Autobiographical impostures, once they come to light, appear to us as outrageous, scandalous. They confuse lived and textual identity and call into question what we believe, what we doubt, and how we receive information. This book examines a range of impostures in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
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Susanna Egan is a professor in the department of English at the University of British Columbia. Her most recent monograph is titled Mirror Talk: Genres of Crisis in Contemporary Autobiography.
Doubting Thomas: The Implications of Imposture in Autobiography; Faith, Doubt, & Textual Identity; Sensational Identities: Made in the Media; "The Song My Paddle Sings": Grey Owl & Ethnic Imposture; "Frautobiography" or Discourses of Deception; In Search of the Subject: The Disappearance of the Jews; In Conclusion: Textual Identities at Work in the World; Index.
``In her brilliant new book Burdens of Proof, Egan, recently retired from teaching English at the University of British Columbia and long one of our most astute and consistently engaging critics of autobiography, has addressed in a fascinating, comprehensive way just what is at stake historically--but especially for contemporary readers--in the prevalent dangers of literary imposture. Ranging from the Bible to the recent scandals of Benjamin Wilkomirski and James Frey, and anatomizing such variants of literary imposture or the appropriation of another's identity as ghost-writing, plagiarism, ethnic and racial fraud, and the fabrication of experiences to create a false self, Egan analyzes more fully and extensively than anyone else has the nature of literary deception and its reception, especially how impostors rely on cultural values endorsed by readers that make them particularly susceptible to these impostural practices.... Egan does not regard herself as someone who takes pleasure in exposing impostors; that is scarcely her task in this finely tuned book. Rather she reveals how the very equivocal nature of autobiography--the way textual and personal identity can become confused or can split apart from each other--opens up a space impostors readily occupy, utlizing the problematics of the genre to trade upon our trust and perhaps more insiduously believing in the chimerical truth of what they report even as they harbor secrets they must work to protect and defend.... For so carefully and elegantly setting out the terms and implications of all literary imposture, we are in Susanna Egan's debt. Knowing the value and necessity of truthful and authoritative personal stories, she has written a book of rare intelligence and moral perspicacity.'' -- Roger J. Porter, Reed College -- a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, 201208 ``It is in these areas of autobiography where Egan's expertise in the field is apparent--discussing how imposture serves as a political weapon, and ultimately revealing the context from which it arises and grows within the culture. The reader gleans a clearer understanding of how imposture works to both create and destroy stereotypes, cultural blind spots, and our collective desires. The reader often sympathizes with the phony and the duped, as Egan taps into the common desire to test our identities, to play with our own stories. Whether she is discussing Andreas Karavais, the whimsical, albeit imaginary, Greek poet, or the unfortunate timeliness of Jumana Hanna and Norma Khouri's (real name Norma Toliopolous) stories of Muslim women needing Western rescue, the cultural acceptance and perpetuation of the dubious need to satisfy common desires and assuage common fears is well noted.... What kinds of cultures accept and celebrate what kinds of stories? And who gets to tell them? Through this lens, as Egan shows, a complex world of faith, doubt, and identity unravels.'' -- Meghan Rosatelli -- Biography, 34.4, Fall 2011, 201207 ``Why do we still believe in autobiography in this post-hoax era? Why do readers, en masse, continue to succumb to hoaxes, believing in fraudulent texts and authors? The hoax has fascinated many life-writing scholars in recent years with the publication of a plethora of articles, book chapters, and journal issues on autobiographical hoaxes, particularly in relation to legal, ethical, and moral standards. Susanna Egan's Burdens of Proof: Faith, Doubt, and Identity in Autobiography is, however, the first full-lenghth exploration on this subject.... Egans covers a lot of ground; however, her chosen foci are explored with great attention--offering a depth of discussion that is impressive for a single book.... Egan's arguments here are topical and consistently persuasive. The strength of this book lies in Egan's expansive knowledge of life-writing scholarship. As one of the pioneers of contemporary life-writing theory, Egan seamlessly integrates the theories of her life-writing peers with her own hypotheses to produce sophisticated and thoughtful inquiries.... Burdens of Proof is an intriguing study which will be of interest to scholars and students of life-writing and contemporary literary studies in particular. As always, Egan's prose is what academic writing should be: sophisticiated and challenging whilst clear and accessible. Egan writes about what is both topical and intellectually exigent. She reminds us of the continuing relevance of autobiography to our everyday lives and cultures.'' -- Kate Douglas -- Canadian Literature, 214, Autumn 2012, 201305
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