The status of confessional literature remains paradoxical: while confessional writers, poets in particular, have become a favorite object of exegesis, as evidenced by the abundant critical work dealing with them, its theoretical problems have comparatively drawn less attention. In Romania, interest in the genre reached its peak with the publication of a collection of essays, Literatura si confesiune/Literature and Confession, in 1987. Yet, in spite of its sacramental model its religious form, originates in II Samuel, XXIV: 17, Psalm 50, Miserere--literary confession is still marginal to the interests of literary theoreticians, a situation that does it no justice. Writing about it seems to have produced more questions than answers. Many of its aspects overlap those of autobiographical writing (Olney 1980: 2-3), which further complicates matters. The reality of the genre usually approached negatively or restrictively seems difficult to pin down and enclose in simple, non-contradictory definitions.
The term 'confessional poetry' (Rosenthal 1967: 27) has been given wide currency lately; it has entered literary dictionaries and, despite its apparent imperfection, is widely, yet not unanimously, accepted and used. It is the proper domain of confession to bring to light, in a systematic manner, the intimate and the private, a field of human experience only incidentally touched upon by other genres. Literary confession, either in prose or in verse, pretends to be an authentic product of an actual, personally experienced past; it does not seem to distinguish fact from fiction.
The hybrid nature of confession continues to divide critics: some expel it from the field of literature, while others place it at its very center. In an attempt to solve the puzzle, the existence of two levels of reality (i.e., a historical one, in which the personal history would be true, as we can locate it in the real world, and a literary one, that orders and defines the former) are acknowledged (Rosenberg 1994: 3). Mention should be made of the in-forming function of the aesthetic design that structures what claims to be, more or less, a direct expression of the author's private life, and closely follows the process by means of which one's life history translates into a text. Nonetheless, we should not forget that in a literary work there are only 'quasi-judgmental' statements capable of creating, together with other elements, 'the illusion of reality', not 'pure affirmative propositions' (Ingarden 1973: 172-173). Rather than a deficiency, fictionalization in confession allows the writer to reconstruct his personal history, and offers him the possibility of imposing order and structure on the random events of his personal history, through such mechanisms as defamiliarization, typicalization, definition, etc. Those selected must be consistent with the 'plot' anticipated from the instance of the present, for confession tends to 'dramatize' the present self. The 'plot' however remains incomplete, and the confession, a fragment.
The crux of the present day interest in literary confession is undoubtedly the self. This concern parallels a significant shift in criticism, the movement away from formalism toward the interplay between fiction and categories of reality such as man, society, self, culture, the artist. Hence the emphasis on hybrid texts considered to be partly literary and partly referential, on popular fictions deliberately aimed towards social and psychological gratification, on literary autobiography as a key to the understanding of the self. (cf. deMan 1979: 3)
In spite of the diversity of approaches and responses, most critics agree that self-search and self-discovery lie at the core of the literary confession. For a discursive practice whose structural aspects are less conspicuous, the type of subjectivity that confession constructs may provide its categorizing feature. Confession (Tambling 1990: 23) is constitutive of the subject, in the sense that those addressed by a confessional discourse are made to define themselves as independent subjects, responsible for their acts. Typically associated with suffering, martyrdom, persecution, confession, with its demand to make public what is private and intimate; confession emerged within the religious space as a form of oppression meant to create 'docile subjects'. Within this original framework, confession defines itself as what is produced by a sincere subject who speaks freely.
On the other hand, the self which emerges in self-narratives is simply an illusion. The genre takes us back to the 'prehistory of literature' where notions of personality, individual and subjectivity are abolished. Thus, confession introduces a dislocation of, and mediates a sense of the self through the experience of language. It stages and dialecticizes the tension between the 'I speak' and 'I write', frees literature from the bondage of mimesis and psychology, and institutes a new dimension of being. The only referents of confession are the text and language itself. The book is its sole body. Accordingly, the self that confession constructs is merely a lure, an absent structure. Book 10 of Augustine's Confessions remains a template for self-portrayal, yet for "a self-portrait without a self, since the original moment of it is a sense of emptiness, absence." (Beaujour 1991: 5, 13, 18)
To make reconstruction and 'salvation' possible, confessional writing has to enhance the sensation of distance from the empirical self, yet, by doing this, it fails to create a unitary subject, and never reaches generic status. "The very act of writing about one's self results in a dialogue between the text and the author. Confessants who first reflect themselves in the self-conscious mirror of the mind find themselves sharing, narcissus-like, into the imperfect paragraphs of the text. Each edition, correction, deletion, responds to an imperfection noted in the glass. Painfully, phrase by phrase, the writer purges the work of its impurities until finding his or her own living image in the words. Only when the confessant bridges the gap separating the ego from the text can the redemption be achieved that originally motivated the writing." (Rosenberg 1994: 5)
In fact, confession produces a subject that is both different and divided from the author. Augustine's Confessions, while configuring in the form of a prayer an intelligible tragedy of the self, is a way of getting at the interior of the mind of the confessant by creating it.
The turning point has been identified in J.J. Rousseau's The Reveries of a Solitary Walker (1782). Here the self completely turned into text, a constantly shifting 'supplement' that allowed for secondary revisions. For all this, Rousseau alleged his discourse was factually true, because he knew that it would be accepted by his readers to the extent it was not fictionalized. Yet, despite the author's efforts to make his soul transparent to readers, its limpidity is vitiated by elements that recount truthful life. Consequently, 'confessional' reading of a text is never an assured fact, but only a possibility. Since Romantic confession typically foregrounds writing--a situation that Wordsworth's The Prelude perfectly exemplifies -, by insisting that his subjectivity is fragile, by placing itself in a situation of need, the poet suggests that confession and self-definition are imperatively required. Confession therefore provides context for self-justifiable explanation. Since there is no continuity of the self, although the author may insist on self-unity, and not even a referent, the generic status of confession remains a myth; it can never have one as the self itself is simply a fiction: "Confession is literary, produced out of a pervasive discourse, not a sincere expression of an authentic and unique self; how could it be when that unique self is itself a literary fiction?" (Tambling 1990: 121-125)
Nor is the claim of truthful self-reconstruction sustainable, for to fashion a self, one has to break any continuity between the past and the present and engage '... dipally' in history. Writing itself produces a sensation of distanciation from the subject. In the process of writing, the writing subject unremittingly effaces itself to allow the written self to emerge. Nowhere is this split, between the private and the public self, more visible than in Rousseau. That is why confession is not a mere narcissistic act. Continuity is a matter of discursive practice only. While it is face to face, the distanciation is not so obvious; the written confession makes the text the sole mediator.
The self-portrait that focuses and synthesizes the whole process is not given beforehand; it is constructed in the course of its elaboration. Its configuration responds to the requirements of a personal taxonomy, whose reasons often elude the writer. Augustine set up an early archetype: his confessional writing superimposed the Christian pattern of fall-redemption-reunification. Although this view of history maintained its framework in secular literature, identifiable in romance for instance, its essence underwent important metamorphoses. Romantic writers, for instance, identified the Augustinian sense of 'paradise lost' with nature and its revealing powers. They no longer placed redemption in absolution, but in the imagination. The twentieth century inherited the model, but it replaced the imagination by language. Redemption through language is paradoxical: writing at once creates distance and unity. By recalling the past the writer isolates the ego in the epic situation; in the editorializing process he creates a new individual, different both from himself at the moment of writing and from the original referent: the confessant is "born again, redeemed by the flesh made word" (Beaujour 1991: 5). However the idea of redemption (spiritual, in religious confession, and literary in Rousseau etc.) could be retained as a convenient basis for delimiting the genre.
Confession is a dynamic and challenging literary form, essentially Manichean, which offers the writer almost absolute freedom from conventions. The logic functioning here represents a dialectics of invention, which could be taken for a variant of the procedures of traditional rhetoric, and which operates in the same way as psychoanalysis, i.e., unconsciously. Supplied with ready-made categories by culture, the confessant organizes his material according to the imperatives of a personal taxonomy. It exhibits concern for order and inner organization. To grasp the ego hic et nunc, the writer paradoxically has to turn into practice, an art and an ethics of language, which imposes an arrangement of its parts, thus running against the very 'violence of writing', which jostles controlled writing. The self-portrait that emerges in confession is not solipsistic, cut from things, nor is it an objective description of things in themselves, but "a sustained textual awareness of the interference and homologies obtaining the microscopic 'I' and the macroscopic encyclopedia." Confession therefore is a variant of the medieval speculum, for it tends to embrace the whole field of the known (cf. Beaujour 1991: 18-20, 27). Its reconstruction is closely connected with the workings of memory (see, in this respect, Book X of Augustine's Confessions), which acts as a mediator between the within and the without. Confession (Spender 1980: 122) "measures the capacity of human beings to tell the truth about themselves, and indirectly to comment on the values of their age"; this moral penchant is meant to counterbalance its apparent exhibitionistic tendency. The same fascination with the 'home truth' (McClatchy 1989: 93) shows that confessional poetry is, paradoxically, an attempt to restore life to its true moral and emotional dimensions. This may account for its opening toward epiphany.
Critics seem to be divided on the relationship of confession to what seems to be its own tradition. One (Rosenberg 1994) maintains that any confessional text reads its predecessors, another (Beaujour 1991) believes that confession is permanently in a sort of 'adamic' condition, since confessional writers apparently ignore their predecessors. The illustration that most easily comes to mind is J.J. Rousseau, who, like many others avers he writes a book that "has no precedent, and which, once complete, will have no imitator" (1953: 17). Is this a sign of intentional oblivion or of supreme pride only? We may never know for sure.
One (Spender 1980) brings into view the 'dialogic' character of confession, and comments on the presence of the confessor as a figure of discourse, as warrantor of veracity. Along this line of thought, another one contends that in addition to controlling the tone and the rhetoric brought into play by the confession, the addressee's role is to redeem the confessant from the errors of his past, to witness his conversion: "The reader (or critic) becomes the only one capable of finalizing the artist's conversion. Interpretation functions as the ultimate medium of exchange. The reader acts as an agent of negotiation (interpretation) who can mediate between the text's tension and the writer. Narcissus may see his reflection in the pool, he can even write about the experience of seeing that image, but the reader will always be able to stand back one step further and anticipate the next turn." (Rosenberg 1994: 177)
The Protean nature of literary confession may account for the vacillation one notices in the use of such closely-related terms as autobiography, journal and self-portrait. Autobiography and confession should not be confused: the latter offers the reader no continuous narrative, and no systematic history of one's personality, and no temporal closure. Autobiography lives in history, confession moves more intensely into the psychological field. In spite of its manifest variety confession (Terdiman 1993: 76) continues to be governed by religious, juridical and psychoanalytical 'ritual'. An autobiographical reading of confession is even found to be detrimental to its true understanding, and the idea of approaching such texts as confession, rather than literature is rejected (Malkoff 1977). Unlike autobiography, every confession is professed to be an account of a conversion (Rosenberg 1994: 10). Furthermore, one confesses when he perceives a contrast, or when he is convinced he has distanced himself from the psychological or moral state that he is revealing: "To ask oneself who one is, one must no longer be what one was: one must have lost certitude and penetrated into an anxiety that can be called 'freedom of choice'. (Beaujour 1991: 337)
Given the scarcity of sufficiently stable criteria, it is reasonable to ask whether a theory of confession is still viable. Should we not content ourselves with understanding the works in their isolation instead? In spite of ostensible difficulties, we think that the term should be retained. The Christian confession, which serves as a model for its literary counterpart, is one of the main 'discourses of truth' that the Western culture and civilization possesses. Since 1215, when, through the famous Twenty-first Canon, Omnis utriusque sexus, the Fourth Lateran Council codified the sacrament of penance for the Christian world, and decreed the obligation of every Christian to speak all acts transgressing religious law, we have become "a singularly confessing society. Confession has spread its effects far and wide. It plays part in justice, medicine, education, family relationships, and love relations, in the most ordinary affairs of everyday life, and in the most solemn rites; one confesses one's crimes, one's sins, one's thoughts and desires, one's illnesses and troubles; one goes about telling, with the greatest precision, whatever is most difficult to tell. One confesses in public and in private, to one's parents, one's educators, one's doctor, to those one loves; one admits to oneself, in pleasure or in pain, things that would be impossible to tell anyone else, the things people write books about. One confesses or is forced to confess. When it is not spontaneous or dictated by some internal imperative, confession is wrung from a person by violence or threat; it is driven from its hiding place in the soul, or extracted from the body. Western man has become a confessing animal." (Foucault 1990: 58-59)
Literature too constrains us to permanently re-evaluate the accuracy of the terminology we use, without which no critical act is possible. Although the 'law' that controls genre is always impure and suffers of various contaminations (Derrida 1992), the literary phenomenon, usually termed as 'literary confession', cannot be convincingly accounted for, unless the notion is more rigorously determined.
For all the important contributions to the matter of genre in general, and to the matter of this genre in particular, confession remains a genre the limits of which are difficult to define. No one should be surprised, because confession questions the status of literature itself. In order to specify the necessary differentiation between literary genres and, thus, to circumscribe as accurately as possible its framework, one has to identify "the necessity of life that engendered them; it is not about certain literary needs, but about the need of a life that must be expressed." (Zambrano 1995: 25)
Suis ipsius interpres
Confession is suis ipsius interpres. The attempt at theorization has been its distinctive feature ever since Augustine, in whose Confessions the genre found one of its early models. Confessional writers have permanently asked themselves questions about their reasons for re-telling their own tales, the limits and difficulties of such an act, and about the modalities of writing. Moreover, literary confession and the confessional poem in particular seem to have no generic counterpart. This odd asymmetry menaces a structural and topological conception of literature, inasmuch as a discourse takes its meaning from being opposed to other types of discourse. "There is no essential form of words or action called 'confession'; there may be varied confessional practices" (Tambling 1990: 2). Thus, the genre itself invites us to reconsider its status.
It is, however, the self, which half-discovers and half-creates itself in confessional writing that poses most problems. Although a fundamental heuristic operator in literary analysis, the subject is an inter-discursive category diversely interpreted. Its status is uncertain, paradoxical, ambiguous, and seems to obstruct accurate defining: "The subject is not a systematic element of literary theories. Whereas it remains an important concept in philosophy, psycho-analysis and hermeneutics it appears in literary criticism only through a sort of transfer of this knowledge that is only lateral to it, thus marking an indetermination, an opening in literary theory." (Krysinky 1980: 236)
The main contributions, coming from linguistics, phenomenology, philosophies of being, and hermeneutics, have dispelled one-sided interpretations, and provided clarifications for some of its most intricate aspects. The unexpected result of all these efforts has been that now the traditional concept of self seems definitively 'compromised' as the basis of confessional writing (Olney 1980: 4). The boundaries of the genre are even more blurred than they have ever been before, which has prompted one critic to say that it is only an act of faith that ultimately makes a piece of writing confessional. However, it is obviously an exaggeration to suggest that, in spite of the use of the same word by Augustine and Rousseau, they have nothing in common. There is no doubt that under such circumstances confession is a discredited notion. (May 1984: 25)
All these, together with the fact that literary confession appears to raise cognitive problems mainly, made us place our study within the boundaries of the hermeneutics of literary ideas, an approach that was first theoretically sketched by Adrian Marino in the prefatory pages to his Dictionar de idei literare (1973), and was further developed in Critica ideilor literare (1974) in the philosophical tradition of Nietzsche and Heidegger. The fundamental objective is to discover how confession delineates itself in its essential formulations. The composite nature of the genre under scrutiny demands a multidisciplinary method, and Adrian Marino's hermeneutics fully meets such a requirement.
