicated in the choosing, imposing, evading, or negotiating of an identity. Fingerprints are everywhere. Autobiographical acts, thus, can be everyday occasions for rehearsing, performing, circulating, and consuming carefully fashioned and rapidly interspersed identity fragments.

Finally, in examining how everyday life compels ordinary Americans to order themselves in myriad ways, we conduct a postmodern investigation into the mystique of autobiography. How and to what effect do autobiographical subjects oscillate between the narratives that write them and those they reconfigure in their local and strategic interventions? Constructed as social actors in multiple, overlapping communities, making and unmaking provisional identities, we are located as both subjects and witnesses—to our own proliferating and regulated identities, and to their internal dissonance.

We use the terms America and Americans in this essay to refer to the United States of America and the citizens of that nation. We are aware of the contested usages and meanings of these terms. The historical construct America originally signified what was termed in Europe the New World, and what is now two continents of many countries. Although the continuing use of the term America by people who live in the United States may be seen as a gesture of cultural imperialism, the phrase the United States of America at every reference is awkward.

We therefore follow the usage of American studies. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, rev.

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When we learn mechanics, we have to see lots of worked examples to grasp properly what force really means. Is theoretical math the highest purest form of analytical thought? Geryon is a creature who is constantly in the process of learning. I took statistics courses my senior year in college and my first year at MBA school, but they weren't that interesting to me. In addition to his philosophical teachings, he provided ideas for the development of many practical activities, including education - both general and special That was not humbleness — that was servility.

London: Verso, , We use this term in its broadest meaning, as a variety of practices through which people assemble narratives out of their own experiential histories. Other phrases that might be used to designate these practices are autobiographical discourse, personal narrative, and life storytelling.

Anderson, Imagined Communities, especially chaps. William Boelhower interestingly discusses the Americanization of immigrants through their writing of autobiography. Donald Pease used this term in analyzing the disruptive claim of the postnational subject in texts of the American Renaissance in a paper delivered at Binghamton University, October George McMichael et al.

New York: Macmillan, This distinction between high and low forms derives from the binarism of high and low discourses explored by Peter Stallybrass and Allon White in The Politics and Poetics of Transgression Ithaca, N. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle , trans. Ken Sanborn Detroit: Black and Red, , unpaged. The work of Michel Foucault on technologies of the self informs our discussion. Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, Foucault distinguishes techniques by which individuals perform operations on their own bodies and minds with the goal of self-transformation He argues that writing about oneself is not a recent but an ancient practice that developed a new attention to self-experience in the first and second centuries, and, with Marcus Aurelius, evolved a focus on personal experience of everyday life 28— Robert Hurley New York: Vintage, , has, of course, also informed our argument about the ability of the listener to exercise silent power over the speaker in autobiographical discourse.

Goffman, Gender Advertisements, 1. Goffman, Gender Advertisements, 6. Paul John Eakin, trans. Albert E. Missoulian , May 25, , B Skip to main content Skip to quick search Skip to global navigation. Maize Books Michigan Publishing. Home Search Browse. Table of Contents. Taste, the propensity and capacity to appropriate materially or symbolically a given class of classified, classifying objects or practices, is the generative formula of a life-style.

Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction [2]. The opacity of the everyday, then, is crucial. It reflects the poststructural recognition that all anyone can do is gesture to the real; subjects cannot experience it unmediated and untransformed by expectation, by representation, or by their own attention to it. In resisting definition, the everyday becomes a category that foregrounds those mediations and, in that sense, becomes a position or marker rather than a stable referent.

Daytime television talk shows spill over with confessional obsessions.

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In every community the formulaic confessions of participants in self-help groups fill the halls of churches and the meeting rooms of numerous communal buildings. Rock singers chant the lyrics of self-promotion. People don identity clothing in the morning to signify status, origin, occupation, political consciousness, availability.

Family members assemble stories through family albums. Some respond to queries about their medical histories. Others fill out innumerable forms for social service benefits. Many advertise their desires in personal ads. They repeat it and I hear it and I see it, sometimes then always I understand it, sometime then always there is a completed history of each one by it, sometime then I will tell the completed history of each one by it, sometime then I will tell the completed history of each one as by repeating it I come to know it.

Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans [10]. All profound changes in consciousness, by their very nature, bring with them characteristic amnesias. Out of such oblivions, in specific historical circumstances, spring narratives. Out of this estrangement comes a conception of personhood, identity. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities [11].

The pseudo-events which rush by in spectacular dramatizations have not been lived by those informed of them. What is really lived has no relation to the official irreversible time of society and is in direct opposition to the pseudo-cyclical rhythm of the consumable by-product of this time.

This individual experience of separate daily life remains without language, without concept, without critical access to its own past which has been recorded nowhere. It is not communicated. It is not understood and is forgotten to the profit of the false spectacular memory of the unmemorahle.

Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle [19]. Composing and Decomposing As pieces of our stories are regularly and anonymously dispersed to the files and archives of various institutions, we may feel less confident about both our privacy and the protection of governmental and corporate institutions. Our personal histories are dismembered into zeroes and ones; passed through electrons; stored on microchips; channeled throughout the local community, the nation, even the world; and stored on paper in file drawers and in files in the cloud.

And they are there for the taking by a host of unknown entities, including computer hackers. The Myth of Fingerprints and Imposed Systems The notion of essence, character, structure, is, one might argue, social. We are socialized to confirm our own hypotheses about our natures. Erving Goffman, Gender Advertisements [21]. Everyday Agents of Resistance One of the rules of my game is to echo back his words to an unexpected din or simply let them bounce around to yield most of what is being and has been said through them and despite them.

Trinh T. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble [25]. Autobiographical Stories and Backyard Ethnography What illusion to believe that we can tell the truth, and to believe that each of us has an individual and autonomous existence! How can we think that in autobiography it is the lived life that produces the text, when it is the text that produces the life!

Autobiographical Acts as Everyday Occasions Waiting to be collected, published, and interpreted are unnumbered autobiographical texts created daily in the social, commercial, educational, religious, and therapeutic transactions of everyday life. Notes 1. Top of page. For more information please contact mpub-help umich.

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From the Course of My Life: Autobiographical Fragments [Rudolf Steiner, Walter Kugler, Johanna Collis] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Rudolf Steiner (–) was born in the small village of Kraljevec, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now in Croatia), where he.

Manto was the only person who would get furious at my cowardice. I was against my own self and he supported me. I am not quite sure, but probably Abbas got the English translation of "Lihaaf" published somewhere. The pro-gressives neither appreciated nor found fault with me. This suited me well. I was staying with my brother when I wrote "Lihaaf".

I had completed the story at night. In the morning I read it out to my sister-in-law. She did not think it was vulgar though she recognized the characters portrayed in it. I sent it to Adab-e-Lateef where it was published immediately. Shahid Ahmad Dehlavi was getting a collection of my short stories published, so he included it in the volume. The story was published in when Shahid and I were close friends and were thinking of marriage.

But the controversies surrounding "Lihaaf" had not reached Bombay yet. Among journals I subscribed only to Saaqi and Adab-e-Lateef. Shahid was not too angry and we got married. We received the summons in December to appear before the court in January. Everyone said that we would just be fined, not imprisoned.

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So we were quite excited and began to get warm clothes stitched for our stay in Lahore. Seema was a small baby. She was frail and whimpered in a shrill voice. We showed her to the child specialist who declared that she was in good health. Nevertheless it was not wise to expose her to the sevee cold in Lahore.

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The Crown had made him one of the accused as well. The suit was brought not against Adab-e-Lateef but against the book published by Shahid Ahmad Dehlavi.

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Sultana had come to the station to pick us up. It was a gorgeous mansion.

Fragments of my life

Thus the entire place was at our disposal. Manto had also reached Lahore and soon we were flooded with invitations. We appeared before the court one day. Nothing happened. The judge only asked me my name and wanted to know if I had written the story. I admitted to the crime. That was all! We were greatly disappointed. Our lawyer kept on talking all the time.

