Archive for October, 2010

Oct 29 2010

Prospectus & Annotated Bibliography

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There is an extensive amount of  non-fiction and fictional work written on the trauma of rape and the various contexts that it unfolds in. However, the sub-category of incest rape is a topic explored through Kathryn Harrison’s memoir The Kiss. Her memoir opens with a very intimately described embrace between the narrator, (herself), and her father. The heavy use of imagery, first person narration, and the substantially limited use of dialogue create a very interesting description of how she  has processed her trauma. Memoir’s are a genre of life-writing that includes a particular event or series of events that shape that individual’s perception of their identity indefinitely. What is particularly interesting about Harrison’s depiction of these traumatic incestual episodes are how she depicts them in a literary light. The details regarding the actual incident are very much avoided and the few mentions of them are intersticed throughout the novel. She moves in and out of the present while preferably staying in the past. Her visitations to these severely traumatic episodes seem very cloudy and hazy spending a considerable amount of time focusing on the descriptions of the places where it occurs, how their non-physical relationship develops, and the agonizing psychological effect it has on her and her body. The interesting fact is that she avoids detailing the actual episodes of physical contact with her father and her omission of these details and subtraction of dialogue when referencing much of her past while choosing to stay in first person narration  illuminates the credibility of the reliable narrator. This questioning of the reliable narrator further progresses towards whether her relationship can be perceived as consensual or as rape taking into account her age. Her sexual vulnerability and the innocent bloom of her sexuality in these years suffice enough to support the idea that she was taken advantage of and subjected to sexual abuse in a non-consensual manner. Thus, the heavy first person narration, dense imagery, and the diminished dialogue are Harrison’s attempt to substantiate the non-consensual nature of her relationship with her father by retaining her sexual innocence as an overall attempt to obligate the development of a relationship with her mother.  Harrison’s depiction of her trauma is not only an exorcism of the experience from her psyche in an attempt to retain sexual self worth, but also a means to bond with a reclusive and detached mother.

Annotated Bibliography

Lisa Alther argues against the criticism Harrison receives and states quite bluntly at the end that “It is a well-known psychological phenomenon that those who react most fiercely against something are those who are unconsciously drawn to it . . . those so intent on suppressing and demolishing The Kiss be titillated by incest? (Alther 34)”.  These comments made my Alther, while extremely controversial and well substantiated at that, seek to point out how critic’s may feel threatened by a honest narration of an often culturally suppressed and marginalized topic that is quite rampant.  Alther’s statements can be used to support the idea that Harrison’s first person narration and direct depiction from her perspective of these events provide power in an extremely direct way to those who have suffered from similar abuse and that the criticism only arrises from a need to suppress the idea that sexual abuse within a family is a disregarded topic which is stifled for attention in terms of purging one-self of this trauma. Those who seek to suppress others seek to control and the critics that Alther refer to also mirror that desired totalitarian control that Harrison’s father demands of her. Thus, her article is a tool in recovering from trauma as it is the most direct way of revisiting the event, which is what trauma victims attempt to do in order to expel it.

Bolonik writes about Harrison’s confrontation with why she chose to write this memoir as she has already written an autobiographical text. She quotes Harrison as saying it ” . . . was the book I planned not to write . . . the memoir became the thing that I had to do as a human being and as a writer because I felt in some way compromised and also angry because I had unwittingly complied with the social imperative that you always hear about incest, that I made it up . Because calling the story a novel is essentially saying it didn’t happen” (Bolonik, 175). Here Harrison is quoted by Bolonik as trying to provide a testimonial to her experience of it. Simply speaking about it or not having it on paper as part of her work kept it as something arguably false and fabricated. This also progresses and moves in the direction of the idea that her choice of first person narration was an attempt to affirm her experience as something completely true and not made up.

  • Marshall, Elizabeth. “The Daughter’s Disenchantment: Incest as Pedagogy in Fairy Tales and Kathryn Harrison’s  ‘The Kiss’.” College English, Vol. 66, No.4 (Mar., 2004), pp. 403-426. 29 Oct 2010.

