Archive for post-structural

The I of the Moment Writing, the You of the Moment Reading

Posted in The Blog with tags , , on September 12, 2012 by chateaucone

Can, and will, readers extrapolate from all the different Lizs narrating this project?

Bedtime Stories Liz—who couldn’t quite break the narrative. And the Liz who smoothed it over quite well by the end of the essay

Dear Biographer Liz, AKA doctoral student, dissertating Liz—who is having a good time playing with theory

Alternative Letters from Angel Guardian Liz—who is having a good time, too, although she then gets a bit angry, which you might not get from her writing, calmly juxtaposing fantasy identities for her birthmother with primary source material from professionals in the adoption field in the 1960s

The Chosen Baby Lizs–both of them–Little Liz reading the book, or having it read to her, and grown up Liz re-examining the book and confronting Valentina Wasson with her anger over the story and how it makes grown up Liz, with Little Liz inside her still, feel

And this Liz. Blogger Liz.

Will readers embrace that I am not limited to the Lizs represented here, all coherent and knowing only in the moment of writing I? That there are, for every Liz represented here, a million fragments of Lizs who have been left unrepresented?

Will they let Epstein’s wound stand open and bleeding? Will they look into the abyss of subjects?

Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. But it is what I’m asking.

My friend SS admits that because of her participation in, belief in, indoctrination into, and place within, the academy, she automatically credits the analysis voice, the scholarly voice, the theory, over anything personal and creative, although she does acknowledge that she does so–she acknowledges her subjectivity. She connects most strongly to a scholarly discourse community, an academic discourse community, especially if told this is a “dissertation” and not a novel, or a memoir, or whatever else. Expectations.

My friend AP, however, reading the DB letter and Bedtime Stories, relates to the creative voice, finds the most authority in the creative voice. But AP is a poet, and thinks theory is bullshit.

I want AP and SS to keep “Bedtime Stories” and its refractions in their heads all at one time, and to give it all equal importance. Accept the contradictions and the gaps they create. But AP and SS will each come away with their own closure, their own choice of authoritative voice, their own conclusions.

How do I convince my readers that the unified voice, the “I” of any single point of my narrative, exists only at the moment I type it? And is no more reliable than that?

And make them want to stay, nonetheless?

I don’t know.

Can you be a p/s in the moment of reading anything? Or do you have to choose a place to stand?

Does the genre, does coherence, always win?

Introducing Pamela

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , on September 7, 2012 by chateaucone

Is the essay inherently post-structural?

My readerly friend, let’s change direction for a bit on this Friday afternoon–which is of course, from a networking/public relations standpoint, a terrible time to post. But there you have it. Today is the day this post is demanding to be born.

I’ve been having this conversation in my head and the in margins of various books for years now (yes, I’m that girl, the one that writes all over books), and I’m going to try to reproduce it in some coherent (ahem! with all that entails!) form.

Is the essay inherently a post-structural form, because it acknowledges the fragmentedness of the subject, the gaps and silences of traditional narrative? Does the fact that the essay acknowledges the subject’s lack of knowledge of itself make it in fact post-structural?  Or does the essay rely too strongly on the notion of a reliable narrator, one coherent self telling the story? Is it enough that the essay often acknowledges that that particular self exists only in that particular moment of telling the story?

Am I even asking the right questions here? Is this another case of a post-structural piece of work versus a post-structural reading of any piece of work? Am I wasting my time? I don’t know. Let’s see. Let’s essay. And let’s begin with the narrator and her reliability.

Philip Lopate, in The Arto f the Personal Essay, tells us, “The personal essayist must above all be a reliable narrator; we must trust his or her core of sincerity.” You see the problem there? Reliable. Sincere. Lots of non-post-structural implications there. Sounds like that darn liberal humanist self again. Robert Root and Michael Steinberg, in The Fourth Genre, as well, privilege the unified voice, saying of the essay, “Its writers share a common desire to speak in a singular voice.”

Lopate, though, throws a bit of a wrench in things with this:

Part of our trust in good personal essayists issues, paradoxically, from their exposure to their own betrayals, uncertainties, and self-mistrust. Their sincerity issues from an awareness of their potential for insincerity—see Max Beerbohm’s telling aside, “But (it seems I must begin every paragraph by questioning the sincerity of what I have just said)”—and it gives them a doubled authority. 