What distinguishes this approach from others is the distinctive condition of its object. In a narrow sense, literary ideas are "abstract and general representations with an aesthetic and literary content"; at a higher level of reflection, they manifest themselves as programs, conceptions, theories, and doctrines. They consist of a nucleus of maximum semantic density and potential, and a number of derived but convergent, associated and expanding meanings, which allow of grouping and totalization. From the most general intellectual determinations, literary ideas retain the descriptive elements only, the heuristic aspects associated with prototypes, schemes, or formula idearum, in particular. In other words, they systematize an ideological ensemble, and define the totality of the theoretical content, either explicit or latent, of literature. Literary ideas have a strong formal cohesion; their stability and capacity of organizing are so efficient that they tend to transform themselves into a succession of attitudes and stereotype definitions, which become their own content.
The 'idea of confession' has, therefore, all the attributes of any 'artistic creation'; it is an authentic construction, substantially identical to the literary work. In spite of this homology, literary ideas remain, in any circumstances, spiritual forms independent of any literary practice. The rapports can be of convergence or divergence, of superior or inferior hierarchy, never of identity. (Marino 1974: 28-32, 140)
Literary ideas possess an obvious categorial propensity, a capacity to reduce themselves to unity, principles and laws, a great variety of aspects. They are invariants, elements of unity and stability, which can be discovered and defined. Any invariant is, by its nature, recurrent. Recurrence entails circularity, return to the starting point. To reconcile repetition with the specificity of any literary idea, one should not forget that these phenomena refer only to the structural, functional and traditional-historical aspects of literature. An invariant can be projected, for this reason, both prospectively and retrospectively. Literary ideas should be studied and delimited within the totality of their constitutive elements from a structural point of view. The structural explanation aims at pointing out their convergence, inner cohesion, integration and logical articulation. An 'idea' is, at the same time, subject to continuous historical evolution.
There is an 'ideal' archetype of confession, and there are some 'real' ones, which represent its functional, documented materializations. Confession has only a contextualized existence; at every moment it participates in a system of connections and interdependencies historically determined. Its meaning or meanings can be defined solely in context. The 'idea of confession' partakes of several contexts at the same time, i.e. religious, judicial, literary, which is the main source of its ambivalence. Therefore, the name 'confession' condenses an entire historical situation at a certain moment in the development of language. However, each 'chronicled' moment allows the development of certain meanings only, discarding all others: a literary idea has as many senses as can be attested. A 'historical reading' is accordingly necessary, because "any literary definition is produced hic at nunc, in a precise historical context, which conditions both the schematization of the model and of its constitutive elements." (Marino 1974: 202)
Literary ideas exist as models only and have only a heuristic function; they are conceptual schemes mediating between a particular practice and its theory, selective grids mapping a particular literary field. In a model, all elements submit to the same inner norm; the 'ideal' nucleus, which moves towards ever greater generalization, anticipates every grand line of its development, so that the whole system seems to be prefigured from its first verbal attestation. This, of course, does not mean that literary ideas are simply nomina. Usually, the model of an idea covers an area larger than the word that fixes it, and the idea of confession is no exception to the rule. Yet, any terminological convention establishes new relations between the literary idea and the word that expresses it: through nominalization, an idea consolidates itself.
The model of an idea has a specific relation of independence, which could be termed as isomorphic, with the text or the texts it fashions. At the same time, it is the expression of some logical rapports among the terms of its structure, and the symbols that designate the functions it generates, have no other terms of reference but their own relationships. The constitution and functioning of a model does not depend on the quantity of texts. The presence of an individualized structure is sufficient argument for its existence. It is important to point out that the construction of the model responds to the history of structures, not of events. Model and history condition each other. At any particular moment in its history, the model of confession is the result of the merging of a scheme and the material which configures it; it is a temporary solution that opens new perspectives. A model crystallizes progressively in history; history remakes the model of an idea along its duration. Any validation of new elements should rigorously observe the functional rule of the model. The new elements must integrate into it. Similarly, every theoretical contribution participates in the totality of the theoretical construction. The successive definitions of an idea confound with its analytical inventory. Any idea remakes itself within its archetypal model; it searches, as it were, for its historical being.
Any model is also the result of a hermeneutic process; it is a reconstruction from the inside, an attempt to understand a system, in order to discover the recurrent elements and achieve the convergence of its meanings. Hermeneutics focuses on sense and signification; it examines the implicit and explicit meanings of literary ideas, to find the original one, the true one. To overcome the inherent polysemy of its object, hermeneutics of literary ideas admits of only one intention that presides its expansion, governs the elaboration of the model, as a projective and systematic act.
Hermeneutics is an act of understanding, both for the object and the knowing subject. Understanding is not only 'appropriation', but also objectivization, under the form of a system, a logical principle. It is a vital experience; in it, the sense of understanding and existence essentially confound each other. To understand the 'other' is a manifestation of our own understanding: to understand something is to project oneself upon one's own possibilities, to transfer to the object our own mode of being. In Adrian Marino's own words: "The critic transposes in the logical center of the idea, assumes its basic principle, and understands its mode, sense and the rhythm of unfolding of the idea along its historical manifestation. Understanding confounds with the act of constructing the model, with modeling. It involves the deciphering of a system, cohesion, which become the essential criterion of understanding." (1974: 246)
Only, we should add, the above formulation does not make reference to the old Romantic empathy, now a compromised designation. Since its objective is to solve typical situations through the organization of invariants, the final modeling retains only those types of interpretation previously constituted, functioning as invariants. Hermeneutics admits the existence of only one 'true' meaning: the meaning of the model, a structural principle of organization, the global and functional sense, which is always a synthesis of partial literary senses. The model as form and method of interpretation is a circular system whose elements are united, periodical, and subject to continuous permutation, in accordance with the inner norm, which the model generates and self-regulates. It reflects the fundamental circularity of understanding, which Heidegger derives from the temporality of Dasein: "It is not to be reduced to the level of a vicious circle, or even of a circle which is merely tolerated. In the circle is hidden a positive possibility of the most primordial kind of knowing, and we genuinely grasp this possibility only when we have understood that our first, last, and constant task in interpreting is never to allow our fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception to be presented to us by fancies and popular conceptions, but rather to make the scientific theme secure by working our these fore-structures in terms of the things themselves." (1962: 194)
What the German philosopher foregrounds here is the fact that whenever somebody interprets a text, he projects a meaning for it, as soon as some initial meaning emerges from it. Understanding is achieved when one's projections are confirmed, legitimized by the text as a whole. Thus, the Heideggerian circle reveals the fundamental ontological structure of human understanding which is termed 'fusion of horizons' (Gadamer 1993: 306-307). It also points out a formal condition of understanding, i.e., when we read a text, we assume its completeness, unity. We always read a text with particular expectations.
Every revision of a fore-projection is capable of projecting before itself new projections. To understand is to work out appropriate projections. Comprehension reaches its full potential when our fore-projections seem no longer arbitrary. Arbitrariness can be avoided as long as we remain "open to the thing itself." It is of utter importance to us to be aware of our own bias. Understanding means to make such 'anticipatory projections', or 'prejudices' conscious. Among them there are legitimate ones. In literature, a subject is truly significant only when it is properly portrayed to us: it takes on life from the way it is presented to us. The theme and the object of the research are somehow constituted by the motivation of the inquiry. The 'object in itself' does not exist. 'Tradition' is what validates any interpretation as correct. Understanding is participation in an event of tradition; it is sharing in a common meaning (Gadamer 1993: 292). Thus the hermeneutic circle accounts for the interplay between the continuous movement of tradition and the activity of the critic.
The aim of any interpretative act therefore is to find the starting point, in a hermeneutic and methodological sense. A literary idea begins to exist once it integrates into a system or model which sets it up, although, for conventional and analytical purposes, the investigation usually starts with the first historical attestation, i.e. in Latin classic literature, in the case of confession. Hermeneutically, the 'existence' of the idea of confession begins with the discovery of the epicenter of the idea, around which everything builds up. The circularity of the model allows for two movements: from the center to periphery and from periphery to the center, both intersected by a historical reading:
Intuition--reflection; scheme--model, pre-concept --concept; word--significance; whole--part; past present; analysis--synthesis; present reading historical reading.
Denominations, such as confession, confessional poem, are inevitably conventional. Nevertheless, an accepted, widely circulated convention like confession constitutes itself as an invariant, the existence of some thematic, modal, and formal invariants being principially accepted (Genette 1994: 79). Definitive answers are difficult, if not impossible, to give. The meaning of any piece of literature cannot be exhausted by conceptual understanding. Genres blend, in various degrees, natural and cultural data; the illusion of stability, which any theoretical discourse aims to achieve, is permanently undermined from within. Besides, concept formation is a never ending process. Rather, our aim is to elicit the conditions which make confession possible, in other words, what its 'truth' consists in, and free the notion of alien meanings. It is time confession spoke for itself...
Nosce te ipsum
Any attempt to define the aesthetic coordinates of confession is bound to encounter serious difficulties, as the realm of the notion is clearly governed by extraliterary implications. Etymology itself cannot provide sufficient evidence to draw definitive conclusions; however, it already contains some work of abstraction, which may offer direction for subsequent analytical examination. The original import of confessio is moral: the Latin etymon, from which the English term derives, is closely related to fari, and has inscribed in it, as its fundamental meaning, the idea of 'speaking fully of oneself'. This is the matrix, from which the measure and the disposition of all its structural elements proceed, it is the central source that does not let itself easily grasped. Notwithstanding, the meanings it generates remain rather ambiguous.
The confessant's primary responsibility therefore is to compose a 'complete and accurate image' of himself, turn his face to the reality of his own existence, and tarry there: "Whoever you may be that wish to know a man, have the courage to read the next two or three pages and you will have complete knowledge of Jean-Jacques Rousseau." (1953: 30)
Confession aims at portraying an individual in his complexity and contradictions, a personality in its diversity, and richness. It claims to be the expression of some substantial content, the perception of real facts, and ordinarily involves a quasi-biographical relationship between the writer and his work. Literary confession is not overtly fictional: it invents neither characters nor events, in the proper sense. There is no doubt that, for the author, the world he depicts truly exists. In any kind of confessional writing, the writer professes that his account is a legitimate personal historical document, and consequently, subject to external verification: "I have told the truth. If anyone knows anything contrary to what I have here recorded, though he prove it a thousand times, his knowledge is a lie and an imposture; and if he refuses to investigate and inquire into it during my lifetime he is no lover of justice or truth" (Rousseau 1953: 605606). A travers the temporalizing routes of the text, the confessional writer proposes his readers to 'live' the experience of his being. Readers, too, seem to turn to this kind of literature to content their need for verifying somebody else's experience of reality, as they do expect the work to embody some 'truth' of the life of the writer. It is this human testimony that gives it value, more than the historical one.
Confession seemingly privileges the everyday world: it does not openly subvert rules, nor does it distinguish between different levels of reality. On the contrary, it tends to reinforce the referential status of its discourse, and rejects the possibility of an alternative world. Confession aims to be une tranche de vie: it is a down to earth, 'objective' portrayal and, as such, it opposes what we usually term as unreal, or imaginary. The genre shows a genuine propensity for realistic representation. Confessional writers are inclined to conceal their 'framing procedures' constitutive of any subjective involvement in events.
In all confessional practices, literary included, the confessant pledges to hide nothing from his confessor, and speak without restraint or check, in complete fairness: "I have been absolutely frank in the account I have just given, and no one will accuse me, I am certain, of palliating the heinousness of my offence. But I should not fulfill the aim of this book if I did not at the same time reveal my inner feelings." (Rousseau 1953: 88) The confessant's obligation to 'speak fully of himself' entails the textualization of the innermost impulses of the body, as aspects of one's authentic self which are forbidden to manifest otherwise. Confession is aveu honteux, indiscrete, as Montaigne concedes in "To the Reader," the text that introduces his Essays (1580): "My imperfections may be read to the life, and my natural form will be here in so far as respect for the public allows. Had my lot been cast among those peoples who are said still to live under the kind liberty of nature's primal laws, I should, I assure you, most gladly have painted myself complete and in all my nakedness." (1993: 23)
Intimacy is a zone of one's life heavily protected by conventions (Ranum 1985), a world of personal engagement. Confession appears as a binding act of speech; under some overbearing compulsions, the confessant violates ordinary constraints of discretion and oblivion, or as Thomas de Quincey puts it in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), "to break through those restraints of delicate reserve, which, for the most part, intercept the public exposure of our own. Guilt and misery shrink, by a natural instinct, from public notice: they court privacy and solitude; and, even in the choice of a grave, will sometimes voluntarily sequester themselves from the general population of the churchyard, as if declining to claim fellowship with the great family of man." (1994: 10)
Confession re-evaluates what may seem insignificant and gives it a determining role in the writer's life. It apparently presents one's experiences, without selection or comment, as if they were expected to speak for themselves. There seems to be no privileged, or worthier area of one's private or intimate existence, nor any exclusive way towards truth. The confessant amasses personal experiences hoping to find, in the multitude of evidence, the trace of his own individuality, an Ariadne's thread through the labyrinth of his own being, as a sign of one's own presence, something that would define him as an individual more accurately. Confession shows propensity for the 'petty' detail that illuminates the meaning of one's existence. The drive towards the everyday world is seen as a means to the visionary power that would set free the meaning of one's life. The way the word is ordinarily used may give further indication. Confession customarily refers to the act by means of which somebody acknowledges, makes public, or discloses something the knowledge of which is considered prejudicial, even humiliating and dangerous to the person confessing: credo te negotiarium, turpis est et periculosa confessio. With this meaning, the term can be found in a late fourteenth century text: "By your own confession muste it nedes be that the worsypen a false god." More frequently, confession means admittance of one's guilt, making known, or conceding one's fault, wrong, crime, or weakness, in other words, acknowledging them as true: argumenta atque indicium sceleris, tabellae, signa, manus deinque unuis cuisque confessio. Moreover, confession is often the token of one's guilt, its matter, or form: "Synt Austyn seythe in his book of confesiones" (Oxford English Dictionary, 1989, 3: 703). From the beginning, one way, or another, the confessional discourse as-sociates with the revelation of truth. The confessional writer has to establish his 'guilt' as real as possible in order to rout it. Consequently, he returns to a moment in his past life when he was controlled by something 'beyond himself', such as the garden incident in Augustine's Confessions, or the stolen boat episode, in Wordworth's The Prelude, unveil.