Marshall’s essay on Harrison’s memoir by analyzing and comparing it to the genre of fairy tales and the father-daughter relationship portrayed in several stories seeks to “underscore the ambiguous and contradictory lessons that differentiate girlhood from womanhood through her [Harrison’s] allusions to fairly tales” ( Marshall 404) in an attempt to explicate the incestual father daughter relationship that has been removed from western fairy tales and it’s history of villainizing the young girl moving into womanhood, or that liminal  and transitioning stage. Marshall explains the history of incest in fairy tales and the villainizing of the daughter or princess as asking for such advance from her father just by simply coming into womanhood. Her essay is essential to explaining the purpose behind Harrison’s work in affirming the need for a woman’s perspective on this relationship and this story that has transcended generations and cultures.

Parker’s essay focuses on ‘counter-transference’ or as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary: “The transference by the analyst towards the patient of feelings and reactions similar to those aroused by significant figures (esp. parents) in the analyst’s early life; more loosely, any emotion felt by the analyst towards the patient”, basically a displacement of emotion from one person to another due to the ability to relate to similar experiences. Parker was deeply affect by the events of Harrison’s memoir and how the process of writing such a memoir affects  a writer who is a trauma survivor. Parker speaks about Harrison’s need from a parent to feel unconditionally loved by a parent and thus recognized in that way affirming their own self worth and thus a trauma memoir helps to affirm that basic human need. He also raises the point that a writer has a greater allegiance to justice and compassion simply because they are a writer and that the ethics of writing don’t come only from being able to relate to another individuals experiences, but from deep within culture, affirming a more intrinsic value to life writing. The idea of justice as being able to write earnestly and compassion being to evoke emotional value, thus not simply writing for the sake of controversy and sensational value, but to help move through the traumatic experience and relinquish it as Harrison tries to do.

While Wolcott writes negative and critically about Harrison, sighting her book as completely sensationalist and written for the monetary return on shock value, Alther’s critique of his views diminishes his opinions. Wolcott regards Harrison’s relationship with her father as consensual, but this is exactly the argument that can be disproven by the work written by Elizabeth Marshall and Lisa Alther. By highlighting his focus on Harrison being a legitimized fully capable sexual adult her ignores the fact that sexuality is a much more fluid and learned part of the human identity. Marshall points this stage out quite well. By quoting his key points, I will then proceed to disprove them by use of the other above cited articles, thus affirming my point that Harrison’s relationship with her father was a non-consensual relationship for Kathryn who was also pressured indirectly by her mother to become sexually involved with her father as a means to create a relationship with her mother, thus her writing of her trauma in it’s particular discourse is a means to expunge it by revisiting it as well as sufficing how she became pressured by both parents to subject herself to her fathers advances. Each of the previous cited articles work to prove how writing about sexually explicit trauma is not about exploitation of others and material gain, but more about expelling that abuse and detriment through the best means possible.

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Oct 13 2010

My Life Post (Unfinished)

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From Autobiography:

The fragmented self-image – the body in bits and pieces, to use Lacanian terminology- can only, paradoxically, in the end be known and represented from the perspective of an imaginary wholeness (Anderson 75).

From My Life

There were more storytellers than there were stories, so that everyone in the family had a version of history and it was impossible to get close to the original, or to know “what really happened” ( Hejinian 27)

Hejinian establishes an autobiography in poetic language that is quite difficult with an extreme sense of fragmentation through bits and pieces of memory interwoven with metaphor and repetition of key phrases. Anderson’s statement regarding the capturing and explication of the self through a deconstructive process really illuminates Hejinian’s poetic license with her autobiography. Hejinian’s statement really focuses on what it means to share an event, a single event, and how many ways it can be told and how that contrasts to ‘what really happened’. She is referring to the idea that there are many ways to tell one story and everyone takes away their own subjectiveness with that story which they try to evoke later through their own version.

