Mark Danner

Self Creation: Confession, Memoir, Autobiography

Self Creation: Confession, Memoir, Autobiography

English 165, Spring 2012,  Wheeler 300, Monday 3 — 6 pm

Mark Danner

In confession we create the self. Confession is premised on truth – ultimate truth, the truth that exposes everyday truth as pretense, pose and mendacity. To create a confession is to create a new self: a self cleansed, reborn, redeemed. To create a portrait built entirely on the pretense of ultimate truth demands an entirely other category of lie. The “true life” confession – generally a tale of dysfunction, alcoholic, chemical, sexual – and the ancillary pursuit of exposing its accompanying falsehoods, is arguably our most popular form of contemporary literature. These constructions, from confession to memoir to autobiography, have their own traditions and we will seek to analyze and trace them in this seminar, while now and then trying our hand at a bit of self creation. Readings will be drawn from, among others, Augustine, Rousseau, Franklin, Newman, Mill, DeQuincey, Adams, Stein, Lawrence, Kafka, Levi, Nabokov, Harrison, Malcolm, Eggers, Karr and Richards. Along with the reading there will be some constructing of confessions, truthful, mendacious and fanciful.


Main Class Requirements: This is a seminar — a discussion class – which means the success of the class depends on student participation. The most important requirements of the seminar are that students

*Attend all class sessions

*Participate in discussions

*Do all reading and writing assignments

A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the thoroughness of his or her preparation, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade. The remainder of the grade will come from the writing assignments.

Writing. We will be undertaking a number of short papers, for which you are meant to draw on the assigned reading and on class discussions, and a longer final paper. To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I strongly suggest reading two works: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language” and Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of Style.

Reading. This seminar has a heavy reading load, consisting mostly of at least one book a week and sometimes two. If you are accustomed to catch up on required reading at the end of the semester do not take this seminar. Required books for the class can be obtained at Analog Books, on Euclid Avenue at the north end of the Berkeley campus. Some suggested readings will be distributed in class or via the internet.

Schedule. Note that all classes will take place on Monday afternoons, 3 to 6 p.m., and will be divided at about the halfway point by a fifteen-minute break. We will meet in Wheeler 300. The first class will meet on Monday, January 23, 2012, at the usual time and place. Note also that because we lose several Mondays because of holidays — including Martin Luther King Day and President’s Day — the seminar will have its final meeting on Thursday May 3, at the usual place and time.

What We Will Read

Kathryn Harrison, The Kiss (Random, 2011 [1997])

Franz Kafka, Dearest Father and The Sons (“The Judgment”; “The Stoker”; “The Metamorphosis”) (Oneworld, 2009) and (Schocken, 1989)

Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (Penguin, 1981)

St. Augustine, The Confessions (Penguin, 2008 [398 AD])

Peter Abelard, History of My Calamities and Letters of Abelard and Heloise (Hackett, 2007 [c. 1130 AD])

Sylvia Plath, The Bell JarAriel, and Malcolm, The Silent Woman (Harper, 2006 [1971]) and (Vintage, 1995)

Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being (Harcourt, 1985)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions (Penguin, 2005 [1789])

Leo Tolstoy, A Confession and Law of Love and Law of Violence (Penguin 1987)

Thomas DeQuincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (Penguin, 2003)

William s. Burroughs, Junky (Penguin, 2003 [1953]), 166

  1. Levi, “If This Is A Man: Survival in Auschwitz” and “The Periodic Table”(CreateSpace, 2012 [1947]) and (Schocken, 1995 [1975] )

Dave Eggers, A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius (Vintage, 2000)

J.R. Ackerley, My Father and Myself (NY Review, 1999 [1968])

Richard, Selzer “Spoils of Troy” from Confessions of a Knife (pg 1-8)

Nabokov, Speak, Memory (sections 1-4)

Frank Conroy, Stop-Time (132-141 Modern American Memoirs)


Following is a summary of the seminar with class notes by course assistant Chris Costes

January 23, 2012 — Introduction: Confession and the Creation of the Self

Additional Reading

Richard Selzer (pg 1-8), “Spoils of Troy” from “Confessions of a Knife”

Nabokov (sections 1-4) “Speak, Memory”

by Frank Conroy (132-141 Modern American Memoirs) “Stop-Time”