Well, there’s an interesting thought—an awareness of our potential for insincerity gives us even more authority. It’s true the essay does this—monitors its subjectivity constantly—but does that make it any more self-aware? Any more authoritative? I have to think about that. Does that mean that each reflection/refraction I write about “Bedtime Stories” makes me more authoritative? Hmm . . . but what if those subjects occur outside/after the essay? Which Liz does it make more authoritative? Are the collective Is more authoritative than each individual I, even if they are contradicting themselves, showing their fragmentedness?

Lopate tells us that essayists are “adept at interrogating their ignorance. Just as often as they tell us what they know, they ask at the beginning of an exploration of a problem what it is they don’t know—and why.”

Unlike the traditional biographer, and the autobiographer, essayists, according to Lopate, have “realized they can never render all at once the entire complexity of a personality.”  That’s the p/s good news. On the flip side, however, “The hope is that in the end, when an essayist’s lifework has a been accumulated, all those personae will add up to a genuine unmasking.” And we’re right back to the knowable, representable self. de Man. de Faced.

But then Lopate backs out again. (I have to say, the guy is a little slippery. Fragmented, I might even say. Next time I see him at a conference . . .) “In the meantime, the personal essayist tries to make his many selves dance to the same beat—to unite, through force of voice and style, these discordant, fragmentary personae so that the reader can accept them as issuing from one coherent self.”

Why? Why does the reader have to accept the essay as issuing from one coherent self? This is exactly what I want my readers NOT to do. What happens if the reader is asked to accept multiple, fragmented subjects all in one instance? What happens if the essay is chaotic? The (auto)biography is chaotic?

I swear I want to pin this guy down, and I can’t. Maybe I can. I think, I think he’s saying that over a lifetime, we have these multiple and fragmented personae that we are trying to represent as coherent, and we hope that over many, many essays, we end up “unmasking” the real self. Is that what you’re getting from Lopate? Because frankly, I’m starting to think he’s on the fence about the self and the subject. I mean, there is a self to unmask or there isn’t. And it’s representable or it isn’t.

If I follow Lopate’s logic, then, my post-structural autobiography can exist; I can just paint a million different pictures of my subjectivity, pile them all up, and then I’ll be represented. At which point I will have tossed out the post-structural. Because then even my million subjectivities will have become fixed. Ahh, but there’s where Lopate and I disagree. I don’t think the stable, knowable self exists prior to, or after, language at all, no matter how much material you pile up.

Vivian Gornick, in The Situation and the Story, skips this discussion and jumps right into the construction of the persona. There’s no fooling around here with whether or not the coherent self exists. For Gornick, that debate doesn’t matter. What’s important to Gornick, and, she argues, to the essay, is the creation, or selection, of the appropriate narrator to tell the story; “the creation of such a persona is vital in an essay or memoir. It is the moment of illumination.”  Just prior to this, Gornick tells us:

Out of the raw material of a writer’s own undisguised being a narrator is fashioned whose existence on the page is integral to the tale being told. This narrator becomes a persona. Its tone of voice, its angle of vision, the rhythm of its sentences, what it selects to observe and what to ignore are chosen to serve the subject; yet at the same time the way the narrator—or persona—sees things is, to the largest degree, the thing being seen.

Gornick calls this  “a narrator who was me and at the same time not me.” For Gornick, as opposed to Lopate, the creation or selection of a persona is a conscious choice of the position and angle, the perspective, the subjectivity, to tell a story.

And this is what I’ve been talking about–this persona, the subject represented in writing, always has a particular perspective, is fixed–for the moment, anyway.

Now, what about the “I” of “Bedtime Stories,” the center of this little project of mine? Poor girl, she’s all confused, but not unlike a half-hour sitcom, she straightens it all out in the end. Paves over the cracks. Stops the disintegration of the narrative with some trusty spackle. Trustworthy? All-knowing? Exposing her own bewilderment? Illustrating a knowable mental journey?

You could almost argue that there are two subjects writing that essay–the confused Liz confronting the broken narrative, and the safe, secure Liz who comes around at the end and shuts up the confused Liz. Maybe this is an example of Epstein’s wound being enacted–the confused Liz who sees the broken narrative being shoved into the abyss of silence by the Liz who doesn’t want to see. The bad Liz.

I should start giving these other Lizs other names. Like Pamela.

Pamela is not very nice. She’s maybe a little bit bad. Certainly less naive. She might watch Criminal Minds for the wrong reasons.

Moving on. Root and Steinberg give us this: “Creative nonfiction is reliably factual, anchored in real experience, whether the author has lived it or observed it and recorded it.”

