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Autobiography As Epistemology

Autobiography As Epistemology

The Effacement of Self

(p.85) 4 Autobiography As Epistemology
Dying to Know
George Levine
University of Chicago Press

This chapter closely explores Charles Darwin's Autobiography. The very qualities that mark the autobiographies of Darwin, Anthony Trollope, and John Stuart Mill as unliterary can be read as reflections of a pervasive scientific vision which gives the documents the authority the rhetoric seems to be disclaiming. It then examines a roughly contemporaneous autobiographical narrative that does not fit the dying-to-know pattern, John Henry Newman's Apologia pro vita sua. Mill's autobiography is a dramatization of the inhumanity of the paradox at the center of the epistemology behind the narrative of dying to know. Trollope's autobiography offers considerable evidence of the ways the sort of dehumanization in fact assists the novelist in getting at the truth. The complications of the passion to know, dying to know, are inextricably entangled in the life it must renounce.

Keywords:   Charles Darwin, autobiography, Anthony Trollope, John Stuart Mill, John Henry Newman, Apologia pro vita sua, epistemology, dehumanization

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