Confession presupposes, and is possible, when there is a clear distinction and separation between the private and the public spheres of an individual's life, which it foregrounds and dialecticizes. Oriented towards the outside, people usually model their own image on the former. In society, individuals, consciously or not, play the role d'un personnage emprunte, to use Montaigne's words (1907, 3: 524). The image they have formed of themselves acts as a tyrant, authoritarian. The more one is concerned with a reality not accessible to immediate apprehension, the more he has to focus this attention on appearances, while attempting to preserve the impression that he is living up to the criteria by which his conduct is judged.
Nosce te ipsum often turns into idolatry and blindness: individuals normally tend to fabricate impressions, and are involved in the 'all-too-human' work of putting on a credible 'performance'. While in presence of others, individuals typically infuse their activity with signs, which dramatically highlight and portray confirmatory facts that might otherwise remain unapparent, or obscure. However, confessional writers seem to row against the stream, they invite us to cast a glance at the 'backstage', there, where no intruders are usually accepted, the place where the perceptions fostered by their 'show' are knowingly challenged. Never satisfied with what mere appearances can provide, confessants search beyond them. Instead of stockpile images, they look for originary ones. Through confession, the individual appropriates the outer reality, on which he grafts the mystery of privacy and intimacy, as a privileged place of truth, because we have, first and foremost, an obligation toward ourselves: "Nature has presented us with a large faculty of entertaining ourselves alone; and it often calls us to itself, to teach us that we owe ourselves in part to society, but chiefly and mostly to ourselves." (Montaigne 1907, 2: 254)
It brings into focus a part of one's life and personality the others are totally unaware of, a whole world familiar to himself only, seen from the inside of his existence. The internal image, with its blurred contours, is rarely similar to the external one. The persona that emerges in the confessional act delineates the picture one forms of himself, to which one struggles to live up to.
Although its meanings may not be totally confined to it, the ethics involved in confession largely depends on what it can produce upon Christian consciousness. Significantly, one of the earliest attestations of the term in English, in Langland's Piers Plowman, is related to it: "How contricioun withoute confession conforteth soul" (Oxford English Dictionary, 1989, 3: 703). The integration of confession into the Christian doctrine of penance seems to have been the decisive moment in the evolution of the term. The twenty-first Canon convened by the Fourth Luteran Council in 1215 actually reads:
Omnis utriusque sexus fidelis, postquam ad annos discretionis pervenerit. omnia sua solus peccata confiteatur, fideliter, saltem semel in anno, proprio sacerdoti, & injunctam sibi poenitentiam studeat pro viribus adimplere, suscipiens reverenter ad minus in Pascha eucharistiae sacramentum: nisi forte de consilio proprii sacerdotis, ob aliquam rationabilem causam ad tempus ab ejus percpetione duxerit abstinendum: alioquin & vivens ab ingressu ecclesiae arceatur, & moriens Chrisitana careat sepultura. Unde hoc salutare statutum frequenter in ecclesiis publicetur, ne quisquam ignorantiae caecitate velamen excusationis assumat. Si quis autem alieno sacerdoti voluerit justa causa sua confiteri peccata, licentiam prius postulet & obitneat proprio sacerdote, cum aliter ille ipse non possit solvere, vel ligare.
All the faithful of both sexes, after they have reached the age of discretion, must confess all their sins at least once a year, to their own parish priest, and perform to the best of their abilities the penance imposed, reverently receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist at least on Easter Sunday, unless by chance the priest should counsel their abstaining from its reception. Otherwise they shall be cut off from the Church during their lifetime and shall be without Christian burial in death. Whereupon let this salutary stature frequently be made in public in churches, lest anyone may assume by blind ignorance a veil of excuse. However, if anyone with a just cause should wish to confess his sins to another parish priest, let him first seek and obtain permission from his own parish priest, since otherwise one cannot loose or bind the penitent. (Mansi, 22:1008, 1010)
Subtle analysis of character (Braswell 1983: 67) was not possible outside the ecclesiastical discussion of sin. The confessional made individuals aware of their own actions: by comprehending the processes involved, particularly mental, they were likely to act in order to modify them. Confession is an act of intimate and sincere communication, through which the confessant voluntarily and in full humility opens his soul, it is a direct, complete and exact presentation of one's sin, and rejects sentimental talk. The inquiry into the circumstances of the sinners and the sin should be prudent and careful, in order to secure enough detail from the sinners, and classify the sin accurately, so that the punishment may be appropriate. Proper confession is discreet and cautious, uttered in simple words, yet accusatory and revelatory: "It must be a simple, humble confession, plain, faithful,/And also frequent, revealing, discreet, liberating, modest, /Complete, secret, sorrowful, swift, / Courageous and accusing, and it must prepare one to carry out one's promises." (apud Aquinas, 5: 2591)
The interrogation of the penitent involves a psychical minuteness focused on the individual, as well as on a sense of inner growing, for the penitent.
The consequences for literature are of utter importance, for the confessional offered writers themes, as well as a mode of searching the individual soul. An early work, such as Ancrene Wisse, where the author subjects herself to self-analysis, shows how much the confessional has become the agent for the analysis of character. Traces of the penitential doctrine are to be found in the ricardian poets, in Langland's Piers Plowman, Gower's Confessio Amantis, in the works of the Pearl's poet, and particularly, in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Some of the most memorable characters that he created, such as the Wife of Bath, the Pardoner, are sinners, and directly emerge from the practice of penance. Although medieval secular literature explored confessional practices, which gave it a focus, i.e. the sinner, with his or her attributes of spontaneity and individuality, it failed to produce a sense of a constant self. No literary confession proper therefore emerged, because no acknowledgment of subjectivity or authorship was associated with the persona. The chronicles and memoirs of the Middle Ages also insert, in the representation of the self, elements of a personal duration; this signals an attempt at defining the individual. For most of the period, however, the brooding 'I' remains one generated by conventions.
I am to myself, and my trouble sings
The incipit of confession is an existential crisis, a 'disease' resulting from the deprivation of intrinsic needs that has to be 'cured', and only rarely from a metaphysical dilemma. The penitent is a sick man, an infirmans, who must always be on guard against his infirmitas: it represents a state of mind, a compulsion, close to Freudian obsession, or Poe's 'imp of perverse', in which one perceives his own actions as not belonging to him: one acts for reason he should not, as if 'possessed' by some superior force. The confessant's soul suffers from an incurable 'illness', itself expression of the painful feeling of the incompleteness of one's destiny: it is like a dream that aborts, a black hole that consumes all one's creative energy. We may say that the writer does not choose confession, it chooses him.
How did this consciousness of 'guilt' appear? Nietzsche (1968) claims that it originates in social obligation, and, for that reason, it must have appeared late in the course of human history and is ingrained in the spirit of Christianity.
The confessant, whether medieval, Romantic or modern, has a particular psychological profile: he suffers from une mallaise essentiele that manifests as spontaneous negation of life. Consequently, he indulges in the practice of resignation or introspection. Confession signifies the perception of some sort of disorder, a divorce between the individual, and his life, between the individual, and the world. The 'sinner' has become a stranger to himself; he is a person who suffers because of himself, a restless conscience, voluptuously sick. The cause of his suffering lies in himself.
The feeling of culpability is the deserved punishment for that 'guilt'. Agonizingly aware of the chaos inside, and about himself--whether it manifests as dissolution of the self (Plath), paralysis of the imagination (Wordsworth), madness (Lowell)--at 'odds with himself', deprived of any stable points of reference, threatened with waste on all sides, the confessant is compelled to fold upon himself, scrutinize his past, and force an answer to come out, by summoning up all his creative potentialities: "Who is to carry the research beyond this point? Who can understand the truth of the matter? O Lord, I am working hard in this field, and the field of my labours is my own self. I have become a problem to myself, like land, which a farmer works only with difficulty, and at the cost of much sweat." (Augustine 1961: 222-223)
Confession is an attempt at integration, through traumatic trials. The sign of the confessant's 'salvation' is his capacity to contain the 'daemonic' in him, and integrate it, through the very act of confessing. Augustine's Book 8 of The Confessions reminds us that the moment of conversion coincides with the writing of the text itself. That is why no document of 'rebirth' is apparently provided, for the text is the regeneration. The problem of speech/language is therefore essential: the only guarantee the confessant has of his 'truth' is the 'accuracy' of his own confession, the sense of the proper language, the correct adequacy of the word to the thing, which can be obtained through strenuous efforts only. Reiterating Humboldt's argument that a language view is a worldview, the Verb largely determines the nature of our experience, that man's being-in-the world is primarily, but no exclusively, linguistic: "Language is not just one of man's possessions in the world; rather, on it depends the fact that man has a world. The world as world exists for man as for no other creature that is in the world. But this world is verbal in nature." (Gadamer 1993: 443)
Language assumes the role of mediator between the self and the world, which only its essential 'metaphoricity' renders possible. In The Will to Power, Nietzsche describes metaphor as the originary process of what the intellect presents as truth: every idea originates through equating the unequal (1968: 248). Truth is an army of metaphors, metonymies, etc. Truths are illusions of which one has forgotten they are illusions. This figurative drive, he gave the name of 'will to power', because he traced it back to an impulse to appropriate and conquer. Unable to tolerate chaos, man 'interprets', introduces meaning, there, where there is no possibility of self-identical meaning. Does the 'truth' of confession remain a phantasm then ? Confessants seem to believe that it can fashion their experiences, even change them.
Then does it matter, whether men should hear what I have to confess?
In the religious practice, confession is part of a complex rite, which also consists of poenitentia (repentance), metanoia (conversion), and absolutio (absolution) given by the priest, through which the sinner tries to regain his place in the Christian community. Guilt or sin is an individual's problem: the way he answers it constitutes the basis on which any inner transformation can take place. Only by acceding to his 'inner truth' can one regain his dignity, and find himself: "By stating things as they are, the economy of ethical balance is restored and redemption can start in the clarified atmosphere of a truth that does not hesitate to reveal the crime in all its horror occur in the name of an absolute truth which is said to exist for itself. However, we have to point out that there is no such absolute truth in art, though some author may claim he is speaking in the name of it. But then, it is no longer art we are talking about but a metaphysical treatise." (de Man 1979: 279)
Now, few critics would consent that 'absolution' is an inherent or enduring ground for confession. Psychoanalysis and the Marxist critique of ideology seem to have rendered confession useless. Yet, writers of confessions seem to think otherwise. They strongly believe the outpouring is necessary, while resolutely claiming, often with a note of haughtiness, that no egotistical design lies behind their writing, that they are altruistic and disinterested in their efforts: "This, reader, is an honest book. It warns you at the outset that my sole purpose in writing it has been a private and domestic one. I have had no thought of serving you or of my own fame; such a plan would be beyond my powers." (Montaigne 1993: 23)
Authors, with the exception of a few truly religious spirits, for whom the act testifies to their beliefs, write confessionally for various reasons, but what they fundamentally do when confessing is to reveal that their lives are meaningful. The individual who enjoys drawing his own image is conscious of the singularity of his individual's life, and assumes that he is worthy of particular attention. L 'ecriture intime may ultimately prove useful to, or have an effect on others: "I here present you, courteous reader, with the record of a remarkable period in my life; and according to my application of it, I trust that it will prove, not merely an interpretation record, but, in a considerable degree, instructive." (de Quincey 1994: 10)
Confession, in all its forms, surveys the moral being of the individual in its mysterious areas, and explores one's inner universe to bring to light some genuine, ultimate and integrative values, that are essential to one's well-being. As a result, it ordinarily connotes secrecy, and promises revelations.
Furthermore, confession may grow from one's need to ease consciousness of the terrible burden bearing on one's shoulders, without feeling humiliated, a medium for expressing his devouring inwardness, it is emotional release: "It often falls out, that being displeased at some action that civility and reason will not permit me openly to reprove, I here disgorge myself, not without design of public instruction." (Montaigne 1907, 2: 254). Confession may also be the result of one's willingness to figure what exists confuse in oneself, keep track of the changes of himself, and reveal one's own contradictions. The main outcome of such painful self-inquiry is renewed knowledge of one's inadequacies and weaknesses. Confession nurtures on the need to exert control over of one's life, to understand it, to prove that in spite of digressions, one's identity has remained intact. It is an attempt to select and order the unknown, to elicit some sort of knowledge about oneself, to retain time and leave behind a resembling portrait, a more exact image of oneself. A confession is always a process of character reconstruction, a reintegration of personality. Through it, one may hope to restore an incomplete or deformed truth about oneself: "I have intended it solely for the pleasure of my relatives and friends so that, when they have lost me--which they soon must--they may recover some features of my character and disposition, and thus keep the memory they have of me more completely and vividly alive." (Montaigne 1993: 23)
The confessant firmly believes in the redemptive power of memory. Augustine can claim possession of his past, because he sees it as divinely ordained, as a manifestation of Grace. Although later literary confessants no longer make such an explicit demand, their works, one way or another, continue to show traces of it. The essence of confession is that the one who feels outcast pleads with humanity to relate his isolation to its wholeness; its objective is to restore the 'penitent' to harmony with his milieu. He pleads to be forgiven, reprieved, or condemned, so long as he is brought back into the oneness of people and of things. Confession is, from this point of view, a discourse of marginality. In it, the individual seems to 'exist' to the extent he authentically communes with another being and the world.
Everything in confession constructs round a subjectivity that becomes the sole criterion of veracity. A confessional piece of writing is, to a certain extent, posthumous publicity, personal apology, for "one is never better served than by himself." (Gusdorf 1980: 36)
Knowing who you are
Writing confessionally is possible when man becomes aware of temporal differences, and a sense of personal identity emerges. It is therefore incompatible with the outlook characteristic of archaic or mythic societies. The Middle Ages did indeed discover man's inner life, but the individual remains an acquisition of the Renaissance humanists. Literary confession could emerge only under the historical conditions that regarded the subject, the self and the author as independent sovereignties. The concept of individuality gets explicit msthetic significance in Montaigne's Essays (1580). With the Frenchman, the writer's self becomes a privileged object of direct, truthful and introspective observation: "So, reader, I am myself the substance of my book," writes he, at the end of "To the Reader" (1993: 23). The act of knowing is no longer exterior to the object of its research; it is the self that makes the choice, for which it claims full freedom of any, particularly moral, constraints, and orders. In Classicism and Baroque, confession found refuge in intimate and secret journals, memoirs, and diaries. The literature of the times imposed discretion, and isolation on the writer. In France, where confession survives in the baroque novel (Le Roman Comique of Scarron, 1651), Pascal severely attacked Montaigne for his project of painting himself, a self which was worth hatred only (le moi est haissable): "The stupid project that he has to paint himself!" (Montaigne 1993:23) The practice of self-scrutiny, which Puritan asceticism engenders, together with the belief in human brotherhood and equal dignity and importance of all souls favored the writing of a number of secular and religious confessions in the America of the seventeenth century. In The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover (1709-1712) and Jonathan Edwards' Personal Narrative (c. 1740), the self-abasing 'I', the writer's narrative aggrandizement as the 'chief of sinners', serves as a stratagem by which he chooses spiritual uniqueness, or strives to realize a definite experience of his own spiritual identity beyond that of others, and the overtly suspicious context in which he lives.