But experience is always and already interpreted. Haven’t we agreed on that much? And therefore, that poor girl in “Bedtime Stories,” is just presenting her already interpreted, but not yet consciously, version of the story.

Annie Dillard tells us, “The nonfiction writer thinks about actual things. He can make sense of them analytically or artistically. In either case, he renders the real world coherent and meaningful, even if only bits of it, and even if that coherence and meaning reside only inside small texts” (xxvii).

I think I’m reaching a conclusion here. The personal essay, the genre of creative nonfiction, is not inherently post-structural, or not. But we can read it with a post-structural lens, and interrogate it further, even, than its own narrator does, because it gives us the room to do so.

Was this just an exercise in futility?

The personal essay is inhabited, yes, by a coherent voice, presenting itself as a knowing self…but there’s no one to say that that subjectivity—the one presenting itself as a coherent, unified, knowing self, exists for a second beyond the moment it speaks. Right? I don’t think the essay, as a genre, goes so far as to make that claim.

So, then, the subject of “Bedtime Stories,” just the essay, not all the other material, is perhaps unified, coherent, or was at the moment of writing, but the refractions remind us that that particular subjectivity (and we’ve seen how it might be fractured itself) existed only at that moment, and was, even in the moment, fragmented, unknowable, unrepresentable, AND, AND, AND has since changed, fragmented, and, THUS, it became fictional the moment it was fixed, anyway. Defaced.

The I of the essay is only the I of the moment writing.

So can you, or I, or Pamela, write a post-structural autobiography?


Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , , on September 4, 2012 by chateaucone

Ask yourself, my readerly friend, was I, your faithful (ahem) narrator adopted? Or is adoption a metaphor for my life, for a life, for an autobiography built out of the constant adoption and re-adoption of particular subjectivities, of narratives, of metanarratives?

Ask yourself–was I literally, actually, legally adopted, or was adoption a useful metaphor I adopted to talk about post-structural notions of identity construction and narrative?

And then, once you’ve answered, or perhaps just considered the question, ask yourself this: how does it matter?

In her memoir Lying, Lauren Slater adopts the metaphor of epilepsy (and possibly the real life ailment–it’s never made clear) to describe what she calls a life of “falling down;” adoption as the main focus of my project turns out to be sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy–or a self-fulfilling metaphor–or an epic metaphor–yes! an epic metaphor! how Greek! how tragic!–because not only was I adopted, and was my mother adopted, but our identities were adopted, each of the narrators I’ve used were adopted, each of the narratives, each of my Is.

While Slater’s neurological disturbances create (include?) a compulsion to lie, I could tell you that my supposed adoption, my (new/alternative) identity construction at the age of five months, create in me an inordinate ease, to create, to adopt, identities. To adapt. To change voices. To change narrators and subjectivities with not so much as the blink of an eye.

I could tell you that I am playing with you.

I have been telling you about the various Is that narrate my work:

  • the early 1990s Liz, trying on the voices of various Long Island Democrats, writing their speeches and press releases and radio spots–although she’s not in this story, is she? Maybe she should be.
  • the 1996 Liz, MA student, writing about the adoption story for a personal essay class
  • the 2011 Liz, doctoral student, writing about the 1996 Liz writing the personal essay
  • the 1994 Liz, standing by the mailbox in Lindenhurst, opening the letter from the adoption agency
  • the 2006 Liz, rediscovering The Chosen Baby
  • the 2012 blogger Liz, of questionable truthiness

And so on. And so on.

I could tell you that each of these Lizs were created by the discourses available to us at the time–my age, my psychological and emotional development, my movement toward/away from Catholicism, the random occurrence of events that shake the narratives by which I live my life–and recorded in, the moment these Is existed captured by, these various artifacts.

Or I could tell you this:

I wrote them all yesterday.

Each of my subtly different narrators is nothing more than a fiction created by me. A character in a cleverly written novel. A coming of age story.  Here’s Liz figuring out the adoption thing at 21, at 28, at 30, at 45. Notice the subtle changes in awareness of the self as adopted child, in values and beliefs, in the use of language, in epistemological concerns.

It’s fiction, I tell you. Brilliantly. Constructed. Fiction.

(Totally. Overused. Periods.)

Paul de Man says that all autobiography produces fictions or personas, characters, instead of the self-knowledge that one expects from an autobiography.

He says: “Voice assumes mouth, eye and finally face, a chain that is manifest is the etymology of the trope’s name, prosopon poien, to confer a mask for a face (prosopon). Prosopopeia is the trope of autobiography, by which one’s name . . . is made as intelligible and memorable as a face. Our topic deals with the giving and taking away of faces, with face and deface, figure, figuration and disfiguration.”

