Seriality in Contemporary American Memoir: 1957-2007
McDaniel-Carder, Nicole Eve
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In this dissertation, I examine the practice of what I term serial memoir in the second-half of the twentieth century in American literature, arguing that serial memoir represents an emerging and significant trend in life writing as it illustrates a transition in how a particular generation of writers understands lived experience and its textual representation. During the second-half of the twentieth century, and in tandem with the rapid technological advancements of postmodern and postindustrial culture, I look at the serial authorship and publication of multiple self-reflexive texts and propose that serial memoir presents a challenge to the historically privileged techniques of linear storytelling, narrative closure, and the possibility for autonomous subjectivity in American life writing. As generic boundaries become increasingly fluid, postmodern memoirists are able to be both more innovative and overt about how they have constructed the self at particular moments in time. Following the trend of examining life writing through contemporary theories about culture, narrative, and techniques of self-representation, I engage the serial memoirs of Mary McCarthy, Maya Angelou, Art Spiegelman, and Augusten Burroughs as I suggest that these authors iterate the self as serialized, recursive, genealogically constructed, and material. Finally, the fact that these are well-known memoirists underscores the degree to which serial memoir has become mainstream in American autobiographical writing. Serial memoir emphasizes such issues as temporality and memory, repetition and recursivity, and witnessing and testimony, and as such, my objective in this project is to theorize the practice of serial memoir, a form that has been largely neglected in critical work, as I underscore its significance in relation to twentieth-century American culture. I contend that seriality in contemporary American memoir is a burgeoning and powerful form of self-expression, and that a close examination of how authors are presenting and re-presenting themselves as they challenge conventional life writing narrative structures will influence not only the way we read and understand contemporary memoir, but will impact our approaches to self-reflexive narrative structures and provide us with new ways to understand ourselves, and our lives, in relation to the serial culture in which we live.