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Textual Intimacy

Textual Intimacy: Autobiography and Religious Identities

WESLEY A. KORT
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wrjgw
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  • Book Info
    Textual Intimacy
    Book Description:

    Given its affinity with questions of identity, autobiography offers a way into the interior space between author and reader, especially when writers define themselves in terms of religion. In his exploration of this "textual intimacy," Wesley Kort begins with a theorization of what it means to say who one is and how one's self-account as a religious person stands in relation to other forms of self-identification. He then provides a critical analysis of autobiographical texts by nine contemporary American writers-including Maya Angelou, Philip Roth, and Anne Lamott-who give religion a positive place in their accounts of who they are. Finally, in disclosing his own religious identity, Kort concludes with a meditation on several meanings of the wordassumption.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3278-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-8)

    Intimacy is crucial for autobiography because the force and significance of this kind of text depends primarily on a close relation between the reader and the teller. Intimacy is also a factor in religious self-disclosure because religious identity in American culture is a personal matter and not publicly displayed. This study exposes and explores the convergence of these two kinds of intimacy.

    Intimacy arises in autobiographies because readers are led by such texts to levels of disclosure that lie beyond what can be expected both in other kinds of texts and in conventional live interactions. Indeed, autobiography generates appeal precisely...

  5. PART I: THEORETICAL

    • 1 TELLING YOU WHO I AM
      (pp. 11-36)

      Autobiography arises from and is supported by everyday acts of self-disclosure. I often tell other people who I am, and I usually do so readily. However, when I perform these acts I often feel uneasy about and even unsatisfied with what I am doing. On reflection, my ambivalence, rather than resolved, increases. I frequently fault what I say and think it should be amended or corrected.

      My ambivalence finds a counterpart in the standing that self-accounts have in contemporary, especially academic, culture. On the one side, self-accounts have become frequent, if not expected, parts of scholarship. Autobiographical passages often appear...

    • 2 NARRATIVE AND SELF-ACCOUNTS
      (pp. 37-57)

      A further question about self-accounts that is worth raising concerns the importance of narrative discourse for self-accounts. This question takes two forms. The first and more particular form is whether or not giving a self-account requires narrative. Does the act of telling you who I am and narrative discourse have a natural or necessary interdependence? The second form of the question, which arises from the first, is the cultural standing of narrated self-accounts. Are they, for example, specific to our own culture, or can they be thought of as constituting a more general human phenomenon?

      There is wide divergence in...

    • 3 DISCLOSING A RELIGIOUS IDENTITY
      (pp. 58-84)

      We should not be surprised, while reading the autobiographies of fellow Americans, to encounter religious self-disclosures. After all, roughly 85 percent of Americans self-identify as religious. In addition, religion is so pervasive in our society that the life of any American is likely to include references to religion in some form and degree or other. American autobiographies that include religious disclosures are not exceptional, then. Conversely, autobiographies that include religious self-disclosures are potentially engaging to American readers because they themselves are likely to have had to deal with religion as part of their pasts, their current interactions, or their thoughts...

  6. PART II: CRITICAL

    • 4 RELIGIOUS DEBTORS
      (pp. 87-118)

      We turn now to nine contemporary American autobiographies, all of them by professional writers for whom religion plays a positive role in their self-accounts. I have put them into three groups not as to what they tell us about religion but as to where they locate it in their accounts. This placement reveals the differing ways in which religion contributes to their identities, and it reveals how religious identities relate to aspects of American identity more generally shared.

      I relate texts to one another and to American identity according to whether the writers place religion as a significant aspect of...

    • 5 RELIGIOUS DWELLERS
      (pp. 119-146)

      Autobiographies by Religious Dwellers differ from those by Religious Debtors primarily by locating religion and its positive role in the present. While religion may also have been part of the past, the focus is on the way in which it helps to account for where the writer is at the time of writing. The emphasis is less on recovery than on discovery, on having found something or having reached a location, decision, or point of arrival that often is marked by a new or renewed affiliation.

      Affiliation, in texts by Religious Dwellers, testifies, among other things, to the major role...

    • 6 RELIGIOUS DIVINERS
      (pp. 147-174)

      Rather than to the past, as with Religious Debtors, or to locations and affiliations in the present, as with Religious Dwellers, texts by Religious Diviners include religion positively by directing attention toward the future. More than the others, Religious Diviners are on a personal journey or quest.

      Religious Diviners noticeably seek a religious identity that confirms their particularity, and that characteristic could make this kind of religious identity seem more self-centered than the other two. In fact, I was tempted at first to refer to texts of this kind as by Religious Designers, people who fashion religion to suit their...

  7. PART III: PERSONAL

    • 7 MOVING OUT: GROUNDING A RELIGIOUS IDENTITY
      (pp. 177-196)

      I wouldn’t have thought of attempting a self-account of my own if it were not for the fact that, having attended to those of others, it would be unseemly simply to walk away. These nine people have proffered generous and intimate acts of self-disclosure, and, having heard them out and having commented on them, it seems a bit like the room has grown quiet and at least some eyes now turn toward me, as though, going around the circle, it is my turn. Isn’t it unseemly to receive the confidences of others without responding in kind?

      I could, of course,...

    • 8 ON MY OWN: TAKING ON A RELIGIOUS IDENTITY
      (pp. 197-218)

      Religious identity’s second facet is assumption as in consciously taking something on, like assuming the responsibilities of office upon being sworn in. Usually the second facet is a response to challenges that question or present alternatives to a religious identity that, heretofore, had simply been assumed. These challenges need not result in radical change, although, as we saw earlier in some of the self-accounts, they can. More often they produce a process of distancing, uncertainty, and reformulation.

      Some people who teach religion hold as their principal pedagogical aim to prod students into questioning their religious beliefs so that if beliefs...

    • 9 LOOKING AHEAD: RELIGIOUS IDENTITY AS BEING RECEIVED
      (pp. 219-236)

      The third facet of religious identity is assumption in the sense of being received or accepted, what we mean when we refer to the assumption of the Virgin. While the need or desire for acceptance or inclusion may seem to signal weakness or low self-confidence, I think of it as a sign of health and as part of daily life. Even more, however, it is part of religious belief and behavior. Indeed, the religious desire for inclusion or acceptance, among other things, accounts, it seems to me, for the expectation of a positive outcome beyond death, which can arise less...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 237-248)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 249-252)