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Record Type: Review   ID: 93

Writing Selves: Contemporary Feminist Autograph

Perreault, Jeanne

 This work requires close reading, which is definitely worthwhile, both for the act itself and the many enlightening moments the text provides. Perreault uses the world autography, in contradistinction to autobiography, as particularly apt for feminist textual practice in writing about themselves. This is because feminists, who already have gained a double vision beyond mainstream discourse, find that they are not simply two but many. There is no single self to write from/about. Thus, "autography asserts a highly indeterminate feminism and an equally indeterminate notion of selfhood. As women write themselves, categories of difference (inner, outer, body, world, language) do not disappear, but take shape as ‘I’ and in relation to ‘I’ ... Like all writing, feminist self-writing is informed by the experiences of the everyday, of the body, of the sites of contact with and isolation from the read-about and lived-in worlds. But that world as the writer lives it can be imagined, felt, and recognized only from the writing" (p. 7). Moreover, in feminist writing the "self" is not fixed or concretely conceptualized and so easy to describe clearly. Rather, self is more a process involving a community of selves within and without—and not only process(es) are involved but transformations. The art of feminist writing creates new connections within and without. Moreover, feminists write in large part about the "Other," and much of this relates to exceptional human experiences, which in part fits Perreault’s definition of the Other as "a metaphor for whatever appears to disrupt a uniform presence, authority, or re(presentation)" (p. 9). Feminist self-writing does not issue from or express an identity that is fixed. Rather, it provides a "basis from which to interact with one’s contexts" (p. 17). Similarly, once an EHE has been potentiated and catches the experiencer up in the EHE process, the experiencer no longer desires or is able to conceive of self as a separate entity. Rather, the experiencer becomes caught up in a continuous transformative process in which the terms subjective and objective no longer seem relevant. Each moment presents one tapestry representing one moment of aliveness as seen from one situated viewpoint. All is in the moment. Perreault calls it an "energy"—certainly it is moving. She adds: "In the fact that the subject is a process lies the possibility of transformation" (p. 18), in the sense of transformation of consciousness. This is what exceptional human experience is all about. Perreault gives examples of autography in the works of Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Kate Millett, and Patricia Williams. Perreault insists on the necessity for the self, even though it is unstable and fluid, because the personal is the political. Similarly, self is key in the potentiation of exceptional human experiences, in which one learns that the personal is the cosmic. She points out the importance of recognizing difference. Similarly, in connection with EHEs, it is essential to recognize uniqueness, the sense in which every one is different. For in that difference lies the only thing we have in common; and thus, the only thing able to connect all of us. This is a different view of sameness and difference than that expressed by Perreault on page 131. Finally, Perreault points out that in autography one brings "to speech parts of one’s self that one has had reason to keep silent," and this act of writing "is frightening, painful, and even dangerous" (p. 133). The same could be said about the act of sharing one’s exceptional experience, which many have long suppressed or repressed for fear of being considered weird, odd, or "not quite all there." I have been suggesting the importance of coming out to oneself and perhaps selected others by writing an EHE autobiography. Implicitly this has often been, I see, an act of autography, and indeed, it may need to be, in order to come to even an approximate understanding of the meaning of exceptional human experience.
Publisher Information:Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995. 153p. Bibl: 141-150; Chap. notes: 135-139; Ind: 151-153
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