Which is a fancy way of saying (and I’m being a bit reductive here), that because we can’t represent the self in language, and we can’t know the self, and yet the self exists only in language, language is metaphor, the persona we create in autobiography is at once a face, a mask, and a defacement. I’m thinking “defacement” works because it’s a face, but it’s the wrong face, because it can never be the right face, not in language anyway. It’s a face removed. It’s a face with at least one degree of separation–and that degree is the abyss that is the space between the signifier and the signified, the break between the self and other, between autobiographer and autobiographical subject, the wound, to paraphrase my friend William Epstein.

It’s always a metaphor. Always a representation.

Always a fiction.

So let me rephrase my original question: is my adoption story fiction, à la Stephen King, or fiction, à la Paul de Man? And how does it matter?


Adopted Babies, Adopted Identities

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , on September 1, 2012 by chateaucone

My office mate and chief idea-discussion-partner D. asks,  “Do we give birth to an identity, or do we adopt an identity?” I am perhaps at once exactly the wrong person to answer this question and exactly the right person to answer the question, having been adopted, having had my adoption, my identity, my various identities as a Cone, a DiStefano, an adopted child, a meant-to-be-member-of-the-family blurred over so sweetly, so smoothly by narrative, by identity construction, so as not to ever really feel adopted. D. says “We adopt, over and over–multiple identities. The adoption is never fixed. Adopting multiple identities is like being born over and over and over again–constant yous being created and then constant theys-readers–being created.”

And then he says, “All autobiography is always already in a state of becoming, always in delivery, always about to be born, always becoming.”

And again, exactly right and exactly wrong. Our family, always and already in existence. I joined a narrative in motion, moving forward with me in its stream. But one that was inevitable, natural, no other way it could go, its path determined.

I think this is not exactly what D. means. “Always becoming” seems to suggest newness, not pre-determinedness.

Is that narrative, the meant-to-be-a-family narrative, always and already in motion, in a state of becoming, as well? And nonetheless killing off other possible narratives, other projections, in its path?

Can a narrative be multiple, with room for multiple, shifting, constantly being born identities, and still shut off avenues to other possible identities? Or is it an illusion that a narrative can have room for multiple, shifting identities?

I think this is like when your mother offers you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a ham sandwich, and you think you’ve been given a real choice, but she’s actually set boundaries for you, set the agenda, controlled your thoughts, confined your choice within certain discourse, while creating the illusion of wide openness.

Someone posted this on FB last week and attributed it to Joseph Goebbels: “What you need to control a media system is ostensible diversity that conceals actual uniformity.”

I googled it–having shared a good quote recently and been told later it was wrongly attributed–and couldn’t find it. Then, someone responded to the original post, calling the guy who posted it on its authenticity and he said, “The original quote comes from Goebbels (sic) diaries, and as you’ve keenly observed, I’ve taken some artistic freedoms with it 🙂 The original quote used a word that would more closely be translated as “cultural environment” than as “media system.”

(You can see the conversation here.)

“Cultural environment” works even better for me.

We’re talking about mind control, after all, right? Just doesn’t feel like it. But then, what successful mind control feels like it?

And it’s not just the media, obviously, propagating it.

Either way, then, we don’t give birth to an identity so much as adopt one that’s already out there, written for us.

Is there a difference between constructed and being adopted?

Constructing sounds like you have more agency–but not if the materials with which you construct are subtly limited and limiting.

Then, perhaps, constructing and adopting are not so far apart.

And if we adopt identities, don’t give birth to them, from where are we getting them? From Epstein’s “proprietary powers” and “dominant structures of authority”? And if not, how do we know we’re not?

And if I’m good at it, this shifting of identities, this living of fractured subjectivities, does that mean I notice it less? Or notice it more and play it? Am I more or less controlled by the powers that be if I’m good at my fitting into my (appropriate?) identity? If I am good at the game, how aware of it can I be?

The Adopted Girl Refuses

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , , on August 22, 2012 by chateaucone

Back on . . . I don’t know, August 7? I posted something along the lines of “First, let’s talk about my birth mother’s identity . . .” and never got to “Second . . .”

And then I talked about the biography of my birth mother that somehow got itself written in this project, and its failure/success. The success of its failure. Its success in illustrating the failure of biography as a genre. Something like that. But I haven’t yet gotten to my own.