The Enlightenment, with its interest in the universal and the general, continued to obscure privacy under the guise of dignity and resignation. In total contradiction with the dominant ideal of the age, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions (1781-1788) professed that the individual self was the basis for truth. His protagonist is a misanthrope who does not want to look like others and claims, with accents of haughtiness, his singularity as an individual: "I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent, and which, once completed, will have no imitator. However, I am made unlike anyone I have ever met; I will even venture to say that I am like no one in the whole world. I may be no better, but at least I am different. Whether Nature did well or ill in breaking the mold in which she formed me is a question, which can only be resolved after reading my book". (1953: 17) The unique character of one's personality constitutes itself in the permanent interaction of the individual with the world, not in relationship with transcendence. Its continuity becomes manifest, self-knowledge is possible, through the fusion of past and present, which only affective memory is capable to achieve. By abandoning himself to the flow of his inner life, as ordered by memory, Rousseau claims, language becomes transparent: its limpidity guarantees the authenticity of the self-portrait that emerges in the narrative of the self: "Let the last trump sound when it will, I shall come forward with this work in my hand, to present myself before my Sovereign Judge, and proclaim aloud: 'Here is what I have done, and if by chance I have used some immaterial embellishment it has been only to fill a void due to a defect of memory. I may have taken for fact what was no more than probability'. But I have never put down as true what I knew to be false." (1953: 17)
Both arrogant solitude and the exaltation of the deep self are the necessary conditions for the discovery of truth. The main justification originates in the Rousseauist philosophy of nature, as sketched in The Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality (1755), which states that man was initially pure, innocent, and that social institutions have corrupted him. Man's essence manifests as spontaneous, genuine energeia, and has the character of imperative, self-exigent and inexorable necessity. For him, the 'truth' of life manifests at every moment. This seems to substantiate the claim that Nietzsche put forward more than a century later, in Ecce Homo. How One Becomes What One Is: "to accept oneself as fate, not to desire oneself 'different' in such conditions--this is great rationality itself" (1992: 16). It is not only the primacy of nature that the French writer defends: the 'return to nature' is a return to some 'adamic' space, now lost. By letting the natural in oneself speak, and since nature never lies, he seems to argue, one expresses one's own innocence.
The development of secular individualism in the 19th century represents the decisive moment for the progress of the genre. The writers of the age create a great amount of personalized analyses of their states of mind; self-appraisal becomes a recurring theme, under the auspices of a metaphysics of individuality, with its methods of introspection and self-examination. The philosophical argument is offered by F.W.J. Schelling's System of Transcendental Idealism (1800). The transcendental philosophy, as opposed to nature philosophy, takes the subject as the prime and absolute factor, and then derives the objective reality from it. Its fundamental thesis is that there are no things outside us. For the transcendental philosopher the only unmediated reality is the "I am," which constitutes the most individual of all truths. There are things independent of us to the extent of their identification with the 'I'. Knowledge is purely subjective.
The sole object of transcendental examination is the subject, the only organ to do it, the 'internal sense' (Schelling 1995: 21). This outlook illuminates one of the strangest texts that English Romanticism produced: Wordsworth's The Prelude (1850).
By the middle of the nineteenth century the term autobiography, as a 'minced form of confession', comes to be used as a substitute to memoirs, and journaux intimes, Robert Southey being usually credited with the first usage of the term in 1809. (May 1984: 19)
Writers seem to hesitate in adopting the new term. By 1830, Thomas Jefferson still referred to his Autobiography as 'memoranda': "At the age of 77, I begin to make some memoranda and state some recollections of dates and facts concerning myself, for my own ready reference and for the information of my family." (1914: 3)
In America, the ideology of individualism, and the religious tradition of self-examination (a significant number of 'conversion narratives' were published in the nineteenth century), created favorable conditions for self-reflective literature. "The experience of each new age requires a new confession," says Emerson in "The Poet" (1994, 1: 1076), perhaps the most important document of American Romanticism. For him, a real poem emerges from the passionate articulation of life. True poetry, which is neither an escape from life nor mere exhibition of craft, traverses the whole scale of experience and gives it expression. Traditional distinctions between art and life, real and ideal, are obscured in Emerson's redefinition of the imagination as a very high sort of 'seeing'. Although the Transcendentalists attach theoretical importance to the self, in practice, a kind of Victorian sense of propriety restrains them: "I shall set down nothing here which is untrue," writes R.W. Emerson in the Preface to his Journals, "but one thing I will keep to myself for our maker knows & and each man's own soul knows that there are thoughts & intents of the heart, sometimes out forth in act, which no man would be willing or need or ought to open to all observers." (apud Buell 1975: 269-270)
The Transcendentalists write rather impersonal works, in them the individual is seen sub specie aeternitatis. Although their definition of the self is too pietistic to create a strong tradition of confession, the idea of connection and of dissimilarity between the personal 'I' and the cosmic 'I' leads to some notable first person procedures. Transcendentalist writing aspires to an encyclopedic quality, which seems to be the hallmark of confession too. More important for the development of literature is the belief that only by looking inwards can one merge his self with the world, and find the ultimate truth. The main artistic triumph of the age is Walt Whitman's transformation of his own self in the persona of Leaves of Grass (1855): "Camerado, this is no book, Who touches this touches a man." (Whitman, 1986: 513)
Only his mythical guise is barely recognizable, so much does the author turn it into a prototype of manhood, to such an extent that contemporary biographical sketches have to adapt to it; and the more so as time seems to ruin the poet's own health. Walt Whitman thus created a model his followers could emulate; his aim is to express complete selfhood, and elevate spirituality to the divine self.
At the turn of the century, Henri Bergson, while reiterating his Romantic legacy, i.e. "it is in the depths of memory that the Being reveals itself," also looked on to the twentieth century, when he discovered that the profound reality of being means changing is the act by means of which, while transforming itself, Being necessarily invents itself. The French philosopher rediscovered the idea of continuous, spiritual creation: "every moment one acts, one creates his action and, with it, one creates oneself and creates the world" (apud Georges Poulet 1949, 1: XVII). For him, as for modern writers, authenticity belongs de facto to language. Under the influence of modern philosophical thought, i.e. Lebensphilosphie, existentialism, and particularly psychoanalysis, this search for authenticity is sometimes reduced to the identification of irrational meanings. Modern confession aims to become the expression of immediate and fundamental existential experiences, non-mediated by intellect, a return to the elementary facts of life, frequently identified with primordial phenomena, impulses, with the hope of regaining the original purity of archetypes. It aims at a genuine contact with one's life; it is a quest for fundamental experiences, substantial contents, ontologically understood as essences, often reduced to processes inaccessible to rational cognition, which frequently results in psychological automatism.
Psychoanalysis not only opened new areas of experience but also offered writers a method to approach them. It was a challenge, to which post-war poets, such as Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath were eager to respond. The confessional poetry they wrote openly questioned some assumptions about the experiential import of art, the possibility of art to contain chaotic experiences. Plath talked in an interview about "the intense breakthrough into the very serious, very personal, emotional experience which I feel has been partly taboo. I think particularly the poetess Anne Sexton, who writes about her experiences as a mother, as a mother who has a nervous breakdown, is an extremely emotional and feeling young woman and her poems are wonderfully craftsmanlike." (apud Orr 1966 1: 167-168)
Psychotic aspects, mental illness, alcoholism, adultery, tensions in family life, are all daringly exposed. Their poetry retains the major sense of confession in general: the self-search is a quest for the essence of being, for the basic qualities of life.
The modern confessional self still poses as moralist, but while in the past the poet himself could stand for the values he was looking for, now he is deprived of such qualities. Hence the typical ambiguity of most of confessional poets' judgment of experience they can no longer look for personal or contemporary standards. Therefore, they will search for immutable ones: they either look back in history to retrieve some knowledge, or--this seems to be shared by most confessional poets--they reaffirm the power of literature of ordering and mastering their experiences. The cultural framework was also shaped by the new understanding of the self as delineated by Norman O. Brown (1959) and Marshall McLuhan (1962). Both redefined the problems of the self and brought into question the transparency of the ego. The consciousness of one's singularity and the delight in one's moral singularity, discovered by Rousseau in the sixteenth century, are reiterated as hallmarks of the modern confession.
Confession requires the confessant to temper his self-critical attitude, while at the same time growing conscious of his inner perception: it claims to present life unadulterated by art and artifice. The confessant is continuously under the obligation of trying to disclose it, without any personal intrusion. The avowed transparency of the confessant's account presumes to discriminate one's own self, reach it and be true to it, yet this can be accomplished only through intense struggle (Trilling 1974: 56). Fidelity to oneself, rejection of embellishment, self-accusation:
Laboring under passions that have robbed me of sight, of hearing, and of my senses, though sometimes trembling convulsively in my whole body in the presence of the woman I loved, I have never, during the whole course of my life, been able to force myself, even in moments of extreme intimacy, to confess my peculiarities and to implore her to grant the one favor which was lacking  Now I have made my first and most painful step into the dark and miry maze of my confessions. It is the ridiculous and the shameful, not one's criminal actions, that is the hardest to confess. But henceforth I am certain of myself; after what I have just had the courage to say, nothing else will defeat me. How much it has cost me to make such revelations can be judged when I say that sometimes. (Rousseau 1953: 20, 28)
The all achieved aesthetic status in Montaigne's Essays (1580), in which modern confession seems to have found one of its early models: "But I want to appear in my simple, natural, and everyday dress, without strain or artifice; for it is myself that I portray. My imperfections maybe read to the life, and my natural form will be here in so far as respect for the public allows. Had my lot been cast among those peoples who are said still to live under the kindly liberty of nature's primal laws, I should, I assure you, most gladly have painted myself complete and in all my nakedness." (1993: 23)
The idea of absolute sincerity must have become current in the age, as similar views can be discovered in The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (1558-1566). At the beginning of his work, the famous Renaissance artist declares that "all men of whatsoever quality they be, who have done anything of excellence, or which may properly resemble excellence, ought, if they are persons of truth and honesty, to describe their life with their own hand" (1910: 8). A century later, Vico, in The Life of Giambattista Vico Written by Himself (1725-1731) takes the historian's approach when writing his own life story: "With the candor proper to a historian we shall narrate plainly and step by step the entire series of Vico's studies, in order that the proper natural cause of his particular development as a man of letter be known." (1835: 4-5)
Yet, by doing so, he deliberately reads his own life history in the mythical and fabular terms that he had exposed in The New Science (1725), thus reminding us indirectly that one's life wholly constructed.
The moral practice of J .J. Rousseau, Vico's contemporary, is not different: be true to your own nature, throw the mask, and depict yourself in your own real colors. The essential, for the confessant is not to tell exactly, but to be faithful to oneself, simply be oneself. One's self-portrait should be integral, unaffected, not manufactured: "My purpose is to display my kind of portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I shall portray will be myself. I have displayed myself as I was, as vile and despicable, when my behavior was such, as good and generous, and noble when I was so." (1953: 117)
The disposition to humble oneself, a feature that is very strong with some devout natures, partially accounts for the present interest in confession and autobiography. It is symptomatic that both Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath turned to the confessional mode at a moment when they felt their poetry, otherwise very successful, looked sterile and artificial, divorced from culture somehow, becoming too much something specialized that can't handle much experience. "It's become a craft, purely craft, and there must be a breakthrough back into life," stated Robert Lowell in the interview he gave Frederick Seidel. (Parkinson 1968: 19)
Honesty with oneself and clear knowledge of one's nature are inescapable, yet not sufficient requirements to authentic moral decisions. Not all ethical problems are thus solved, a few still remain. Confessional writing can reach neither the completeness nor the degree of objectivity that writers claim for it:
I should like in some way to make my soul transparent to the reader's eye, and for that purpose I am trying to present it from all points of view, to show it in all lights, and to contrive that none of its movements shall escape his notice, so that he may judge for himself of the principle which has produced them." (Rousseau 1953: 169)
The drama of the confessant apparently springs from conflicting loyalties: on the one hand, he has to get the facts right, undistorted, on the other hand, he must always remain faithful to oneself, i.e., to what he thinks to be constitutive of the self. Moreover, the two may have different orientations!
The obvious and immediate danger is that one may become unawares 'too full of oneself', and turn his confession into a kind of personal apology, which none of the confessants is totally free from. Not all truths are obtainable in this way; the insight may distort other truths about the self; 'fascination with the object' may produce a certain kind of blindness. Rousseau is well aware of the fact, when he notices that "there are gaps and blanks that I cannot fill except by means of a narrative as muddled as the memory I preserve of the events. I may therefore have made mistakes at times, and I may still make some other trifles, until I come to the days when I have more certain information concerning myself" (1953: 128). In excess, sincerity distorts facts: "sincerity is but a second degree imaginary" (Genette 1987: 26). There are psychological as well as ethical, either conscious, or purely involuntary limitations, imposed by certain attitudes, i.e. restraint, politeness, discretion, and sentiments, present in any human act, such as vanity, and, particularly, the writer's image of himself, which may make him remain faithful, to a certain degree, to his public image. Confessional writers do not ignore these: "Here I am once more at one of those critical moments in my life in which it is difficult to confine myself to a narrative because it is almost impossible that even the narrative will not carry some hint of censure or apology. I will try, however, to covey how and with what motives I acted, without adding any praise or blame." (Rousseau 1953: 352)
Even the psychoanalyst is restrained by such conventions. "I will not pretend that I have completely uncovered the meaning of this dream or that its interpretation is without gap. I could spend much more time over it, derive further information from it, and discuss fresh problems raised by it. I myself know the points from which further trains of thought could be followed. But considerations can arise in the case of every dream of my own restrain me from pursuing my interpretative work. If anyone should feel tempted to express hasty condemnation of my reticence, I would advise him to make the experiment of being franker than I am. For the moment I am satisfied with the achievement of this one piece of fresh knowledge." (Freud 1991: 198)
There is a predisposition to bovarism in every writer, difficult to refrain from, i.e., one's tendency to project an idealized, often illusory image of oneself, different from what one is in reality. This usually translates into in pose and affectation: while some features are enhanced, others are discarded. One can hypocritically boast with his defects, one can lie minimizing them, or tell an incomplete truth (Paler 1987: 42-46). Most, if not all, writers are selective. Since there is no possibility of indirect confirmation, the reader will be left in doubt forever. Authenticity, either as factuality or as expression of a deeper self, is never completely verifiable. Readers have to content themselves with the truthfulness that the order of creation gives. Extreme authenticity, where art merges totally with life, destroys art, which requires transfiguration, reflection, projection of a meaning of life. Language itself imposes its own limits. Ultimately, authenticity remains non-communicable. The ideal language that would directly reveal the writer's states of mind, so that the inner truth and the external one would match perfectly has not been discovered yet. Seeking for innermost fidelity, the writer may postulate a meaning that is not really in the events recounted: "My story," Robert Lowell writes in a letter dated 1976, "is both a composition and, alas, a rather grinding autobiography, what I lived, though, of course, one neither does or should tell the literal or ultimate truth. Poetry lies." (apud Hamilton 1982: 418)
The prohibition of telling the absolute truth in confession is, therefore, uncompromising. Confessions cannot and should not always be wholly factually true. In its most familiar forms, confession is an intricate blend of creation and autobiography; in it, the facts of art avowedly correspond to facts of life, the boundary between fiction and reality is uncertain, it can be crossed in either direction. "There's a good deal of tinkering with fact," Robert Lowell stated in an interview. "You leave out a lot, and emphasize this and not that. Your actual experience is a flux. I've invented facts and changed things, and the whole balance of the poem was something invented. So there's a lot of artistry, I hope, in the poems. Yet there's this thing: if a poem is autobiographical--and this is true of any kind of autobiographical writing and historical writing you want the reader to say, this is true. In something like Macauly's History of England you think you're really getting William III. That's as good as a good plot in a novel. And so there was always that standard of truth which you wouldn't ordinarily have in poetry--the reader was to believe he was getting the real Robert Lowell." (apud Meyers 1988: 57)
We, as readers, need to feel that we have gained access to Lowell's real self if the work is to satisfy our justifiable concern and give us greater understanding of our own selves.
