Burdens of Proof

Faith, Doubt, and Identity in Autobiography

By (author) Susanna Egan
Categories: Historiography, History: theory and methods, History, History and Archaeology
Series: Life Writing
Publisher: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Paperback : 9781554583331, 210 pages, April 2011

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Burdens of Proof: Faith, Doubt, and Identity in Autobiography by Susanna Egan
Acknowledgements
1. Doubting Thomas: The Implications of Imposture in Autobiography
2. Faith, Doubt, and Textual Identity
3. Sensational Identities: Made in the Media
4. “The Song My Paddle Sings”: Grey Owl and Ethnic Imposture
5. “Frautobiography,” or, Discourses of Deception
6. In Search of the Subject: The Disappearance of the Jews
In Conclusion: Textual Identities at Work in the World
Notes
Works Cited
Index

Description

Autobiographical impostures, once they come to light, appear to us as outrageous, scandalous. They confuse lived and textual identity (the person in the world and the character in the text) and call into question what we believe, what we doubt, and how we receive information. In the process, they tell us a lot about cultural norms and anxieties. Burdens of Proof: Faith, Doubt, and Identity in Autobiography examines a broad range of impostures in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and asks about each one: Why this particular imposture? Why here and now? Susanna Egan’s historical survey of texts from early Christendom to the nineteenth century provides an understanding of the author in relation to the text and shows how plagiarism and other false claims have not always been regarded as the frauds we consider them today. She then explores the role of the media in the creation of much contemporary imposture, examining in particular the cases of Jumana Hanna, Norma Khouri, and James Frey. The book also addresses ethnic imposture, deliberate fictions, plagiarism, and ghostwriting, all of which raise moral, legal, historical, and cultural issues. Egan concludes the volume with an examination of how historiography and law failed to support the identities of European Jews during World War II, creating sufficient instability in Jewish identity and doubt about Jewish wartime experience that the impostor could step in. This textual erasure of the Jews of Europe and the refashioning of their experiences in fraudulent texts are examples of imposture as an outcrop of extreme identity crisis. The first to examine these issues in North America and Europe, Burdens of Proof will be of interest to scholars of life writing and cultural studies.

Reviews

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, 2013 May

Egan writes eloquently of the faith that we necessarily invest in our reading, and of the doubt that potentially cripples our understanding of life writing. Her obviously well-researched study, laden with secondary resources and theoretical references, is an astute and concise insight into the literal nature of truth.... An unusually lively reading.... Her book fills a gap left by other life writing research which has been oddly reluctant to devote an entire study to this fascinating sub-genre. Burdens of Proof is essential reading for those studying life writing.

- Adam Quinlivan, Literature in North Queensland, Volume 39, 2012, 2012 December

Egan writes eloquently of the faith that we necessarily invest in our reading, and of the doubt that potentially cripples our understanding of life writing. Her obviously well-researched study, laden with secondary resources and theoretical references, is an astute and concise insight into the literal nature of truth.... An unusually lively reading.... Her book fills a gap left by other life writing research which has been oddly reluctant to devote an entire study to this fascinating sub-genre. Burdens of Proof is essential reading for those studying life writing.

- Adam Quinlivan, Literature in North Queensland, Volume 39, 2012, 2012 December