Geoffrey Wolff (288-296 Modern American Memoirs) “The Duke of Deception”

January 30, 2012 — Kathryn Harrison, The Kiss: A Memoir (Random, 2011 [1997]). 256

Class Notes on Kathryn Harrison, The Kiss

  1. A. When the book was first published, it was criticized as being melodrama and cashing in on the recent popularization of pathography novels. Can this be true when all the books she has published have focused on virtually the same idea?
  2. B. Challenges the reader to discover what happened to her. We aim to understand how she rose above it
  3. C. Shows a journey to understand the past
    1. a. An investigation
    2. D. The book includes symbols that seem almost too perfect to not be fiction. These symbols make up the basis for autobiography according to Nabokov
    3. E. There is no anxiety about other people finding out about the romance, as if everyone already knows but still lets it continue.
    4. F. Two different social triangles throughout the story. The first has Kathryn, her mother, and her grandmother at its corners, but later the father replaces the grandmother.

Additional Reading

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, by Life With Father: Incestuous and Soul-Deadening (NY times 97)

Michiko Kakutani, by Books of The Time; Growing Up Abused: A Painful Then, a Painful Now (NY times 93)

Link and Kathryn Harrison:

Links about incest taboos: and

February 6, 2012 — Franz Kafka, Dearest Father (Oneworld, 2009). 128 and  Franz Kafka, The Sons (Schocken, 1989), 189

 Class Notes on Franz Kafka, Dearest Father and The Sons 

    1. A. Kafka was born on July 3 1883 and died June 3 1924, starving due to complications from tuberculosis of the throat, dying the same way as Gregor from Metamorphosis
    2. B. Kafkaesque: Features a hierarchy. On top sits Power that is distant, unquestionable, and all unconquerable. Below is the Bureaucracy that is impossible to navigate and functions with the authority of the Power. Below this is the Father, who is also a figure that cannot be questioned no matter what injustice is done. These three operate together. The focus is on a protagonist that struggles with a heavy sense of guilt.
    3. C. Kafka was influenced by German expressionism, Judaism, his work as an insurance agent, and fairy tales. He believed Flaubert to be his greatest inspiration.
    4. D. Kafka’ Dearest Father was written in 1919, years after The Sons. This process of working through a personal issue (his relationship with his father) with fiction and then finally moving to non-fiction is similar to Kathryn Harrison’s publishing career.
    5. E. What should Dearest Father be called? A confession? Memoir? Therapy? It takes on a “Mise en abime,” constantly re-reflecting on the self.
    6. F. The Judgment focuses on a son who feels a deep sense of guilt for his success, for possibly leaving his father, and for potentially making his far-away friend unhappy
    7. a. The father acts as judge
    8. G. Metamorphosis reveals a son who has been crushed by his family’s abuse, taking on a physical representation of how they treat him.
    9. a. Takes place in a kind of dream logic (like many Kafka novels), but to be taken seriously it must be taken to exist outside Gregor’s mind
    10. b. The ending leaves the reader looking deep for some sort of key, but it lies on the surface of the story.

Additional Reading

Walter Benjamin, “Franz Kafka: On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death” (Illuminations, 1934)


February 13, 2012—Oscar Wilde, De Profundis [1905] in Weintraub and

 Aldington (editors), The Portable Oscar Wilde (Penguin, 1981), pp. 508 — 659

Class Notes on Franz Kafka, Dearest Father and The Sons  (continued)

    1. A. There is a significant influence that comes from his oppressive child and the sense of unquestionable power and authority
    1. a.  For example: his father placing him out on the patio in the middle of the night.
    1. B.  He is troubled because the laws are not backed by any sense of rationality
    2. C.  His characters tend to return back to a child-like state
    1. a.  after death there is a sign of fertility