The problem of the veracity of confession, understood as a moment of inner illumination, when truth is revealed in its entirety is not new: "When they hear me speak of myself, how do they know whether I am telling the truth, since no one knows a man's thoughts, except the man's own spirit that is within him?" Augustine asks himself (1961: 208). The absolute certainty, with which most confessants speak, may be seductive in itself; yet, some sort of external validation for the claim to truth is necessary. Without it, Augustine's dilemma may remain unresolved. In auricular confession the exomologese validates the rightness of the confessant's discourse. What about its literary counterpart? No one is entirely in possession of the facts of his life; a writer's texts do not offer unproblematic evidence: "Since confession is not a reparation in the realm of practical justice but exists only in verbal utterance, how then are we to know that we are indeed dealing with a true confession, since the recognition of guilt implies its exoneration in the name of the same principle of truth that allowed for the certitude of guilt in the first place?" (de Man, 1979: 280)
When judged according to ordinary criteria of truthfulness, literary confessions fall short of the claims their authors make. Their accuracy cannot be demonstrated or proved, for it entirely belongs to an individual, who projects his own view on things, and on the world. In such a type of discourse, the writer may record with no regard for what is objectively, and historically relevant; he seems to put down only what is significant for himself. Someone's inner experiences are never directly observable, they can never become our own: empathy is an illusion. It does not necessarily follow from this that there is no way that we, as readers, can understand and judge them. Although our experiences and other people's experiences are dissimilar, we can comprehend one's speaking of his own experiences because we assign the same meaning as his own, to the words he uses. Nevertheless, confessional disclosure is controlled, to a certain extent, by a principle of referential verification. The personal history a confessional writer tells is true because we, the readers, can locate it in the real world. The assumed accuracy and authenticity of a confessional piece of writing its historicity give it greater authority. For all this, readers have no point of comparison to say whether these writings are faithful to reality, or not. The sole means of checking this is through other 'texts'. But, then, truth goes further away from us, for there is never enough knowledge to account for the delusion of knowing. Besides, it is only from a moral point of view that readers are interested in the factual aspects of confession, which diverts our interest from what confession should be taken for primarily: literature.
In a work in which the author's aim is to tell the truth about the person he knows most intimately, i.e., himself, the criteria remain the choices the author makes of words, the tone of the confession, its style and organization. Veracity is guaranteed among other things, by the basic familiarity, in discourse, between the one who speaks, and the object of his speech, i.e., his own self: "I know my own heart and understand my fellow man." (Rousseau 1953: 17)
Confession can be considered under a double epistemological perspective: it functions, to a certain extent, as verifiable referential cognition, but also operates as a statement whose reliability cannot be authenticated by empirical means (Ingarden 1973: 300-304). The convergence of the two is not a priori given. Readers should never forget that a confessional writer not only transforms the reality he refers to, but also constitutes it. Furthermore, to pass as confession, a piece of writing must meet certain conditions: some irrefutable evidence must be produced before the reader. It is here that sentiments come into play: "They cannot lay their ears to my heart, and yet it is in my heart that I am whatever I am," Augustine argues (1961: 209). At the daybreak of the 'age of sensibility', Jean-Jacques Rousseau claims that the sentiment of the self's innocence can legitimize one's demand for truth in confession: "I have only one faithful guide on which I can count the feelings which have marked the development of my being, and thereby recall the events that have acted upon it as cause or effect. I may omit or transpose facts, or make mistakes in dates. But I cannot go wrong about what I felt, or about what my feelings have led me to do; and they are the subject of my story" (1953: 262). Compare with Robert Lowell's statement that "the problem of writing poetry is to bring it back to what we really feel" (apud Perloff 1973: 86), being however careful to point out that Lowell's confessions are not a return to the romantic mode, but a fusion of romanticism and realism, in the tradition of Tolstoy and Chekhov.
The French writer patterns his Confessions in accordance with a new morale de l 'intention, based not so much on facts, but on emotions, being rather a morale de pratique than a morale de lintention (deMan 1979: 282). The assumption of intentional apologetics underlies Lejeune's reading of Rousseau (1975). For Paul deMan (1979), the relation between feeling and act is firstly rhetorical, and only then intentional. It is interesting to note that, some centuries later, Robert Lowell would also make reference to the intensity of emotional response, as a criterion of verity: "the needle that prods into what really happened may be the same needle that writes a good line" (Meyers, 1988: 75). It would not be entirely wrong to talk of a 'morals of sensibility' in confession. Rightly, truth seems to induce, in the individual, a kind of requiredness of honesty, and a feeling of humility, and reverence, as W.C. Williams wrote in a letter to Robert Lowell, after the complete manuscript of Life Studies was read to him: "You have piled accomplishment upon accomplishment until there is nothing to be said to you in rebuttal of your devastating statements or the way you have written them. The book must have caused you some difficulty to write. There is no lying permitted to a man who writes this way." (apud Axelrod 1978: 92-113)
However, full spontaneity can only be a limited warranty of one's expressive honesty. Both spontaneity and expressiveness imply naturalness, truthfulness, and lack of guile, because they also entail the non-instrumental nature of one's behavior. For all this, one's obscure sentiments cannot be unquestionably trusted. Only through analysis can one reach authentic feeling, which he can trust. Sentiments clarify and deepen, as long as one examines them. Sincerity, which is Rousseau's main claim, can be simply a mask. It can be simulated, as it depends on the power of the text to create a verisimilar image of one's life. Sincerity itself is not enough. "Though desirable, absolute sincerity is not easy to achieve, or even possible. There is in everyone a sadness that is disconcerting you. What is the use of it all? It asks you. There are some mistakes one cannot correct or rectify. One cannot turn the sand glass upside down. And, then, even if we decide to tell everything, we will not be able to express everything." (Paler 1987: 46)
The summing-up must be his
A linguistic accident, i.e., confessio relates to confiteri, which derives from com-, with, and -fateri, from fatum, supine of fari, to speak, now almost obscures its inherent dialogic nature. Confession and, by implication, any confessional text, always presuppose, or even explicitly create an addressee that acts as textual guarantor of veracity. In confession, the actual reader reads 'over the shoulder', or through a 'dramatic reader' posited by the text. The auditor is necessary not only for the rhetorical decorum of the confession, but for its very existence. The sense of address is crucial for the fabric of confession. In literature, the confessor is a projection of the confessant's personality, whom he places as mediator of 'grace'. By doing so, confession aims at avoiding the danger of falsehood run by other types of discourse. The confessant tends to refrain from moral commentary and discretely retreats from the stage to allow the confessor, i.e., the reader, to make his own assessment: "But by relating to him in simple detail all that has happened to me, all that I have done, all that I have felt, I cannot lead him into error, unless willfully; and even if I wish to, I shall not easily succeed by this method. His task is assemble these elements and to assess the being who is made up of them. The summing-up must be his, and if he comes to wrong conclusions, the fault will be of his own making. It is not for me to judge the relative importance of events; I must relate them all, and leave the selection to the reader. This is the task to which I have devoted myself up to this point with all my courage and I shall not relax in the sequel." (Rousseau 1953: 169-170)
The confessional writer always bestows some authority on his addressee. The latter's main role is to redeem the confessant from the errors of the past and witness his conversion. With Augustine, God is not only the addressee, but also the inspiration that brings about his confession: "If a man confesses to you, he does not reveal his inmost thoughts to you as though you did not know them. For the heart may shut itself away, but it cannot hide from your sight. Man's heart may be hard, but it cannot resist the touch of your hand. Whenever you will, your mercy and your punishment can make it relent, and just as none can hide from the sun, none can escape your burning heat." (1961: 91)
The addressee's authority presents degrees: it is highest in Augustine's God, but utterly restricted in Plath's persona, for instance. With J.J. Rousseau, God is only a witness of one's weaknesses to which the book testifies; humankind becomes the supreme judge. What the writer asks for is understanding and human solidarity.
In addition, the Augustinian text also points out that the human auditor is not only a means but also an end of one's confession. By reciting his own conversion, the confessant hopes to edify others. The speaker constitutes his audience in the act of speaking, to the extent that the latter is completely absorbed into the personality of the confessant. Wordsworth's imaginary dialogues with Coleridge, or Lowell's with his fellow writers come immediately to mind.
Confession produces a particular kind of self-understanding which one achieves in dialogue with others: Augustine converts when he understands that the Pauline text is a model for himself and he can imitate it. The confession of another is content and motive for one's own conversion experience. However, the subject of the discourse seems to be not the confessant himself, as no account of his own conversion is given, but the auditor, imagined, or real: "Ideally the confession does not issue in an impulse toward conversion but actually is a conversion for the auditor." (McConnell 1974: 29)
As art, confession is part of the 'event of being' that occurs in presentation, e. g., in reading: it asks to be understood as the coming-into-existence of the work itself. As structure, it is a meaningful whole which can be repeatedly presented as such and, the significance of which can be detached from the behavior of the author, and understood. Both the author and the reader experience confession as a reality surpassing them. Their conduct is determined by the 'spirit of confession' and by their role in relation to the whole of confession. A confession achieves its 'being' only in being uttered to someone: as an 'enduringly fixed expression of life', it speaks only through the reader. It is in him that it achieves its full significance. Through him, the written text changes back into meaning, the subject it speaks of finds expression. The reader participates in constructing the truth of the work, and ultimately, it is he who ratifies it. "It is not for me to judge the relative importance of events; I must relate them all, and leave the selection to the reader. But by relating to him in simple detail all that has happened to me, all that I have done, all that I have felt, I cannot lead him into error, unless willfully; and even if I wish to, I shall not easily succeed by this method. His task is to assemble these elements and to assess the being who is made up of them. The summing-up must be his, and if he comes to wrong conclusions, the fault will be of his own making" (Rousseau 1953: 169-170). Mention must be made, at this point, that "literary confession rivals Christian confession in its attempt to tell everything, forcing the reader to learn what he is not interested into." The reader (Jauss 1983: 245) is to establish whether J.J. Rousseau is guilty or not, postponing his verdict until he has become familiar with the whole story, and at the same time with the whole truth.
His presence forces the writer to attempt to create some illusion of veracity and objectivity, through the abundance of quotations, the technique of mirrors, etc. The 'reading contract' at the basis of confession presupposes a reader that takes for granted, and considers as true what he is offered. Doubting it would negate the status of the work. The reader is taken as witness, and thus the secrecy that defines one's disclosure is denied.
As an act of communication, literary confession has always a promissory character: the reader accepts the writer's account on faith. The confessant implicitly requests his confessor to take seriously the impression he fosters before him. The latter is asked to believe that the 'character' he sees he actually possesses and that matters are what they appear to be. His compassion and tolerance of the confessant's weaknesses, which come from his understanding of the other's failures, validates the truth of confession, which sets up a fraternite des esprits: "So they wish to listen as I confess what I am in my heart, into which they cannot pry by eye or ear or mind. They wish to hear what they are ready to believe; but then they really know me? Charity, which makes them good, tells them that I do not lie about myself when I confess what I am, and it is this charity in them that believes me." (Augustine 1961: 209)
Confession explicitly functions both performatively, and cognitively: it informs and tries to convince. In confessional writing, that what the author assumes to be real actually is real. Its significance should be sought beyond what we ordinarily assume to be true or false, deception, or referential verification. Confession directs literature towards the task of drawing, out from the depths of oneself, a truth, which the very form of confession holds out like a seeming representation.
The truth speaks out of me
The 'will to truth' remains the fundamental driving force behind all confessional practices, literary included. Since simple factuality is no sufficient guarantee of veracity, there must be something that transcends it, a 'metaphysical' value that founds it, gives it sense and direction, sets limits to it, and gives it the right to exist: in the name of it, a solution is sought for in an individual history. The truth that confession ventures to uncover is the invisible center that connects everything, the unique monogram that gives it a name and identifies it. Appeal to it is absolutely necessary for any attempt at successfully defining the nature of the genre. "To confess is to overcome guilt and shame in the name of truth: it is an epistemological use of language in which ethical values of good and evil are superseded by values of truth and falsehood" (deMan 1979: 279). In a still darker sense: "Confession, with all that it implies by way of redeeming honesty, would not of course exist as a concept were it not that we constantly use language to deceive others as well as ourselves." (Rose 1992: 67)
For an utterly religious spirit like Augustine, there is no doubt about the revealed character of truth nor about its content. What about other confessional writers, particularly modern, who cannot make such a demand? Are they victims of a permanent delusion? Does confession sanctify a lie, an illusion, then? Should poets be forever banished from the city then? What does their infatuation with truth originate in? Is there any way their claim may be right?
