The Meaning of Life and Social Discourses Essay

The Meaning of Life and Social Discourses Essay

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In Robert Lowell’s confessional poetry Life Studies (1962), Drusilla Modjeska’s memoir The Orchard (1994), Arthur Bochner’s personal narrative It’s About Time (1997) and Felicia Sullivan’s memoir The Sky isn’t Visible from Here (2008), the truth and meaning of a life is understood to be a product of social discourses. This means they are mediated between language, supplementations outside the life represented, and spectres of past, present and future selves. Hence, the ‘self’ in the representation of a life, is to be found in the dialogic relationship with that which is ‘other’ than the life represented: other people, generic and linguistic conventions and ideologies being espoused. This calls into question the dominant paradigm of the Cogito – a singular, central consciousness - as the source of all meaning in Life Writing. Yet, the self-reflexive labour of life writing engenders a discursive shaping of a self or subject, to elevate the understanding of the life represented.

In Life Studies, Robert Lowell redefines himself against his father and the social discourse of orthodoxy in an act of recreation through spectrality and supplementation. The supplementary use of Freudian tropes allows him to shape a particular sense of self to introduce the ‘ghostly’ presence of his past in representing his relationship with the men in his life. In Grandparents, Lowell’s grandfather symbolises the patriarchal male. He expresses this through exclamatory tones “Grandpa! Have me, hold me, cherish me!” which carries echoes of a wedding vow to establish a feminized, dependant image of himself in a Freudian transference of desire towards his grandfather. Lowell’s symbolic marriage to his grandfather, locates his need for a patriarchal mode...


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... ideological and social constraints by modes of expression, Lowell, Modjeska, Bochner and Sullivan have taken fragments of their lives in order to rewrite these boundaries that constrain them. Accordingly, they negate the formalist notion of fossilized genres by embracing hybridism and fluidity as a projection of progressive culture, to allow growth and liberation in life through delimiting identity. \The innovations of these authors values both sociality and the dialogue between lives; as well as a critical approach to the past, which Derrida argues amounts to a form of fidelity, as in remembrance, whereby progression re-appropriates and takes the past into the future as an act of respect. Thus, these life writing acts are understood to be projecting towards democratisation in cultural spheres and the possibilities branching from the movement of society .



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