I Love You but I’ve Never Met You: Autobiographical Intimacy and Voice

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Abstract

The conditions creating autobiographical intimacy are sharply individualized and, contra Paul de Man, not specular. That is, the intimacy we feel with autobiographers is not a kind of mirroring of writers and readers, nor are readers confusing themselves with the autobiographer in a process of identification. My responses to the writings of St. Augustine, Margery Kempe, Rousseau, Mill, Conrad, Woolf, Menchú, and Elizabeth Gilbert reveal relationships between autobiographical narrators/protagonists/writers and one reader that preserve distinctions between the two. Although the conditions provoking autobiographical intimacy vary widely among readers, a common factor is a positive, empathetic, or sympathetic response on the part of readers to the voice of an autobiographical narrator. I adduce Anne Karpf’s discussion of the importance of voice in human relationships and review the uses of voice in commentary on autobiographical writing since the late 1970s, citing the work of Linda S. Coleman, Patsy S. Daniels, Elizabeth C. Goldsmith, Ivan Kreilkamp, Susan Sniader Lanser, Philippe Lejeune, Robert Lyons, Jo Malin, and Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson.

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