The particular nature of confession may provide an answer. Confession is modeled by and, in turn, models 'being-values'. Truth, self-esteem, identity, and self-actualization are among the supreme values that an individual can search for; they are independent of one's whims, and accessible only in the highest moments of perspicuity, i.e., mystical perception, illumination, insight. Confession seems to be one of these moments. Understood as permanent exigencies, which manifest themselves only in, and through, the history of individuals, these values require worship and atonement. Reflecting on them or coalescing with them, gives the confessant the greatest exultation one is capable of: "So, if I go on to confess, not what I was, but what I am, the good comes out at is this. There is joy in my heart when I confess to you, yet, there is fear as well. There is sorrow, and yet hope. But I confess not only to you but also to believers among men, all who share my joy and all who, like me, are doomed to die; all who are my fellows in your kingdom and all who accompany me on this pilgrimage." (Augustine 1961: 210)
The value of confession, its reward as well, lies in bridging the gap between art and life. Truth and self-esteem are 'fusion-words' that blend facts and values: they are human, in a special sense: they are not only man's, "they are him as well" (Maslow 1993: 328). It is in this sense that the search for truth, for one of the supreme values of life, becomes a quest for one's authentic self. Discovering one's genuine nature is simultaneously a moral quest, and a cognitive quest. Thus the very act of confessing clarifies, and culminates one's experience; it is 'real' and becomes part of one's life. If these values are identified with, and grow into defining characteristics of one's self, does this mean that reality and the world are consequently identified with and become a mark of the self itself? Confessional writers seem to agree that this is so. This fusion of the individual with the world should be understood as an isomorphism, a better fitting together, a 'feeling from within': "We must fight to return to that early mind--intellectually we play with fables that once had us sweating under sheets--the emotional feeling drenched of wonder goes--in our minds we must recreate it, even while we measure baking powder for a hurry-up cake and calculate next month's expenses. Practice: Be a chair, a toothbrush, a jar of coffee from the inside out; know by feeling in." (Plath 1998: 182)
An objective approach to confession is desirable, yet, probably, less adequate when dealing with the ultimate values of life. Only a radically different approach, one that adjusts itself better to the particular nature of its object, could provide, if not a definitive answer, at least a way out of the 'cave'. One often speaks of the necessity for an alternative to positivist scientific knowledge, of the need to return to history, which only 'narrative understanding' (Ricoeur 1984) can offer. The recuperation of literature's lost ontological status (too long confused with the general concept of poetry), through a radicalization of attitude, originating in Martin Heidegger's Holderlin and the Essence of Poetry (1936), further elaborated by Hans-Georg Gadamer in Truth and Method (1960), seems to be more promising.
For Heidegger (1962), the essence of truth is not a vacuous, abstract universal, but the unique, which hides and is proper to a unique history; it is the meaning hinc et nunc, of what he calls 'Being'. It has not the structure of an adequacy to some object; rather it is a way of relating to 'Being', the ground of which is freedom. 'Being' is an issue for the Dasein ('being-there'), which distinguishes itself from other beings by its understanding of being as what exists. Understanding is possible because there is a clearing (Lichtung) in the 'Being', between being and beings. Understanding is the original form of the realization of the Dasein, which is 'being-in-the-world'. Knowledge receives its justification from the fore-structure of the Dasein. Therefore, all understanding is self-understanding, i.e., a projection of oneself upon one's possibilities. Projection here means adaptation to the object, (as such, it opposes to Romantic empathy); it itself has the mode of being of the Dasein, and involves respectful attention to the matter-in-hand, without any intrusion of the controlling will. This amounts to treating it as something per se, with its own right to be, rather than as a means to some end, other than itself. Such an attitude is a priori necessary for us to understand the full concrete richness of the subject of thought in puris naturalibus, without our imposing ourselves upon it. This existential structure, which ultimately reveals itself as liberty, works in all processes of knowledge, artistic included. Instead of Procrustean structuring, true freedom consists of accepting and loving the inevitable, the nature of 'reality'. It would be convenient therefore to place the founding function of the poetical verb in the temporalizing act of the heideggerian Sein bei (stand by): "Man's selfhood means this: it has to transform the Being that opens itself up to it into history and thus bring itself to a stand. Selfhood does not mean that humanity is primarily an 'I' and individual." (Heidegger 1962: 121)
The historicity of the human Dasein, in its longing and in its forgetting, is the condition of our being able to re-represent the past. Belonging originally belongs to the finitude of the Dasein. The Dasein, which projects itself on its own potentiality for being, has always already been. This is what Heidegger means by the existential of 'throwness' (Geworfenheit). Truth is the disclosure of 'Being' that is given with the historicity of the Dasein. On this line of thinking, we may say that, to confess, which is a mode of understanding, means to exist. Sylvia Plath might have intuitively sensed this when she wrote in one of her 'letters home': "I feel terribly vulnerable and not-myself when I'm not writing." (apud Markey 1993: 134)
The disclosure of being, that is, of truth, is Heidegger argues, discursive: "It is in words and language that things first come into being and are." Further on, "to know means to be able to stand in the truth. Truth is the manifestness of the essent. To know is accordingly the ability to stand in the manifestness of the essent, to endure it." (1962: 11, 17)
The heideggerian formula gives not only a strong ontological basis for the problem under scrutiny, it allows for aesthetic foundation as well, for, what is the 'transformation into structure', the process by means of which something turns into an object of art, is also a 'transformation into the true'. "It is not enchantment in the sense of a bewitchment that waits for the redeeming word that will transform things back to what they were: rather, it is self-redemption and transformation back into true being. In being presented in play, what is emerges." (Gadamer 1993: 112)
Inasmuch as it is structure, confession has its own measure, and permits no correlation with reality, nor the question whether it is all real. The being of all confession is self-realization, it has its telos in itself. The world of art is a wholly metamorphosed world. In, and through it, everyone recognizes that that is how things are. Reality is what is untransformed. Art is the raising up of reality into truth. The entering into relations of order guarantees the 'truth' of what is said. The problem of confession then is to elicit configuration. Its aim is to give voice to lost layers of experience, to make life human, that is, meaningful. In the words of Marcel Proust: "Real life, life at last laid bare and illuminated--the only life in consequence which can be said to be really lived--is literature, and life thus defined is in a sense all the time immanent in ordinary man no less than in the artist. But most men do not see it because they do not seek to shed light upon it." (apud Ricoeur 1991: 379)
Literature can turn into a test of what is true, because language fashions the 'world' we live in. By covering a temporal sequence sufficiently extensive to allow the emergence of the contour of a life, by selecting the most salient events, and then arranging them in a dominant pattern (even by adding events not really experienced), confession attempts to elicit the 'truth' about an individual's life and give meaning to one's 'mythic tale'. The title of Robert Lowell's volume, i.e., Life Studies, is instructive in this regard: the poems in the sequence are quick, unfinished sketches, discontinuous glimpses that the poet forces into a coherent narrative. In a poem entitled "Unwanted," one comes across these lines: "causes for my misadventure, considered/for forty years too obvious to name,/come jumbling out/to give my simple autobiography a plot." (2006: 331)
It is in the continuity of discourse, in its being worked out on the page, that the subject's history is constituted. By drawing the past into the focus of the present, through the glass of memory, the confessant universalizes his experience.
A confessional text is not only a formal structure closed upon itself, it discloses a world of possible experience. To write is to make a world 'surge'. The writer, says Garelli, is the individual "who represents what tosses and rises in the movements where the world becomes what it is. It is what the poet founds by the verb. A poem is a world or nothing." Confession opens on to a 'world', by means of which the established limits of our actual world are expanded, or transcended. The 'world' is the place where the fundamental gestures of man take root: "There is a world of sights, odors and sounds, a world of words, only to the extent that what is lived, felt, touched or experimented is but the lit faces of a people of murmuring shadows. Because of it, it is impossible to reduce a smile or a word to the simplicity of a form, an essence, or a sign. From a radically different perspective, it is something like the forces rising beyond the horizon, itself a hole for the zones of light or darkness" (Garelli 1978: 87, 164-165). We thus come close to a definition of the imaginary in which the poetical universe is a zone set up by a temporal act of intentional projection (Burgos 1988). The concept of world used here is not representation, a world of things. "To have a world," Gadamer contends, "means to have an orientation (Verhalten) towards it. To have an orientation towards the world, however, means to keep oneself free from what one encounters of the world that one can present it to oneself as it is. This capacity is at once to have a world and to have language." (1993: 443)
All coming into poetic language has about it something of this quality of self-attestation. Any artistic experience, worth the name, is an event, in which the truth never appears whole. Art does not ratify something that exists in advance. In understanding a piece of literature, readers too are drawn into an event of truth. "The lyric," Robert Lowell says quoting Keats' remark about 'one eternal pant', is 'a monument to immediacy', the poem being "an event, not a record of an event. It makes a claim to produce an event--it is this for lyric which strives and which sometimes brings off." Lowell instanced Keats' most fascinating poem, "This Living Land," as a case in point in which the Romantic poet, "eschews apostrophe for direct address," producing an event. (apud Rudman 1983: 78)
The kind of oeuvre that Lowell envisages involves risks, putting to test. It is true, the American poet insists that a poem should be about direct experience, not about symbols, it should tell one's personal story and recollections. For all this, the truth of confession does not lie so much in its correspondence with reality, but in what it can share, i.e., its meaning(s). It follows that a confessional text is not to be understood as an expression of life, with respect to what it says, for one's confession is life. The particular historical person referred to is of secondary importance for meaning because, as a work of art, confession experiences a continued determination of its meaning from the occasion of its coming-to-presentation; then reality rises up into its 'truth' (cf. Gadamer 1993: 113). Through the configurational act confession brings us back from 'within timeness' (the inauthentic experience of time, to 'historicity' (recollected time), where the potentialities of temporality are retrieved. In confession, events are not merely in succession, they are articulated in a whole, and a sense of end is added. In seeking to reconnect his past and present selves via memory, a confessant's objective is to derive a sense of continuity, an enduring, and unified identity that has withstood time's inexorable flow.
The direction of the msthetic movement in confession is towards the essence of being. What else is then Lowell's search for an 'unblemished Adam', but the materialization of such an idea? In confession, chronology is continuously destroyed to permit the knowledge of the intimate self, which can be only intuitive, that is, aesthetic. Going beyond, or annulling ordinary significance, the literary work opens a new world, expression of a deeper reality. In the written text direct reference is suspended, the text frees itself from the bondage of mimesis: "The poem originates in a catastrophe, since everyday life is barred in its traditional systems of reference, and its confidence in its rational structure is destroyed, it overcomes this negative situation by means of the dialectical construction of the work." (Garelli 1978: 123)
In life "all things flow, and nothing remains still"; life is a dialectic between sameness (involving continuity) and difference (underlying change). The same dialectic might just as well be separated into 'theme' (an individual's style life, or identity, which gives it direction, unifies and centers) and 'variations', whereby a holistic or pattern approach (similar to literary criticism) to the problems of personal identity could be elaborated (Holland 1979: 245). The term 'identity theme' is thus used as a mode of representing a human being to himself. Like it, the self is open-ended. Temporalization, the writer's effort of overcoming the linearity of everyday existence, should also be understood as a structuring principle of the confessional discourse as well. At the level of intentional projection, the poem has a linear, progressive structure; it has also a paradigmatic one, which tends to produce 'breaks' of meaning. It is these moments, when the succession of moments is short-circuited, which make the world of confession surge. By suspending linear temporality, these 'catastrophes' generate what Aristotle called distensio animi, an extension of the spirit. Confession is no longer an account of external adventures, stretching along episodic time: it is itself a spiral movement that brings us back to the almost motionless constellation of potentialities of being. Robert Lowell contends that "the poem permits the writer to invent modalities of being, which the structures of daily life do not allow." (apud Axelrod 1978: 107)
Beyond the chain of signification, there is a movement of Being. Breaks allow for totalizing one's time experience. The 'world', the place where all the meanings of the poem converge, reveals a structure of being, as well as a structure of meaning. Being (Etre) and knowing (savoir) are given at the same moment. Being co-exists with the temporal deployment of the text.
The end of confession is what equals the present with the past, the actual, with the potential. The self is what one was. This form of repetition is the equivalent of what Heidegger calls 'Fate', individual fate or destiny, communal destiny. However, the superposition of a time of experience and a time of confession may sometimes result in the dissolution of the self, e. g., Plath. These interrelationships are extremely intricate: on the one hand, one's life seems to make one's writing possible, on the other hand, the ability to write saves one's life, and gives it a meaning.
Robert Lowell returns repeatedly to the interrelatedness of 'one life, one writing'. Accepting responsibility for his book, he also holds himself accountable for his own life: "My eyes have seen what my hand did." Yet, the American poet understands very well that "the flux of life is not poetry." (apud Axelrod 1978: 107)
Only, one should add, the 'narrative' that thus emerges is not simply linear; it bears the marks of the self's drama of the quest, its dilemmas and uncertainties. To come into being as text, the referential function of confession has to be deferred. The suspension of direct reference is a constitutive moment only, which allows the transfiguration of reality into the work, as well as the collision of the work with reality, which it re-makes, or negates. As literature, confession brings to language values and aspects of reality to which ordinary language has no access. It does not double a pre-existing order. The aim of confession is to recapture some spiritual evidence now lost, to restore man's historical being, to its truth: "The spirit of poetry is essentially superior to the spirit that prevails in all mere science. By virtue of this superiority the poet always speaks as though the essents were being expressed and invoked for the first time. Poetry, like the thinking of the philosopher, has always so much world space to spare, that in it each thing--a tree, a mountain, a horse, the cry of a bird--loses all indifference and commonplaceness." (Heidegger 1962: 21-22)
The confessional writer searches for a fundamental relation to the true, not simply in oneself, or in some forgotten knowledge, but in the act of self-examination itself, which will yield, he hopes, through a multitude of fleeting impressions, the chief tenets of one's consciousness. The self-revelation that is at the core of it is ultimately a measuring instrument by itself. "How much truth can a spirit bear, how much truth can a spirit dare?"(Nietzsche 1992: 4) The answer to the question that no confessional writer can avoid will always remain an individual's problem.
The dismemberment of Orpheus
Confession posits a division within the self itself, which it thematizes and tries to overcome: "Truly it is by continence that we are made as one and regain that unity of self which we lost by falling apart in the search for a variety of pleasures" (Augustine 1961: 233). The inner fracture, 'precedes' the confessional act, and compels the individual, unsatisfied with a superficial image of himself, to search for some deeper, really authentic ego.
This inside self has a history that may have no significance in any objective history. For the confessant, however, it represents his truer self, it is his second nature and part of what he is. Dividuality, which is sometimes taken for une ecriture feminine, is a modus vivendi for the confessant, who plays a true existential drama. For him, his problematic nature is a predicament. This accounts for the significant presence of the theme in the poetry of Plath, in poems such as "Two Sisters of Persephone," "In Plaster," "Black Rook in Rainy Weather," "The Disquieting Muses," "Barren Woman," "The Moon and the Yew Tree," etc. One explanation could be that the twentieth-century poet continues to live in a society which first of all discourages the possibility of an autonomous female identity by defining womanliness primarily in terms of love --selfless connubial love, ecstatic romantic love, nurturing maternal love.
The individual 'split' firstly gets meaning in the Christian moral consciousness. It is through religion that the individual truly opens towards his own anticipations. Consequently, the Christian subjectivity, which constructs in Augustine's Confessions, is cleft between the self that writes and the self seemingly lost in the darkness of the past. This is made manifest by the way the book is organized: it tells the story, books I-IX, up to the protagonist's fall in sin. However, nothing is told of the next twelve years of apostolic work that followed Augustine's conversion, as if they were of no public interest. Another scission, between Augustine, the man, and his Creator, emerges in the book. Through it, the individual becomes acquainted with himself as a poor fragment, an ignoble part of a mysterious unity. The new, converted self, invents its true identity by returning its face to God, while still looking back on his former self. However, memory, on which self-knowledge depends, can offer but a fragmentary identity. Haunted by the image of the whole, which only the child retains, the protagonist of The Confessions can only hope for the final reunion that will solve the conflict between the spiritual being and material variety.