The repetition of certain phrases like “what was the meaning hung from that depend” (27) is an example, then there is a repetition of form in each chapter or section, speaking about the senses, particularly the exact colors of certain objects, the melding of these colors or the mentioning of food, or certain ‘astonishing’ moments. She deconstructs and repeats phrases and retells moments of her childhood in such a formulaic way that provides some rare fluidness and organization in her work. Her memory, taken apart, piece by piece in poetic fashion, deconstructed tremendously is a literal attempt at wholely portraying herself.  Hejinian’s attempt to not fashion her autobiography in a formulaic and in a distracting and estranged style is provoking, however, it is a clear and extreme attempt at subjective storytelling, at attacking the factual and evidential representation of an event and ridiculing that form of autobiography. Hejinian’s poeticism is a point about the emotional experience of the astonishing or outstanding events in one life being more important than the factual.

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Oct 13 2010

Celebrity Tell-All

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Celebrity Tell All is a largely encompassing genre  that is an autobiographical sub-genre detailing events or the whole life of a culturally notable individual. To truly define this nouveau literary sub-genre it is necessary to break it down into what it is comprised of. Firstly, it refers to the celebrity or one who has a “condition of being much extolled or talked about; famousness, notoriety”. The second half of the whole term: “Tell All” is synonymous with other sub-genre’s of autobiography which are: addiction and trauma memoir , confessional autobiography, life-writing,e tc. This sub-genre can overlap into any other sub-genre of autobiography as long as it is associated to a celebrity. Wikipedia defines a synonym for ‘celebrity tell all‘ or ‘sensationalist and celebrity autobiographies‘ as a scandal involved memoir serving a public taste for gossip or ‘titillation’ written mainly by ghostwriters. Wikipedia acknowledges a critical point about celebrity tell all’s here and that is that they are written by ‘ghostwriters’, indicative of the fact that much of the time celebrities do not write these autobiographical works. Ghostwriters, as defined by the O.E.D are “hack writer(s) who does work for which another person takes the credit”. What is further interesting besides this is that most of the time a celebrity tell all is not only trademarked by who it’s written of, but of what it reveals. Wikipedia referred to the fact that these works usually offer up titillating gossip for the masses which overlap into the sub-genre’s of confessionals. Currently there is website which features celebrity readings of  ‘their’ autobiographies called What is extremely daring about the webpage is that it states: “And what’s remarkable and unforgettably hilarious—It’s all in their own words”.  Once again, a declarative statement against the use of ghostwriters and that the site affirms that these Celebrities are reading their own words, what can be corrected here is that celebrities are reciting paraphrases of their memories. In summation a Celebrity Tell All is an autobiographical work about a Celebrity, which can overlap into other sub-genre’s of autobiography, primarily memoir, confessional, or trauma memoir, usually written by a ghostwriter which offers up sensationalist and provocative information concerning private details about that celebrities personal life.

