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Max Saunders: Self Impression

by
April 2011, no. 330

Max Saunders: Self Impression

by
April 2011, no. 330

Modernist times

Tim Dolin

 

Self Impression: Life-Writing, Autobiografiction, and the Forms of Modern Literature
by Max Saunders
Oxford University Press
$95 hb, 568 pp, 9780199579761

 

The argument of Self Impression, if it has just one, is that literary modernism, despite T.S. Eliot’s decree that it should strive after objectivity and impersonality, was more or less continuously involved in experiments with forms of life writing: autobiography, biography, memoir, journals, letters, and diaries. But Max Saunders is not interested in the obvious – Paul Morel as a version of young Lawrence, Stephen Daedalus of young Joyce, and so on. ‘Fiction can be autobiographical in many different ways,’ he argues, and modernist fiction (in both prose and verse) ‘colonised’ the autobiographic, experimenting with ‘imaginary autobiographies’, or fictional works in autobiographical form (the ugly ‘autobiografiction’ of the subtitle). His key modernist texts are accordingly the great Künstlerromaneof the period, Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu(1913–27),James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man(1916), Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)and (in verse) Ezra Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920). These generic hybrids, Saunders shows, are arch-modernist in nothing so much as their playwith the formaldynamics of auto/biography, which tells us a great deal about the relations between selfhood, art, and modernity.

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