It is important to point out that in the process of laicization and secularization, confession continued to benefit from the religious tradition. Although it founded man's identity on his own individuality, instead of searching for God's, the literature of the Renaissance, appropriated the characteristic features of divine identity--thus reviving the Augustinian scheme of understanding--and set them as norms of self-knowledge. In addition, writers of the age placed particular emphasis on the role of memory and the imagination, in other words, on a way of aesthetically appropriating reality and revealing the individual. Yet, the model the Renaissance authors used for self-search is not Saint Augustine's but the meditative soliloquy that emerged from Ignatius de Loyola's Spiritual Exercises (1548). Here, the self achieves maximum malleability by means of daring, mostly imaginative, projections. It is a highly formalized type of meditation, including the composition of place, setting of the imaginative scene, reflection on the theological and personal implications of the scene, the colloquy, the individual prayer and thanksgiving for what has been learnt in the meditation. This type of reflection, as opposed to contemplation, which involves the application of mind and will to some spiritual principle, mystery or event, for the purpose of sanctifying one's soul, by exciting proper spiritual emotions and resolving on a course of action, was a source of spiritual and poetic insight. Such a particular form of meditation however destroys art, when it turns to its ultimate objective: contemplative and ecstatic love. (Loyola 1996: 31-38)
The inner division, however, remains: Michel de Montaigne too is aware that he and the mayor of Bordeaux "have always been two, and clearly separated," but thinks "duly play our role" (1907 3: 500). In everyday life, the French writer argues, we present an incomplete and, at times, deceitful, image of ourselves; writing gives a more accurate and lifelike one, instead. Significantly, Montaigne does not try to overcome it!
Although the disjunction between the private self and the public figure is clearly visible with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the confessant still insists on self-unity. Returning to himself by means of writing, the writer discovers a deeper self. Thus, confession is bound to reveal the most intimate pulsations of man's soul: the act of unveiling is granted the attributes which, in the Augustinian scheme of self-knowledge, were exclusively God's.
The Romantic self is typically divided between sensibility and intellect; the Romantic confessant displays a growing and painful sentiment of the incompleteness of himself and of his destiny. In an attempt to answer the frustrations generated by the Romantic dissociation of sensibility and intellect, the symbolist poets elaborated a doctrine of correspondences, rooted their imaginary partially in the unconscious, abandoned the empirical self, destroyed it, in order to make it a vehicle of poetry, by deliberately disordering all senses: "I dare say that you must see, you must make yourself see. The poet must make himself see through an immense, prolonged and carefully considered alteration of all his senses. He seeks within himself all of the forms of love, sufferance and madness; he exhausts all poisons and keeps only the quintessence" (Rimbaud 1965: 202). The creative self and the phenomenal self are clearly split: 'On me pense' (I am being thought), 'Je suis un autre' (I am another), writes Arthur Rimbaud in the famous letter of May, 15th, 1871, to Paul Demeny (1965: 200). Through a verbal alchemy, by fusing the real decor and the imaginary spectacle, the poet wants to recover his true self. Edouard Joachim Corbiere (Amours Jaunes, 1873) and Jules Laforgue (Les Complaintes, 1885) closely anticipate the confessional mode. They turn their poetry into a multiple self-portrait, a dramatic exposure of their existence in real setting. With them, identity, negatively defined, turns fluid and dubious. Lost identity becomes a favorite theme, almost an obsession. With them, the 'I' becomes absurd, and self-alienated. Self-alienation is taken for granted, not mused upon. The self written-about is just one possibility of existence. Jules Laforgue extends his identity theme from self-confession to general reflection. The divided self becomes a vision of human existence.
For all this, the 'prophet' of the dissolution of the self remains Friederich Nietzsche. In the Will to Power (1888) the German philosopher argues that the 'subject' which we take as a given, is merely a fiction; it is something impersonal, the 'will', which organizes one's work. He also points out the danger, which any self's inquiry into its own history faces, i.e., that one may interpret himself falsely. Moreover, in The Genealogy of Morals (1887), the history of a thing is seen as a continuous sign-chain of interpretations. The subject itself is the result of interpretation, of the same linguistic figurative habit. Sometimes the 'will to power' is seen as an abstract, unlocalized figurative force; at times, Nietzsche places it in the unconscious, which is unknown to us.
The demolition of the Cartesian ego, as a stable basis for analysis, which Nietzsche inaugurated, continued in Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), a key text in any discussion of confessional writing. In the line of Nietzsche, Freud argues that the self is constituted by a discourse (the neurotic's), which he never completely masters. The traditional monadic structure is supplanted by a splitting of the subject (Ichspaltung), in which consciousness is only a division of one's personality; its reality is basically relational. Consciousness is a necessary but not sufficient condition of individuation. The elusive center that founds it is the unconscious. His contemporary, Carl Gustav Jung argues (1983:15 ff.) states that the subject, i.e., moi, consciousness, designates one's personality as a whole, and cannot be given clear limits; it extends indefinitely but it is embraced by a superior soi i.e., the unconscious, which is objectively given to the moi, but which can assimilate aspects of it. It is the particular way in which the moi and the soi combine that shapes one's individual personality. It does not follow from this that confession is indistinguishable from the psychoanalytical discourse. Freud himself marks out the difference clearly: "In confession, the sinner tells what he knows; in analysis, the neurotic has to tell more. Nor have we heard that confession has ever developed enough power to get rid of actual pathological symptoms" (Freud 1975: 189). There are obvious similarities between confession and psychotherapy: the patient comes in with insecurities and discusses innermost feelings with confidence; there is a general atmosphere of acceptance; the goal is release (catharsis); the patient learns to do what is right. The main differences consist in the fact that confession does not allow transference and no personal relation takes place since it centers on objective guilt. On the other hand, psychotherapy is geared to what lies in the conscious acts of will and is centered on subjective feelings. Moreover, it implies that man can determine his fate. The psychotherapist has no predetermined ritual to fit all individuals, the process is individually oriented, because the psychotherapist sees sin, i.e., egocentrism, as the result of an involuntary process contrary to the individual's will.
The twentieth century has been notified as 'obsessively confessional'. Modernist literature produces a re-evaluation of the self, which parallels the psychoanalytical deconstruction. Inheritors of these developments in psychology, the modernist poets no longer believe in the old stable Cartesian ego: it has become elusive, mysterious, and reference to it can only be made by indirection. The authentic self, whose search is their permanent objective, is located in 'workmanship', in 'construction'. Traditional philosophical categories dissolve in the play of textual constraints, but do not resist textual modeling. The epitome of this process is the doctrine of 'impersonality' that T.S. Eliot preaches in Tradition and the Individual Talent: "The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality" (1958: 21). It excludes any presentation of the artist as "a man speaking to men." He must have only aesthetic existence. Poetry is rather directed towards the object, than the subject. Modernist poetry, in which the logos is idealized, is an attempt to transcend rational apprehension, and reach total illumination; it denies a position for the transcendental ego, and insists that the subject is made, and relational. Rather than communicating experience through words, poetry creates experiences. Since an experience cannot be expressed directly, the poet forges an 'objective correlative' to the emotion it stirs up. Thus defined, modernism has apparently no self to confess!
After the war, a new generation of poets strongly reacted to T.S. Eliot's insistence that the poet should only function as catalyst or disinterested agent, and re-asserted their own personal commitment to an art that directly feed on one's life. The type of poem, which emerges in the America of the late 1950's with Robert Lowell's Life Studies, still belongs to confessional literature, as it continues to perform the primary function of that tradition, i.e., to tell the whole truth about oneself.
The entire movement of Confessional poetry may be said to have commenced on the evening of November 18, 1953, when during a piano concert W.D. Snodgrass scribbled on the back of his program lines which eventually became the beginning of Heart's Needle: "Child of my winter, born/When the new soldiers died/On the ice hills, when I was torn" (Axelrod 1978: 98). However, most critics agree that Robert Lowell's Life Studies sanctioned the new movement. The following volumes of poetry are usually associated with 'confessionals': W.D. Snodgrass's Heart'sNeedle (1959), Robert Lowell's Life Studies (1959) and much of his later work (Notebook, The Dolphin), Anne Sexton's To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) and later volumes, Randall Jarrell's The Lost World (1965), Sylvia Plath's Ariel (1966), John Berryman's Dream Songs (1969), Stanley Kunitz's The Testing Tree (1971).
The volume "brings to culmination one line of development in our poetry of the uttermost importance. To build a great poem out of the predicament and horror of the lost self has been the recurrent effort of the most ambitious poetry of the last century. Lowell's effort is a natural outgrowth of the modern emphasis on the 'I' as the crucial poetic symbol, and of the self-analytical monologue of the sensibility which have helped to define that emphasis." (Rosenthal 1967: 236-237)
The new confessional self is fragmented, volatile, and alienated. Psychoanalytical epiphany does not redeem it. A disturbing question now rises, whether the splitting of the self, so conspicuous in Sylvia Plath, is not a characteristic of writing itself, which critics have transformed into pathology of the patient (Rose 1992: 2). There are repeated references and comments in Plath on the relation between body and writing, which expose the 'preconditions' of writing, the physicality of the act. If there is violence in Sylvia Plath's writing, it is not because she speaks of violence, but because violence is internal to the physical substratum of speech, and comes to be represented in the text. This negative ownership belongs to the act of symbolization, and is therefore unaccountable. It only proves how volatile the boundaries between fiction and reality are, and that they can be easily transgressed in either direction.
I confess, therefore ... I am
Confession originates in self-reflection. The specular double the text creates is one's curse, but it may also bring the redemption one so desperately looks for. "I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions," Sylvia Plath declares for a start, and goes on to say: "Whatever I see I swallow immediately./I am not cruel, only truthful--/ The eye of a little god, four-cornered .../Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,/Searching my reaches for what she really is." ("Mirror," 1981: 173)
For the confessant, the 'I' is the only symbolical order that can give significance to the materials of his life; "it is identification in the strong sense; it is the origin of the very phenomenon of identity" (Levinas 1986: 345). In composing his story, the confessional author molds his life, and the world around, into an 'image of himself', by alternately posing as sitter, and painter. When the idea of the 'self portrait' emerged, Michel de Montaigne naturally borrowed the more familiar and accurate vocabulary of painting: "In shaping this figure on myself, I have often had to temper and compose myself to extract myself, so that a true replica is taken, and it is in no way formed by itself. Painting myself for others, I have painted myself in sharper colors than were my original ones." ("De Dementir," 1907, 2: 524)
By making his life the theme of his tale, the confessional writer attempts to draw out a structure of his being in time, for the man who discloses himself is seeking his self through history. In the process, he does not only construct an image of himself, but reconstructs himself. Probably, no other writer so strongly felt dependent on the process of writing than Sylvia Plath did; writing alone could create her identity out of the void.
In order to reconstruct the unity of his own self or of himself with the world, the confessant must take distance with regard to himself. The split creates the possibility, for the writer, for a textual alternative. The writer's private feelings remain part of his psychological world. The text, as expression, communicates some sense of the lived experience, but not the experience itself. The self-portrait that emerges in confession, necessarily leads to a certain individual, not a type, although what it shows is often an idealization, running from the most intimate and private, to the representative. The individual portrays represents himself in his portrait and is represented by his portrait. No matter how doubtful the facts recounted may be, the confessional text tends to present an 'authentic' image of the writer. "In Life Studies we are thrust into the action immediately, this time is the real Robert Lowell, whose history corresponds, rather than conforms, to the 'I' in the poems. Lowell is in the poems" (Rudman 1983: 60, emphasis added). Similarly, "a confessional poem would seem to be one in which the writer speaks to the reader, telling him, without the mediating presence of imagined event or persona, something about his life. The sense of direct speech addressed to an audience is central to confessional writing." (Howe 1979: 232)
By means of imaginative variations of his ego, the writer tries to gain a 'narrative understanding' of himself. It is the only kind of understanding that escapes the pseudo-alternative of pure change, or of absolute identity.
A retrospective discourse which one makes of his own life, confession seems to define itself by a reading contract (contrat de lecture) rather than formal elements: "narrative that relates the life of the author, which presupposes there is an identity between the author (who figures under his own name, in the text, or on the cover), the narrator of the story and the character that it narrates about" (Lejeune 1975: 23-24). On a similar line of thought, Georges may contends that "of all, only the identity author/confessant distinguishes confessional factual discourse. A discursive mode which fully situates the writer's self in the moments of its composition in its text, seeks to avoid the ontological contradiction in autobiographical narration between the writer and his subject, while it also represents the abandonment of the kind of therapeutic hope, in Augustine, Wordsworth, and Proust. Whether such a discursive mode can be more truthful about the self than a narrative mode is another matter." (1984: 180)
Confession therefore presupposes assumed co-referentiality, identity, and resemblance, at the level of enunciation, between the author, and the confessant, and resemblance, at the level of enounces, between the confessant, and the protagonist. At the same time, the identity of the author and the confessant signalizes the writer's serious engagement. However, this is no guarantee of the veracity of the text, as the author may lie. The identity of author and narrator works only for the gullible reader; the perspicacious one will always sense the difference. (Genette 1994: 154)
Nevertheless, confession can never attain pure transitivity. No matter how much the person portrayed may have been transformed into the essential, this does not alter the fundamental fact that the self-portrait represents an individual (Gadamer 1993:149). Tudor Vianu formulates the problem in similar terms, as the "self-expression of a particular and empirical ego expressed through the matter of its own events." (1987: 26) The personal pronoun, the first person, privilegedly used in the text, marks this identification. However, the 'I' is only a 'means of relating' (Holland 1979: 159). Yet, confessional intentionality depends on just such retention of the 'I'. Resemblance, which admits degrees, here means exactness at the level of information and fidelity at the level of significance.
Confession obstinately questions itself about the writing subject's identity with oneself. The confessant may insist on self-unity, but this is often only an effect of discursive practice. However, the constancy it alludes to is not without ambiguity. The author, a socially and historically situated person, is an entity that defines itself outside discourse, although the confessional writing pretends of constructing it. For readers, the author is a real person only on the basis of a social convention which identifies the name of the cover with a certain real person. It simply remains a matter of faith: "Therefore the subject of lyrical enunciation identifies with the poet in the logical sense of the word. There is no criterion, neither logical, nor aesthetical, neither internal nor external which would authorize us to say that the subject of the enunciation of the poem could be identified, or not, with the poet. We do not have the possibility, nor the right, to support the idea that the poet presents what the poem enounces--be it in the form of an 'I'--as being his own experience. The logical identity does not signify, in this case, that all the enunciations of a poem, as a whole, must correspond to the real experience of the author." (Hamburger 1980: 240-241)
For most readers, an author's main mark of reality is his previous literary production. The problem is extremely complex since the producers of literary texts are themselves cultural constructions: "an author is not a perfect ego, but a mixture of public, and private, conscious, and unconscious elements" (Scholes 1982: 14), whereas "literature challenges the limits we set to the self as a device of order and allows us, painfully and joyfully, to accede to an expansion of the self." (Culler 2002: 151)
The author is frequently seen as 'product or effect of the text', he can never be 'more than an effect of discourse', and "subjectivity must be approached not as a point of origin but as the effect of the poetic discourse." (Easthope 1983: 7) Traditionally, the author is taken for the source of the significations that fill the work, for the principle of unity of writing, and particularly of expression, a view that derives from the way the Christian tradition authenticates texts. Most post-modernist theories agree on the centrality of language in constructing human subjectivity. They show the subject as a construct articulated in the symbolic order of language. In "What is an author" Michel Foucault (1988: 205, passim) argues that the concept of author as subject, as one who authorizes the text, may no longer be useful, or even tenable. He points out that the absence of the authorizing subject from the text is characteristic of modern intellectual life. The work is independent from its author. The latter's signature affixed to the work does not refer purely and simply to a real individual, since it can give rise to several selves simultaneously, to certain subjects-positions that can be occupied by different classes of individuals. Defined by a series of specific and complex operations, the author is an ideological figure, a certain functional principle by which one marks the manner in which the proliferation of meaning is limited or controlled. It rather serves to characterize a certain mode of discourse, shows it has to be received in a certain mode, and that, in a certain culture, the discourse has a certain status.