So here is “Second . . .” as though I never left off, as though I stopped mid-thought, as though . . . whatever. (Where do you put the spaces when you use ellipses? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)

My identity–and my autobiography–and how it is at stake feels more complicated or more layered, than my birth mother’s, perhaps only because it is mine. There are all these Is writing this project, and all these Is being created and being disrupted and being created to disrupt. And of course this creation is on purpose, by design, and yet somehow not created so much as uncovered, revealed, the wound opened.

Let me say this:

I too refuse to be written. Refuse to be fixed.

(Fixed. Hehe. I could maybe use some fixing. But that’s another blog.)

Does the inclusion of all the various and myriad and constantly changing and disrupting Is stop my subjectivity from being firmly, ideologically correctly, definitively represented, as it might be in a traditional, modern, liberal humanist biography?

Yes, I have disrupted the narrative of the Family, the two-parent, Conservative-Family-Values Family, within which there is no room for a 23-year-old single birth mother or her story. But is the disruption simply a new narrative to be proclaimed by some biographer the real and true goal of my life?

I feel as though my subjectivity refusing to be written, to be recovered, to be fixed, to be, is more difficult to articulate . . . and to enforce.

I can refuse to be written, but can I refuse to be read?

I don’t know. I can make myself very difficult to read, I think. I can make my narratives the kind that drive readers crazy. The kind where your book club friend says, “As I writer, I appreciate that the author leaves these hanging chards, but as a reader, I want closure.” Is that enough?

While I am the only intended reader of my birth mother’s biography, the letter from Angel Guardian, I have no such control over my own autobiography and I am beginning to think, more and more, that the success or failure of the genre (and depending on who you are, these could each mean opposing things) depends in large part on the reader. But I’ll come back to that. What I need to say here is that, I can refuse to be written, recovered, fixed, all I want, and a reader can come along and fix me anyway. The reader can recess the broken parts.

Of course, that person would not be a very good reader.

Maybe this is a St. Elmo’s Fire sort of problem. Let’s move on.

I think my autobiography needs to do more. Listen to this, from my favorite scholar of biography, William H. Epstein, writing in “(Post)Modern Lives: Abducting the Biographical Subject.” It’s long. But worthwhile.

If the oppositional agenda of (post)modern biography is to make a difference, then it will constitute itself and function as  difference. Improvising guerilla tactics that opportunistically take advantage of momentary gaps in the discursive surveillance of the proprietary powers, this emergent cultural project will disruptively mimic the indifference of traditional biographical recognition–and thus abduct it, lead it away from its historical alliance with dominant structures of authority by recessing its parts and revealing the hidden, but now signified, recurrent wound in the writing. Perhaps then biography will become what de Certeau claims it already is but can seldom be recognized as: “the self-critique of liberal, bourgeois society, based on the primary unit that society created[:] the individual–the central epistemological and historical figure of the modern Western world, the foundation of capitalist economy and democratic politics.” 

That’s a mouthful. Not only is it long, it’s huge. By which I mean rather ambitious.

In the beginning of this project, I asked (Have I mentioned this before? Maybe not.): What happens when I attempt to represent the post-structural subject autobiographically without fixing it in narrative, in discourse, as an ideology identity formation—to, as Epstein tells us, “expose the wound” created by traditional (auto)biography?

And now I need to talk about two things to address (never answer) that question. I have attempted. Was I successful in my attempt? And what do I mean by success?

Do I define success as Epstein defines it above? I think I do. Large scale success, anyway.

But maybe success isn’t what my original question is after. “What happens?” it asks. What has happened?

And I think I can say that (I think) I’ve done it with my essay about my birth mother, in which I’ve written alternate letters that the adoption agency could have sent, and–I didn’t tell you this last time–juxtaposed those with some of the (very nasty) things that social workers, sociologists, religious and other professionals believed about rehabilitating unwed mothers –“the discursive surveillance of the proprietary powers” embodied. I think I have signified the wound. And by doing so, opened up space for a million imaginary birth mothers–uncertainty, but possibility.

But then there’s my post from August 15, where I pretty much admit that for myself, for the Meant-to-Be-A-Family narrative, at least, nothing has happened. That the wound is imaginary. That I’m playing a grown up game of Operation and when I touch the edge, the broken part, a funny buzzer goes off and I laugh and lose my turn but nothing else happens. I never really touch our story, the story of how we became a family, that lives deep inside me.

Boy, will my aunts and cousins love to hear that. It’s what they’ve been saying all along. “It’s not a story. It’s what happened. You were meant to be ours.”