Notes on Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

    1. A. Made on art of his life and known for the paradoxes he presented about art and life
    1. a. Well known as social character before his writing made him famous
    2. b. Believed art should serve no purpose; it should be useless
    1. B. His life was going smoothly until he met Bossie
    1. a. In many ways this relationship reflected his first and only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, but strikingly this story was written 2 years before the pair even met
    1. C. Lord Queensberry accused Wilde of looking the part of a homosexual and left a card for Wilde at a Restaurant that said “Oscar Wilde Posing Sodomite.”
    1. a. Wilde is persuaded by Bossie to sue his Lord Queensberry for libel, forcing him to prove what many already knew about Wilde
    2. b. Wilde turns the entire trial into a scene that might have come from his plays, displaying his wit and intelligence.
    1. D. Withdrew after being shown a list of witnesses that would be called, but the crown continued to pursue the case.
    1. a. After three trials Oscar is given the maximum sentence, spending more than two years in prison
    2. b. lived out the rest of his short life in Paris
    3. c. eventually met with Bossie again before his death

February 20, 2012 — President’s Day, NO CLASS

February 27, 2012 — St. Augustine, Confessions, translated by Garry Wills (Penguin, 2008 [398 AD]), 388

Class Notes on St. Augustine, Confessions

    1. A. Dates
    2. a. 303-311:great persecution of Diocketian
    3. b. 313: Edict of Milan (Christianity legalized)
    4. c. 334: Baptism of Constantine the Great
    5. d. 354: Birth of Augustine
    6. e. 361-363: Julian the Apostate, last pagan emperor to rule Rome
    7. f. 384: Augustine begins teaching in Milan
    8. g. 386: Conversion to Christianity, months until he announces it publicly
    9. h. 397: Writes The Confession in response to rumors about his earlier life
    10. B. Was originally forced into become the a Bishop by a preacher who saw him in the audience
    11. a. Was originally a orator for Manichaeism
    12. C. Called the confession, but a more accurate translation would be “testimonio”
    13. a. The work is a dialog to God and asks many questions to him
    14. b. Written as both a political response and a personal text of his conversion
    15. c. Book is highly influenced by both psalms and genesis
      • Quotes directly many scriptures that are worked into the conversion
    16. d. The stealing of fruit mirrors the original sin
      • Confesses to only wanting the shame of sin by stealing
      • By stealing he becomes a god because for a moment he is free of the rules enforced by God
    17. e. At a point when his life was turning to something of the rich and powerful he throws it all away by converting to Christianity, which at the time was still a minority group
    18. D. Is this a story of his slow journey to God or is it a story about God pulling him despite the resistance?
    19. E. A key point of his conversion was his eventual appreciation to scripture. Earlier in his life scripture is what pushes him away from Christ.
    20. F. It is also a story about friendship and the strong bonds he creates with his male friends who sin and eventually convert with him.
    21. G. He truly becomes a Christian when he has a comprehension of the eternal and has a glimpse of the light that is beyond him and everything he knows.
    22. H. Through knowing himself, he gets closer to God.
    23. I. While it is a small part of the Confession Augustine has a passionate love life and when he must leave his mistress (whom he had a son by) he feels that his heart is ripped out.

March 5, 2012 — Peter Abelard, “The Calamities of Peter Abelard” [Historia Maladia] and “Letters of Abelard and Heloise,” in William Levitan (editor), Abelard and Heloise: The Letters and Other Writings (Hackett, 2007 [c. 1130 AD]), pp. 1-47, 47-247.

Class Notes on Peter Abelard, The Calamities of Peter Abelard and Letters of Abelard and Heloise

Time Line

1079-birth of Peter LePallet (Abelard)

1090-Birth of Heloise

1096-First Crusade

1100-Abelard in Paris, taught by William of Champeaux

1108-Abelard returns to Paris, challenges William

1114-Master of Cathedral School in Paris

1115-seduction of Heloise

1118- Birth of Astrolabe

1121-Abelard Theologie is burned

His Teachings

    1. A. Abelard was very famous, a “rockstar.” taught almost 3000 students
    2. a. Taught through Dispuntation, which is argument
    3. b. Opposed Lectio (Lecture)
    4. B. Studied in the Liberal arts
    5. a. Studies are divided into 7 areas
      1. i. Language, Literature, Logic, Music, Astronomy, Arithmetic, and Geometry
      2. C. The same qualities that brought him fame also brought him a fair amount of enemies
    6. a. He tended to value victory over truth when having discussions
    7. b. Believed in the universal (like Plato)
    8. c. Tended to make  fools out of his old teachers
    9. D. Abelard is on the cusp of the conflict between Realism and Nominalism
    10. a. Realism includes Plato, Porphyry, and Augustine. Taught that Truth was an extension of God
    11. b. Nominalism included Abelard and he was constantly accused of being a heretic. Many of his books where burned as a result
    12. c. Wrote the book “Sie at Non,” a book that threatened the authority

The Story (of Love?)

