What’s in an I? : Dissonant and Consonant Self-Narration in Autobiographical Discourse



Year of publication 2020
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Keywords self-narration; life writing; autobiographical narrative; Fraser; Isherwood; Grass; Karr
Description Combining narratological analysis with autobiography studies, this article looks at examples of focalization strategies in several autobiographical works. It adopts Dorrit Cohn’s distinction between consonant and dissonant self-narration (identification or distance between the narrating-I and the experiencing-I) to explore how authors engage creatively with different positions of the autobiographical “I” and how this engagement contributes to their texts’ aesthetic qualities. Starting from a brief exposition of the role of the narrating-I and the experiencing-I in autobiographical narratives, the article goes on to discuss the juxtaposition of the two selves’ perspectives in Sylvia Fraser’s My Father’s House, which is achieved by means of a dexterous combination of consonant and dissonant self-narration. Examples of dissonant self-narration from Günter Grass’s Peeling the Onion and Christopher Isherwood’s Christopher and His Kind and of consonant self-narration from Mary Karr’s memoir trilogy (The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit) will then demonstrate how self-dissonance may help convey a work’s meta-autobiographical message, while self-consonance seems to contribute to readers’ immersion in the narrative.
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