The Philosophy of Autobiography

University of Chicago Press
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We are living through a boom in autobiographical writing. Every half-famous celebrity, every politician, every sports hero—even the non-famous, nowadays, pour out pages and pages, Facebook post after Facebook post, about themselves. Literary theorists have noticed, as the genres of “creative nonfiction” and “life writing” have found their purchase in the academy. And of course psychologists have long been interested in self-disclosure. But where have the philosophers been? With this volume, Christopher Cowley brings them into the conversation.

Cowley and his contributors show that while philosophers have seemed uninterested in autobiography, they have actually long been preoccupied with many of its conceptual elements, issues such as the nature of the self, the problems of interpretation and understanding, the paradoxes of self-deception, and the meaning and narrative structure of human life. But rarely have philosophers brought these together into an overarching question about what it means to tell one’s life story or understand another’s. Tackling these questions, the contributors explore the relationship between autobiography and literature; between story-telling, knowledge, and agency; and between the past and the present, along the way engaging such issues as autobiographical ethics and the duty of writing. The result bridges long-standing debates and illuminates fascinating new philosophical and literary issues.
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About the author

Christopher Cowley is a lecturer in philosophy at University College Dublin and the author of Medical Ethics: Ordinary Concepts, Ordinary Lives.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Oct 26, 2015
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780226268088
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / General
Philosophy / General
Philosophy / Mind & Body
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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This book offers intimate readings of a diverse range of global autobiographical literature with an emphasis on the (re)presentation of the physical body. The twelve texts discussed here include philosophical autobiography (Nietzsche), autobiographies of self-experimentation (Gandhi, Mishima, Warhol), literary autobiography (Hemingway, Das) as well as other genres of autobiography, including the graphic novel (Spiegelman, Satrapi), as also documentations of tragedy and injustice and subsequent spiritual overcoming (Ambedkar, Pawar, Angelou, Wiesel).

In exploring different literary forms and orientations of the autobiographies, the work remains constantly attuned to the physical body, a focus generally absent from literary criticism and philosophy or study of leading historical personages, with the exception of patches within phenomenological philosophy and feminism. The book delves into how the authors treated here deal with the flesh through their autobiographical writing and in what way they embody the essential relationship between flesh, spirit and word. It analyses some seminal texts such as Ecce Homo, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Waiting for a Visa, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, A Moveable Feast, Night, Baluta, My Story, Sun and Steel, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, MAUS and Persepolis.

Lucid, bold and authoritative, this book will be of great interest to scholars and researchers of philosophy, literature, gender studies, political philosophy, media and popular culture, social exclusion, and race and discrimination studies.

The voluminous writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein contain some of the most profound reflections of recent times on the nature of the human subject and self-understanding - the human condition, philosophically speaking. Describing Ourselves mines those extensive writings for a conception of the self that stands in striking contrast to its predecessors as well as its more recent alternatives. More specifically, the book offers a detailed discussion of Wittgenstein's later writings on language and mind as they hold special significance for the understanding and clarification of the distinctive character of self-descriptive or autobiographical language. Garry L. Hagberg undertakes a ground-breaking philosophical investigation of selected autobiographical writings - among the best examples we have of human selves exploring themselves - as they cast new and special light on the critique of mind-body dualism and its undercurrents in particular and on the nature of autobiographical consciousness more generally. The chapters take up in turn the topics of self-consciousness, what Wittgenstein calls 'the inner picture', mental privacy and the picture of metaphysical seclusion, the very idea of our observation of the contents of consciousness, first-person expressive speech, reflexive or self-directed thought and competing pictures of introspection, the nuances of retrospective self-understanding, person-perception and the corollary issues of self-perception (itself an interestingly dangerous phrase), self-defining memory, and the therapeutic conception of philosophical progress as it applies to all of these issues. The cast of characters interwoven throughout this rich discussion include, in addition to Wittgenstein centrally, Augustine, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Iris Murdoch, Donald Davidson, and Stanley Cavell, among others. Throughout, conceptual clarifications concerning mind and language are put to work in the investigation of issues relating to self-description and in novel philosophical readings of autobiographical texts.
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • This inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

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Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Books for a Better Life Award in Inspirational Memoir

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.
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The practice of hatha yoga, as we commonly know it, is but one of eight branches of the body of knowledge that is yoga. In fact, yoga is a sophisticated system of self-empowerment that is capable of harnessing and activating inner energies in such a way that your body and mind function at their optimal capacity. It is a means to create inner situations exactly the way you want them, turning you into the architect of your own joy.

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