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We could not make much of it as we were whispering among ourselves. Then the date for the next hearing was announced and we were free to freak out. Manto, Shahid and I roamed around in a tonga, shopping. We bought Kashmiri shawls and shoes. I almost broke into tears looking at my rough and graceless feet. I love women as a man. This does not mean that I want to be a woman myself. The second hearing was scheduled for November, The weather was very pleasant. Shahid was preoccupied with his film. Seema was now a healthy child and her ayah, too, was quite competent.

So I left her in Bombay and flew to Delhi.


Shahid Ahmad Dehlavi and the calligrapher joined me from there and we went by train. I used to feel sorry for the calligrapher. He was dragged in for no fault of his own. He was a harmless and quiet sort of fellow with down-cast eyes and a permanent frown on his face. I used to feel guilty at the very sight of him. Copying the manuscript of my book had invited all these troubles for him.

I asked him—"What do you think? Shall we win the case? I always confuse siin, swaad, and the, zwai, zwaad, zey and zaal. The same happens with the aspirates. I prayed to God for the prosperity of calligraphers. I went to stay at M. Hardly had we exchanged greetings when he began to bow his top about the alleged obscenity in my writings. I was also like a woman possessed. Shahid Saheb tried to restrain me, but in vain. I always endeavoured to obtain higher marks than the boys in the class and often succeeded in that.

I knew that I was being pig-headed, as usual. I was afraid that he would hit me or his jugular vein would burst. Shahid Saheb was aghast, almost in tears. I assumed a softer tone and said humbly: "Aslam Saheb, actually no one had told me that it was a sin to write on the topic with which "Lihaaf" is concerned. Nor had I read in any book that such disease aberrations should not be written about. The pen becomes helpless in my hand because my mind overwhelms it.

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Nothing can interfere with this traffic between the mind and the pen. Such revealing things are written there" I said innocently. Aslam Saheb looked upset. I continued, "When I had read it in childhood I was shocked. Those things seemed vulgar to me. But when I read it again after my B.

I realised that they were not vulgar but crucial things of life about which every sensible person should be aware. Well, people can brand the books prescribed in the courses of psychology and medicine vulgar if they so want. This law suit is nothing compared to that. You are counted among the aristocrats of Lahore.

However, a few moments later he began to repeat his plea for an apology. I felt like smashing his skull and mine as well. We appeared before the court on the day of the hearing. My lawyer instructed me not to open my mouth till proper interrogation began. He would answer the queries as he thought fit. The debate went on. The witnesses could find no other words except "chest" and it could not be proved obscene. The arguments went on. We went out and sat on the benches. Ahmad Nadim Qasmi had brought a basketful of maltas.

He also taught us a fine way of savouring a malta. Then pierce a hole in it and go on sucking the juice merrily. The court was crowded the next day. Several persons had advised us to tender an apology. They were ready to pay the fine on our behalf. The excitement surrounding the law suits was waning. The witnesses who had turned up to prove "Lihaaf" obscene were thrown into confusion by my lawyer. They were not able to put their finger on any word in the story that would prove their point.

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It is also used in naats, poems written in praise of the Prophet. God-fearing people have accorded it a very high status. Yes madam, do you mean here that bad girls draw lovers? But it is reprehensible for an educated lady from a decent family to write about them. Neither is "Lihaaf". I was not terribly worried when the suit was brought against me, neither did I feel elated now that I had won it.

Rather I felt sad at the thought that it might be a long while before I got a chance to visit Lahore again. I was a spoilt brat and used to get bashed up often for telling the truth. But when the disputes were taken to Abba Mian he would decide in my favour. My elder sister who had become a widow at nineteen was extremely bitter about life.

She was greatly impressed with the high society at Aligarh, particularly the Khwaja family. I was a madcap, outspoken and ill-mannered. Purdah had already been imposed on me, but my tongue was a naked sword. No one could restrain it. The world around me seemed like a delusion. The apparently shy and respectable girls in these families allowed themselves to be grabbed, hugged and kissed in bathrooms and in dark corners by young men who were related to their families.