    1. A. In many ways the story reads like a Apalogia
    2. B. He tells the story with arrogance despite having accepted that his past was a sin
    3. a. Abelard can’t escape his own nature to brag. Believes that God is in control of all he did much like Augustine believed. Does this excuse his behavior?
    4. C. The book is physiologically uncertain and complex, it leaves no “tidy” endings or conclusions
    5. D. Heloise behave strangely, is apart from what we would expect
    6. a. The uncle is furious about the affair
    7. b. Heloise predicts that nothing Abelard can do will appease her uncle
    8. E. Their love becomes a plague  on them both
    9. a. Heloise still doesn’t want a marriage because it will ruin both of their lives, but is finally convinced to marry in secret
    10. F. By the last letter they send they have fallen back to being teacher and student
    11. a. She is willing to accept the hardship, seeing it as a worthy trade for the pleasure already had
    12. G. The story is largely about Abelard trying to posses Heloise fully and it is this desire to consume her that leads to all their troubles. However, the blame rest equally across their shoulders
    13. a. The last letter is an acceptance of what their relationship has become

March 12, 2012 — Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (Harper, 2006 [1971]), 288 and Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Vintage, 1995) 224

Class Notes on Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar and Janet Malcom, Silent Women 

“Finding the Real Self”

    1. A. Ted Hughes is quoted as saying that she only found her true self in the last months of her life and that is what came out in her poems
    2. B. Medusa, a poem focusing around the images of jellyfish, Birth, Motherhood, and a strange ambiguity of either being inseparable or completely apart
    3. C. Daddy, was originally indented by Sylvia to be the name sake of her poetry book
    4. a. Uses imagery of the Nazis to invoke the significance of  her father’s betrayal
      1. i. Is this too much? Does it seem exaggerated? Is she “allowed” to use such strong images? Is anything lost (or perhaps gained) by using these intense comparisons?
    5. b. She doesn’t  ask for sympathy and is confident in what she writes
    6. c. Is this Sylvia’s true self?
    7. D. Lady Lazarus, a poem showing an embrace of all in her life (included the suicides and emotional struggles)
    8. a. Works within the imagery of the Carnival (imager, display, etc.), the Holocaust, and the risen again Lazarus
    9. b. The poem is powerful and granted her a strength through death
      1. i. Poems also bring into light images of eating
    10. c. Seems to speak to her future suicide
    11. E. Sylvia wrote 45 stories to 17 magazines before one was accepted
    12. a. She was a women who ran forward to meet her challenges and was used to success and working hard
    13. F. “The Bell Jar” is a Roman a clef, or a book with a key
    14. a. Readers must ask what is real or what is fake and how much of it is autobiographical
    15. b. Brought to America only after her death and published in England under a synonym
    16. G. Both her later poems and “the Bell Jar” became known for their not niceness and unpleasantness
    17. a. Is this unfiltered honesty her true self?
    18. b. The book is also rather girly and is very “Salinger” in its tone
    19. c. Paints the picture of a successful girl and it all goes to hell
    20. d. Reveals her to be plagued by self doubt and shows classic signs of depression
    21. H. The men in the story all subjugate her despite her being strong and smart
    22. a. Part of the uneasiness about the men is that they are able to control her despite how much stronger she is than them
    23. I. In the end the “real self” exists in many places

Additional Reading

“Daddy,” “Lesbos,” “Lady Lazarus,” and “Morning song” can be found at:

“Medusa” at:

“The Stones” at:

“November Graveyard” at:

“Mirror” at:

“The Applicant” at:

Additional Watching:

“Lady Lazoarus” at:
“Daddy” at:
“The Stones” at:
“The Applicant”  at:
“November Graveyard” at:

“Mirror” at: —

March 19, 2012 — Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being (Harcourt, 1985), 196 