For my good and kind friend P., and a cheat sheet for me

Posted in The Blog with tags , on August 10, 2012 by chateaucone

My good and kind friend P. read my August 7 post, and left me a comment on FB.  He said, “Liz, I’m going to “Like” this but it went right over my head.”

I said, “Oh my god. Every morning I sit down at 9 am sharp to write. It takes me until about 10 am to get straight in my head again what post-structuralism is and what I’m doing with it. Then, I’m able to hold that in my head for only about two hours before I start getting confused again, and I start doubting my understanding, and losing hold of little threads and connections. Then I watch the Olympics until my brain recovers. And I’ve been doing this for a long time. Why, I don’t know.”

So, what follows is a sort of cheat sheet–for anyone reading, and for me to consult daily to get my bearings.

I’m going to start with a quotation from Cloud Atlas, which I just finished reading. The post-structuralists would have a bit of a problem with it, but it’s a good jumping off point. It’s something a minor character is writing in his notebook just before his plane crashes; more context than that isn’t particularly necessary:

  • Exposition: the workings of the actual past + the virtual past may be illustrated by an event well known to collective history, such as the sinking of the Titanic. The disaster as it actually occurred descends into obscurity as its eyewitnesses die off, documents perish + the wreck of the ship dissolves in its Atlantic grave. Yet a virtual sinking of the Titanic, created from reworked memories, papers, hearsay, fiction–in short, belief–grows ever “truer.” The actual past is brittle, ever-dimming + ever more problematic to access + reconstruct; in contrast, the virtual past is malleable, ever-brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/expose as fraudulent.
  • The present presses the virtual past into its own service, to lend credence to its mythologies + legitimacy to the imposition of will. Power seeks + is the right to “landscape” the virtual past. (He who pays the historian calls the tune.) (p. 392-3)

Keep this in the back of your mind, and read on.

Here goes:

The post-structuralists believe a few key things:

  1. Language is not transparent. It’s not a direct representation of the world. It’s all metaphor. The symbols “t-r-e-e”  have nothing to do with the shady object outside your front door except that culturally, and arbitrarily, we’ve made one signify the other. So, language is never a direct representation of the world. It’s a metaphor, an interpretation.  But we all use it and agree on it, so it seems natural and we forget that it’s something we made up. And so:
  2. Reality is discoursive, constituted by discourse, or language. Reality as we know it, perceive it, is constructed by language. There is no reality outside of language, at least not for us human beings. Everything we perceive is always and already interpreted and language is the medium. And remember that language is not transparent. We don’t remember or experience anything directly, objectively, truly. We always experience and remember from a perspective–and then we use language, which is not transparent, to describe it. Any experience or memory of an experience is, for all of these reasons, an interpretation. This is where the  Titanic illustration comes in. The post-structuralists would say that the Titanic illustration is wrong because it assumes that an actual, objective, knowable past exists. But the rest of it is pretty close.
  3. The self (which the post-structuralists call the subject) exists only in language. It didn’t exist before language and it doesn’t exist after language. (Don’t ask me what I mean by “after language.”) By the “self” I mean, like, “who you are.” Sort of, but not quite, your soul. Those other than the post-structuralists–the humanists, for example–would say it was that thing inside you that makes you who you are, different from everyone else. The “nature” half of “nature vs. nurture.” Kind of.  But the post-structuralists say that this self, or subject, is created by, and exists only, in language. Before language, no self. This part is a bit weak, I know.
  4. Because the self, or subject, exists only in language, it is constantly changing and shifting and it’s never coherent. That’s because there is no one thing inside you that is just you, never changing. It’s effected by all the cultural and religious and community and political discourses and ideologies, and so on and so forth, all around you. These are systems of ideas, and these systems–like social mores–privilege certain discourses, and silence other discourses. (You can see this in politics and religion especially easily!) “He who pays the historian. . .” or as we know it better, “History is written by the victors.” But we’re talking about something more subtle here; ideology is a more subtle kind of manipulation, a kind of thought control–the practice of making values, beliefs, morals that are not universal seems universal, nature, inevitable. (Remember reading “Body Ritual Among the Nacerima” in Social Studies class in 9th grade? Along those lines.) (
  5. And anyway, even if the self weren’t constantly changing and shifting and contradictory, the post-structuralists believe you can never know the self, or the subject. You just can’t access it.
  6. And then of course, you can’t represent it in language, which brings us back around to #1.

And all of this is why, then, post-structural autobiography can’t exist. And yet, I’m writing one. Or trying to.