Controversy & Debate

The Canadian publication “Canadian Review of American Studies” brought up several prominent topics and incidents regarding Celebrity Tell Alls and their impact on their audiences. Although Julie Rak’s article in this journal focuses on James Frey’s fictional memoir “A Million Little Pieces,” it brings to mind a controversial and current Celebrity Tell All entitled “High on Arrival” by Mackenzie Phillips. This delightful example of a sensationalist or controversial Celebrity Tell All involves Mackenzie Phillips, daughter of John Phillips, founder and member of the band the Mama’s & the Papa’s. Mackenzie reveals an incestual relationship with her father that began during her latter teenage years which has now completely altered the memory of her deceased father. The controversy here lies in the fact that her family’s reputation has been exposed to the public  in her ‘Tell All’ memoir. Rak feels the credibility of human experience portrayed in a genre meant to tell factual truths has been exploited and demerited by the commercialization of ‘popular autobiography’ or ‘celebrity tell – all’s’.  Clearly, there is debate over whether Phillips did the write thing by exposing her family so public-ally in an attempt to deal with these traumatic events from her past while straining relationships with other family members. There are other members of her family who deny these allegations made against her father or question them, which include two of his former wives and his younger daughter Bijou Phillips. Bijou was reported saying in an article on “”I understand Mackenzie’s need to come clean, but it hurts because the man in question isn’t here to defend himself . . . I hope she can come to terms with this and find peace.” The article also includes a statement by former band member and ex-wife of John Phillips: Michelle Phillips, stating that “Mackenzie’s drug addiction for 35 years has been the result of many unpleasant experiences. . .Mackenzie has a lot of mental illness. She’s had a needle stuck up her arm for 35 years. … She did ‘Celebrity Rehab,’ and now she writes a book. The whole thing is timed.” This accusation made by Michelle Phillips draws credibility away from Mackenzie Phillip’s clean intentions in writing her memoir and focuses on how damaging the ‘sensationalist’ qualities of a memoir can be and whose lives they affect, she also indirectly accuses Mackenzie of riding high off of increasing fame from the reality television show she was on and that publishing this novel was a timed attempt to keep that fame increasing. While Rak writes about James Frey’s fabricated memoir which was publicized on the Oprah Winfrey show she raises a great overall point about the diminishing/depreciating value behind Celebrity Tell-Alls: “The controversy about Frey and the lawsuit that resulted in the possibility of giving readers a refund makes a link between the popularity of non-fiction in mass culture and the memoir’s position within capitalism as a commodity. During a time when political and spiritual leaders are becoming hard for the general public to trust, auto/biographical representations by celebrities and by “ordinary” Americans are on the rise”. The celebrity tell all has become a multi platform base of outreach for any kind of celebrity looking to gain the public’s attention, thus bankrupting the value behind a memoir or autobiography. Tim O’Brien, although a fictional memoir writer, proposes the idea that the emotional impact of a story trumps the factual legitimacy of it. Mackenzie Phillip’s “High On Arrival” provokes severe debate over what should remain as private within a family and what factors go into purporting that it is acceptable to publicize defamatory statements about someone, especially the deceased. Her memoir is a clear indicator of what justifications go into printing such a sensationalist memoir and the cost of doing so.

Notable Examples

High On Arrival by Mackenzie PhllipsDamn You, Scalet O' Hara by Darwin Porter

Here's The Story by Maureen McCormick

A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin by Kathy Griffin

Damn You, Scalet O' Hara by Darwin Porter

Contribution to the Genre of Autobiography

Julie Rak writes “Studying auto/biography within popular culture is a good way to examine how truth is produced, consumed, bought, sold, or even—sometimes—how identity itself is resistant to its own commodifications in the twenty-first century”. Popular autobiography, or in the case of the Celebrity Tell All which is inherently Popular autobiography, allows for the commodity of truth-telling to come into examination and allows a democratic and broader examination of how truth is exhibited in this particular genre, how it is reacted to by a larger audience than by a memoir written by someone who isn’t sensationalist and a celebrity which might reach a smaller audience. Rak also points out that “. . .popular auto/biography is at the heart of what it means to live and represent life in the United States today”, so that this perspective on this genre is beneficial to the overall genre or parent genre of autobiography, because it also speaks about popular culture and continues to re-examine how the self can truthfully be deconstructed or identified to the masses and the extent to which the private can be made public with respect to defamation of character. Mackenzie Phillip’s Memoir is a great example of this deconstruction of identity with regards to the major criticisms she has received from her family on how credible her statements were regarding her relationship with her father. Thus celebrity tell all’s benefit the genre as a whole as they bring into question the value of large commercial production of popular autobiography and allow for greater re-examination of how to represent the self through writing.


  • “ghost-writer”  The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Chris Baldick. Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  CUNY Queens College.  29 September 2010
  • Canadian Review of American Studies – Pop Life: AnIntroduction Project MUSE Journals Canadian Review of American Studies
    Volume 38, Number 3, 2008
  • CNN, Breeanna Hare. “Mackenzie Phillips: ‘I Understand This Is a Difficult Thing’ –” – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. 28 Sept. 2009. Web. 27 Oct. 2010.
  • “Autobiography.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.

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