Class Notes on Virginia Wolf, Moments of Being

    1. A. Time line
    2. a. Born in Jan. 1882~ 1895, Death of Julia~ April 1897, Stella marries~ July 1897, Stella dies~ 1904, Father dies~ 1905, Thoby dies~ 1907 “Reminiscences”~ 1912 Married to Leonard W.~ 1915 “Voyage Out”~ 1921-22 “Hyde Park”~ 1927 “To the Lighthouse”~ 1939-1940 “Moments of Being”~ 1940 “between the Acts”~ 1941 “Roger Fry”~ 1941 Death of Virginia Wolf
    3. B. Virginia Wolf
    4. a. Both a writer and a public figure
      1. i. Fell out of popularity during the 1930’s and 1940’s
    5. b. First marriage of her mother begot George, Gerald, and Stella. Second marriage begot Adrian, Vanessa, Thoby, and Virginia
    6. c. The boys are sent to school while the girls are educated at home by both mother(Julia) and father(Stephen)
      1. i. Boy brought home friends such as J.M. Keynes, Clive Bell, and E.M. Foster
        1. 1. Many they became known as the Bloomsbury group
        2. C. Moments of Being
    7. a. Reminiscences began as a literary exercise
      1. i. Was written to her newborn nephew
    8. b. Sketch of the Past takes place 30years after Reminiscences
      1. i. Finished just before her suicide
      2. ii. Written partly to escape the biography of Roger Fry
      3. iii. Begins with her first memory and brings many images of a womb like place, slightly similar to how Nabokov began his memoir
        1. 1. Compares herself to a painter to show the complications of memory and its limitations
      4. iv. Breaks her life into moments of being and non-being
        1. 1. Moments of being are the ones she remembers, the strong meaningful moments
      5. v. Compared to Reminiscences, which is structurally very good, this work seems to portray more of her “true self”
      6. vi. She does not simply gloss over the hardships in her life.

March 26, 2012 — Spring Break, NO CLASS

April 2, 2012  Jean-Jacques Rousseau , The Confessions, translated by J.M. Cohen (Penguin, 2005 [1789]) 

Class Notes on Jean-Jacques Rousseau,  The Confessions

      1. A. Began many of the classic childhood psychological aspects we know today
    1. a. Focused on the corruption and goodness of a child
    2. B. Foundational figure in romanticism
    3. C. Revels in his own guilt throughout the text
    4. a. Seen first in blaming himself for his mother’s death
    5. b. Avery different book from Augustine’s confession
    6. c. A seeming lack of order
    7. d. It is a story of strange sensibility
    8. D. The book records intense feelings and how he lived with them
    9. E. Describes himself as weak and friendless
    10. a. He viewed stealing the ribbon and the consequences given to the little girl as one of his first and worst sins. It clearly still haunted him
    11. b. Does he want justice or pity?
    12. F. The book also looks at his mental state and the recognition of his sins
    13. a. Filled with all kinds of psychological issues

April 9, 2012 Leo Tolstoy, “A Confession” and “The Law of Love and the Law of Violence,” in Leo Tolstoy, A Confession and Other Religious Writings (Penguin, 1987)

Class Notes on Leo Tolstoy,  A Confession

    1. A. Immensely busy throughout all his life
    2. a. By the end of his life he had reached a level of fame that none since have achieved, taking the a sage like form
    3. b. Has a spiritual collapse soon after his last true novel
    4. B. Had  very interesting marriage
    5. a. It was an intense relationship in which both sides constantly quarreled
    6. C. Fame did not bring him happiness
    7. a. Could not stand his own fame
    8. b. Tried to escape it, but could not cast away the grand image he became
    9. D. Parts of his confession are very exaggerated
    10. a. Gives his life a much darker feel
    11. b. Could even be called inaccurate
    12. E. He greatly desired the simplistic faith of the peasants and saw their “irrational faith in God as the most rational decision”
    13. a. Yet while he wanted his way of thinking he was also a largely rich and famous man who could never be a peasant
    14. b. Could be called a limousine liberal
    15. F. Faith existed outside reason
    16. a. Faith is what keeps us from suicide
    17. b. He believed a person had to admit to the wrongs of his life
      1. i. Ivan Ilyich
    18. c. Rational came to the conclusion of faith, which is irrational

Letters to a Hindu

    1. A. Written in a very politically unstable time
    2. a. Both Russia and India are about to experience a revolution
    3. B. Reveals his multi-religious knowledge
    4. a. Indicates a common strain throughout all mankind to love one another
      1. i. The law of love
    5. b. Incourages a non-violent protest
    6. c. Inspires Gandhi

