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By James Olney

Professor Olney gathers jointly during this booklet the superior and most vital writings on autobiography produced long ago decades.

Originally released in 1980.

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Extra resources for Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical

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The encroachments of his­ tory on literature will only end, he implies, when we succeed in fastening the autos down—in history, in public and visible acts, 22 James Olney with all the subsequent history that follows upon those acts. It is my understanding that Cox is as determined as Gusdorf or anyone else to secure the self and thereby to secure added territory for liter­ ature. The bios of an autobiography, we may say, is what the "I" makes of it; yet as recent critics have observed, so far as the finished work is concerned, neither the autos nor the bios is there in the beginning, a completed entity, a defined, known self or a history to be had for the taking.

Here again, as with primitives, man cannot look on his own image without an­ guish. It was to require the exploding of the medieval Romania— the breakdown of its dogmatic frame under the combined thrust of the Renaissance and the Reformation—before man could have any interest in seeing himself as he is without any taint of the transcend­ ent. The Venetian mirror provides the restless Rembrandt with an image of himself that is neither twisted nor flattering. Renascent man puts forth on the oceans in search of new continents and men of nature.

One is never better served than by oneself. The autobiography that is thus devoted exclusively to the de­ fence and glorification of a man, a career, a political cause, or a skillful strategy presents no problems: it is limited almost entirely to the public sector of existence. It provides an interesting and in­ terested testimony that the historian must gather together and criticize along with other testimonies. It is official facts that carry weight here, and intentions are judged by their performance.

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