Additional Reading

Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Batman, 2004)


16 April 11– — Thomas DeQuincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (Penguin, 2003 [1821]), 86 — William Burroughs, Junkie: 50th Anniversary Definitive Edition (Penguin, 2003 [1953]), 166

Class Notes on Thomas DeQuincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater and William Burroughs, Junkie

Both novels are addiction memoirs

    1. A. Have always been among the most popular forms of confession

Both contribute to the Beat Generation, although De Quincey came much earlier

    1. A. Covet a particular experience
    2. B. Wanted to change America and were against social restrictions
    3. C. Wrote in the “moment”

Thomas De Quincey

    1. A. He was truly a brilliant writers and wrote specifically about his feelings
    2. B. His dream description
    3. C. Viewed opium as a better solution to alcohol
    4. a. does opium broke down the walls of nature


    1. A. Originally had trouble getting published
    2. a. had a different title when it was finally published and was made out to be a pulp novel
    3. B. Shows simply the desire to do drugs, “dope wins by default”
    4. a. Shows the difference between a “user” and an “addict”
    5. b. The need to get more drugs and better drugs gives him a sense of purpose in a life that had little since everything was provide for him
      1. i. His life become regimented by his addiction
    6. c. Addiction becomes a way of life for Burroughs
      1. i. Opposed to Quincey, it is much more about the “low life” aspects of addiction
    7. d. There is a drastic lack of character insight
    8. C. The memoir is written in a very “cool” way
    9. a. Offers many description that are haunting yet given no particular significance by the author, specifically when he tries to beat a cat to death
      1. i. There is no explanation given and he relies solely on outside observation
      2. D. Burroughs makes no apologies, gives no resolution, and upsets the way a life should be read.
    10. a. He shows how terrifying the routine can be for a drug addict

Additional Watching

“Drug Store Cowboy” directed by Gus Van Sant

April 23, 2012 – Primo Levi, Survival In Auschwitz (If This Be A Man) (CreateSpace, 2012 [1947]), 170 Primo Levi, The Periodic Tabletranslated by Raymond Rosenthal (Schocken, 1995 [1975] ) 240

Class Notes on Primo Levi, Survival In Auschwitz and Periodic Table

Time line:

1919: Born in Turin

1934-37: attended Massimo d’Azeglio

1942-3: Joined the partisan movement

1944-45: Feb-Jan he was deported and lived at Auschwitz

1947: “If This Is A Man” is published

1958: his book is republished with glowing reviews

1963: published “the Truce”\

1975: “Periodic Table”

1987: “Death in Turnin”


    1. A. 1.1 million are believed to have died in Auschwitz. It was slave labor until the slave were to week to work
    2. a. Although Treblinka was the largest death camp
    3. B. Of Primo Levi’s group, 650 went with him to Auschwitz, 80 lived to get to the camp, 18 survive

Primo Levi’s life

    1. A. Was able to attended school because the Italian racial laws were not as strict when he entered school
    2. a. His life is full of moments of luck that kept him alive, from the particular place and year he was born to the career he chose
    3. B. Worked very hard to remember everything that happened while in the death camp.
    4. a. He would write everything down and then tear it up so no one would know
    5. b. His wife helped compile the all his notes

Survival in Auschwitz or Is This A man

    1. A. Focuses on one even after the next and uses a very matter-of-fact tone
    2. a. The language reflects the atmosphere of the camp
    3. b. Reveals the “luck” that kept Primo alive during his stay
    4. c. Shows a world that is cold and practical
      1. i. It is a world that is unlike, there is no “Why”
    5. d. The book is very concerned with what is a man or what is a man when nothing is left but a creature that has been driven to starvation and exhaustion
    6. e. Primo Envy’s those able to steal and survive well
      1. i. Some cultures survive better than others
    7. f. Accounts his survival to many small things, like and extra portion of soup and being able to work in the chemical factory

Periodic Table

    1. A. Shows the nature of the German public during the war
    2. a. Reveals how his old boss at the chemical factor in Auschwitz wanted his sins to be absolved
    3. b. Can be seen as the second episode to “Is This a Man”

Additional Reading

Primo Levi, “The Drowned and the Saved” “Search for Roots” “The Truce” “The Awakening” “The Wrench”

Gitta Sereny, “Into That Darkness”

Christopher Browning “Ordinary Man”

Stanley Kramer, “Judgment at Nurnberg” (Film)

April 30, 2012 – Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Class Notes on Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Time Table

1970: Born, lives on the East Coast, but moves to Lake Forest in Michigan

1991-2: Parents die in close succession, leaving him to care for his brother Toph

1992-1998: He is both living and writing his book

2000: “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” is published and is immediately a hit

Dave Eggers

    1. A. He is a writer, a publisher, and editor
    2. a. Is known for publishing strange and otherwise unknown authors
    3. b. McSweeney’s magazine and his “The Best American Non-required Reading” series

A Heartbreaking Work of staggering Genius

    1. A. Shows a very clear influence from Whitman, Swift and Kafka
    2. B. The book protects itself by constantly being its own critic and jumping to a point before the reader is able to make it. Eggers is able to defend himself before you can even complain.
    3. a.  The form is controlling, insisting it be read in specific ways and making points about itself
    4. C. Reveals concern or guilt in using other people’s lives as material for a book as he uses both his life and the lives of others to make his point.
    5. a. He feels that people should all have access to each other
    6. b. Memoir puts on display your life and every life you’ve touched
    7. D. The book focuses on around specific emotional moments
    8. a. Usually involves the his friend of family breaking character, comes off like Eggers talking to himself
    9. E. The magazine he works for shows the workings of the non-conformists
    10. a. They try to be young and youthful
    11. b.Their attempt at a magazine to escape the old or traditional, yet they are forced in many ways to be traditional
      1. i. They both criticize and envy the famous people they interview
      2. F. Is there an issue living a life that will be and is being written about? How does it change what you do or think?

Additional Reading

Mark Maron, “Jerusalem Syndrome”

May 2, 2012- J.R. Ackerley, My Father and Me (NY Review, 1999 [1968]) 240

Class Notes on J.R. Ackerley, Myself and my Father

      1. A. Worked for the BBC for many years because he felt he had failed as an author
    1. a. He also worked for the Listener, a magazine famous for publishing famous, but at the time unknown authors.
    2. B. His life in many ways reflects his father
    3. a. There are even certain instances when they could have met while “cruising”
    4. C. Ultimately, he cannot find all the information he wanted about his father and is left with an almost complete picture of the man.
    5. a. Should he be happy with the information he has gathered or disappointed he could not get more?
    6. b.  Does he fail to find a link to his father?
    7. D. The book is very honest, not straying from vulgar descriptions or crude language to honestly describe something.
    8. E. His father lives three lives. One is his first wife, one is Ackerley’s mother, and the other is the secret mistress he kept
    9. a. The father sadly fails to really provide anything for the children born to him be his mistress
    10. b. Hands the responsibility over to his son
      1. i. Does he really expect them to be cared for?

May 7, 2012 — Final Paper Due

In an Alternative Universe:

Confessions We Didn’t Read, And You Should

Plato, ApologyEuthyphro and Crito

Benvenuto Cellini, My Life

Babur, The Baburnama (Memoirs of Babur)

Xavier de Maistre, Voyage Around My Room

Duc de St. Simon, Memoirs

Giacomo Casanova, History of My Life

Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography

Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus

John Stuart Mill, Autobiography

William Hazlitt, Liber Amores

Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

August Strindberg, Inferno

Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Mary McCarthy, Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood

Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

J.R. Ackerley, My Dog Tulip

Richard Wright, Native Son

Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

Errol Flynn, My Wicked, Wicked Ways

Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes

Jacobo Timerman, Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without A Number

William Styron, Darkness Visible 

Frank Conroy, Stop Time

Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes

Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life

Geoffrey Wolff, Duke of Deception

Andre Dubus II, Townie

Richard Selzer, Confessions of a Knife

Nick Flynn, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City

Annie Dillard, An American Childhood

Mary Karr, The Liars Club

Augusten Burroughs, Running With Scissors

Saul Friedlander, When Memory Calls

Barack Obama, Dreams From My Fatheist

Bill Clegg, Portrait of a Drug Addict As a Young Man

Edmund de Waal, The Hare With Amber Eyes

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

Keith Richards, Life