The historical subject is not a subject at all, but the unity of one and the other, a relationship that constitutes both the reality of history and the reality of historical understanding. In his "Death of the author," Roland Barthes gave the idea its most radical formulation. The author is not the originator of his writings: to write is an intransitive verb with an impersonal subject: "Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing. As soon as a fact is narrated no longer with a view to acting directly on reality, but intransitively outside any function other than that of the very practice of the symbol itself, this disconnection occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death, writing begins." (1988: 154)
In auricular confession, however, the identity author-confessant is immediate. In the written discourse, direct reference is superseded and the author distances himself from the text. The proximity of the speaker, in oral communication, is replaced by a complex relation of the author to the text, which allows us to say that the author is somewhat instituted by the text, which prompts Paul Ricoeur to argue that "the text takes on a life of its own and the self that was not really in existence in the beginning is in the end merely a matter of the text, and has nothing whatever to do with an authorizing author" (1991: 47-48). The suspension, which defers the reference, merely leaves the text 'in the air'. The world of the text eclipses the real one. Confession is, for this reason, a 'thanatography': the empirical self has to become silent to authenticate the struggle for words of the other. As Sylvia Plath puts it: "I felt if I didn't write nobody would accept me as a human being. Writing, then, was a substitute for myself: if you don't love, love my writing and love me for my writing" (1998: 281). This, in turn, affects the relation to the subjectivity of the author, and reader, respectively. We think we know what an author of a text is simply because we derive the notion of the author from that of the speaker. The confessional 'I' is, therefore, one of the many roles an author may assume: "The artist both creates and is created by his art, the self, especially the 'I' of lyric poetry, is a personality that achieves a kind of autonomy free not only of the personal life of the artist but free, as well, of the part-by-part progression of individual poems" (Oates 1979: 207). The non-coincidence of the psychological author and the speaker does not eliminate the former; the author refuses to stay dead. Instead, the split marks the irruption of a playful relation into the very subjectivity of the author. The confessant is the one who abstracts from the writer's personality; it is an imaginative variation, and consists in disguising oneself according to the confessional discourse, of which it is an integrative part. The subject that confessional texts construct is a 'confessional identity', constitutive of the subject, which the writer never ceases to re-interpret, in the light of the stories handed down to him by culture. One effect of self-analysis is abandonment. It is an important moment of appropriation, which does not mean taking possession. The text is a proposal for a mode of being-in-the-world, by means of non-ostensive references. Appropriation, therefore, implies a moment of dispossession of the narcissistic ego. In turn, the appropriation of the text creates a self, as opposed to the ego that preceded it.
The enunciating subject is the basis on which the writer tries to identify himself, an identity that exists beyond the text, but which remains mysterious. One should not forget that in Greek epic the function of writing was to perpetuate the immortality of the hero, in Arabian narratives, to postpone it. However, in modern culture, writing is linked to sacrifice of life and the effacement of the subject's individual characteristics. (1988: 98)
This mysterious identity corresponds to the instance that assumes responsibility of enunciation. It is not the writer himself, but a figure of him. The subject of enunciation is not only a linguistic reality, it has also grammatical, logical, and, what is even more important, ontological attributes. The identity of the first person defines by means of the references, and the temporal co-ordinates of discourse. The subject of enunciation is placed between 'the acting subject', which has spatial and temporal determinations, and 'the knowing subject', which has no temporal co-ordinates (Hamburger 1980: 57). This is the subject's only criterion of reality. However, time here has an existential dimension. The 'I' is a shifter; through it, the enounced articulates itself on the enunciation situation. It gets a reference only in the enunciation act: it is the one who assumes the role of confessant. It expresses a point of view, a position, and determines the structure of enunciation. Its identity changes with each speech act, unlike a name, which is stable. Enunciation itself is not the ultimate term of reference, for it raises an identity problem. It is through it that the reader ultimately establishes relationships with the real author. Metaphors, images, should not prevent us from seeing that the author is speaking to us directly: "Autobiography (the same holds true for confession, our note) is a literary genre which, by its very content, confuses the author with the individual." (Lejeune 1975: 33)
The self-portrait that emerges in confession is primarily a temporal construction, with its own inner rhythm. The confession of the past realizes itself as a work in the present; it effects a true creation of the self by the self. Either deliberately, or only tentatively, confession dwells in the present. The portrait is not just a replica: it belongs to the present or to the present memory of the individual
represented: "My memory captured images of those things when they were present, and the image remained so that I could see them and think about them by remembering them even when the things themselves were absent. I can mention a stone or the sun when these things are not present to my senses, but their images are present in my memory. I can speak of physical pain, but as long as I do not feel it, the pain itself is not present to me. Yet if the image of pain were not present in my memory, I should not know how to describe it nor could I distinguish it from pleasure when I spoke of it. I can talk of physical health when I am in good health. The condition of which I speak is present in me. But unless an image of it were also present in my memory, I could not possibly remember what the sound of the word meant, nor could sick people know what was meant when health was mentioned, unless an image of it were retained by the power of memory even when health is absent from the body. If a thing vanishes from sight but not from memory, its image is retained within us and we look for it until it comes to light again." (Augustine 1961: 223-224)
By claiming to display himself as he was, the 'I' exercises a sort of right to recover possession of his existence now. With writers such as Goethe, Rousseau or Lowell, the past is uncovered in order to ratify the present. Confession is not a passive, but an active discovery of oneself; it is not a revelation of a reality given in advance, but an advocating of values. The 'I' of the discourse can never signify in itself the writer's self-presence. The confessional writer inevitably separates himself from the 'I' of the written discourse, because of the inherent unverifiability of his references. By addressing his writing to his family, friends (i.e., Benjamin Franklin), and the writer somehow tries to contain this. The self-referential value of style refers back to the moment of writing, the contemporary 'me'. Nevertheless, this reference may appear as an obstacle, a distorting filter, to the accurate grasp, and transcription of past events. In some cases of confessional writing Chateaubriand for example, in Memoires d 'outre tombe--the author, may explicitly testify to his own separation both from his written 'I', and from the intersubjective imperatives incurred by this act of writing, and insist on discontinuity. The confessant may deny past faults, but never relinquishes responsibility. The 'I' is the index of this permanent self-imposed obligation. The object of utterance is always visible; the enunciated 'I' is entirely constructed by the text, and fixed by language. It is a dummy entity, which gets its identity by reference to the author, and from the text. It is in invisible center of a text whose single mark of control is. The 'I' is the sign of a conscience that structures the text while being structured itself in the process. It is a center that is everywhere, in a spatial sense, and nowhere in fact, as the source of creation. In a poem called "Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor" that Sylvia Plath wrote in 1958, which significantly deals, among other things, with the failure of linguistic desire, the self is characterized by her mode of description only: "I came before the water--/ Colorists came to get the/Good of the Cape light that scours/Sand grit to sided crystal/ And buffs and sleeks the blunt hulls/Of the three fishing smacks beached/On the bank of the river's/Backtracking tail. I'd come for/Free fish-bait: the blue mussels/Clumped like bulbs at the grass root/Margin of the tidal pools./Dawn tide stood dead low" (1981: 95). An essentially dynamic entity, it is an imaginative variation on the dialectic of selfhood (through which one is marked as individual, unique) and sameness (which evinces constancy in manifestation, and permanence, in time); an attempt to reconcile them. It derives its unity from the history of one's life; it is part of one's experiences, and is never distinct from them. Yet, it never loses connection with the writer: "literary fictions remain imaginative variations on an invariant, our corporeal condition experienced as the existential mediation between the self and the world. The body, i. e. the fact that we exist in the world is what Heidegger means when he speaks of the fact that the world is inhabited corporeally. Corporeal condition cannot become itself a variant." (Ricoeur 1991: 150)
A double deviation establishes between the confessant and the subject of the enunciation: a deviation in time and a deviation in identity, for it is obvious that the confessant was different from what he is today. This temporal distance is usually valued negatively. For Heidegger (1962) however, it is a positive condition that enables understanding: it is only when it appears divorced from the circumstances that produced it that a thing appears in its real nature. Everything handed down to us is filled with the continuity of tradition. At the level of language, only the deviation in time is marked, through the use of past or present references. The speaking instance of the discourse is different from the 'I' re-counted and from the empirical 'I', although it gives the impression of creating them. It is because the past 'I' is different from the present 'I' that the latter may really be confirmed in all his prerogatives. Like autobiography, confession yields self-sacrifice, the writer gives up his empirical self, for its textual rendition, so that one may be entitled to talk of the 'suicidal' implications of the genre. There is a continuous dissolution of the self, source of much agony. Confession is an adventure, in which the writer replaces the individual: "I do not say 'I'm going to describe myself', but 'I'm writing a text and I call it R.B.' ... I am myself my own symbol. I am the story which happens to me: freewheeling in language, I have nothing to compare myself to; and in this movement, the pronoun of the imaginary 'I' is impertinent; the symbolic becomes literally immediate: essential danger for the life of the subject." (Barthes 1994: 56)
Only by projecting his subjective experiences into a life outside himself can the writer share his experiences. Thus, the very need of communication transforms an act of confession into fiction. Any confession involves that a writer, while revising his past, re-creates it. His experience changes into characters and his actions become parts of a wider whole, the literary work. In confession, the referent does not preexist the writing act; it is created while being discovered; the lived experience is inseparable from its enunciation; it is "the mode of presentation that gives direction to and foundation for our experience" (Hamburger 1980: 10). The constructed image exists only in, and through, the act of self-reflection. Confession truly effects a creation of self by the self. It forces present meaning into the matter of one's recollected life. Writing confessionally is one of the means human beings have developed to make life matter. The confession is not only a moment in the life that it recounts, and out of which it strives to draw a meaning, but is itself a meaning in that life. The way in which the illusion of the past is presented is finally the meaning of the author's life. It is the form one's life takes, the only one for the subject. The truth is not in the events recollected, but in the essential themes, i.e., love, family, memory, and in the structural design that imposes itself on the complex material of exterior facts. By means of the unity of sentiment and memory--an argument for the transparency of representation, and the authenticity of knowledge about the history of one's own existence -, the autonomous self appropriates for itself a certain scheme--which could be that of sacred history -, identifies with what it has created, in order to obtain 'absolution', through the transcription of its individual history. This may look as a breakthrough of modern time but, as early as the sixteenth century, Michel de Montaigne was well aware that in recounting the episodes of his life he constructed himself, also that there is an intimate fusion between the author and his work: "I have not made my book as my book has made me, a book consubstantial with its author." ("De Dementir," 1907, 2: 524)
The idea that Augustine only sketched, but which could not find a satisfactory answer in his Confessions, finally got one in J.W. Goethe's Truth and Poetry (1811-1833): the individual creates himself, transforming his life in a work of art. The originally moral ideal gives way to an aestheticization of truth (Jauss 1983: 246). The same process of transforming one's life into an object of art, in which not the exactitude of facts are important but a truth superior to them is noticeable in Chateaubriand's Les memoirs d 'outre tombe (1832).
The discursive self is always empty, and never one's own. Jacques Lacan (1966a, 1966b) also denies the transparency of the Cartesian ego, as well as the traditional idea that the ego is transcendent to discourse. For him, the subject emerges in an intersubjective discourse with the 'Other' (the unconscious); full subjectivity comes into being the moment it enters into the symbolic order of language. Language constructs positions for the self and allows identity for the same. Accepting the subject positions (Je) offered by language, the individual experiences a loss because he is subject to the positions that are predefined for him by human culture. The self is produced within, and around the discourses available to it at any moment. The author is a multiplicity of subjects that constitute in the intersubjective relations that any act of reading constructs. The authorizing figure is just one of them. The imaginary and the symbolic, the repetition of identity and difference, are terms of a dialectic both necessary for the constitution of human subjectivity.
The confessant describes not only what happened to him, at a different time in his life, but also what he became out of what he was, and what he presently is. That is why it becomes necessary to retrace the genesis of the present situation, the antecedent from which the present discourse stems. Though they are basically the same person, the essential points of separation may be distinguished; the confessant knows more than the protagonist, though remaining faithful to the latter's ignorance for the sake of credibility. The text tends however to collapse this gap between the author, the confessant, and the 'I'. It is precisely the writer's own creative activity that tempts him to forget his constitutive separation from the 'I' of his discursive acts. To write in the confessional mode is to limit the presentational effect of his discourse on oneself. In the confessional discourse, the displacement of himself is temporarily avoided through the promotion of the monological appearance of his writing to himself. The exemplary, model 'I', in confession, ipse facto belongs to writing: it is an explicit fabricated ego, which the confessant is aware of, or acknowledges, a lure, or, in Sylvia Plath's definition: "A riddle in nine syllables,/ An elephant, a ponderous house,/A melon strolling on two tendrils./O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!/This loaf's big with its yeasty rising./ Money's new-minted in this fat purse./I'm a means, a stage, a cow in a calf./I've eaten a bag of green apples,/ Boarded the train there's no getting off." ("Metaphors," 1981: 116)
In a text in which the writer takes his own past as theme, the individual mark of style assumes particular importance since the explicit self-reference adds the implicit self-referential value of a particular mode of speaking. Style establishes the relations between the author, and his past and unveils the writer to his reader. Confessional writers always pretend to be humble scriptors of their personal history. However, in giving contour to one's past life, one's creative memory inevitably shapes only in the image of the present. In confession, the present 'devours' the past. The writer can recall what he was only from the complex perspective of what he is. It follows that he may very well be recalling something that was never there. Emphasizing the importance of the present moment, style in confession becomes an agent of deformation, and forgery. The causal and final connection of actions is distorted. Confession occludes the writer's continuity with the 'I' conveyed through his discursive performance, it is true, but this is just one moment in the discursive activity, a necessary one, which should inevitably be overcome. The author's alienation from his own 'I', constituted outside discourse is always in the beginning. The lesion of personal time is characteristic of any memory act. In various passages of Swan S Way (1992), Marcel Proust observes that memory representations are always accompanied by their past context, no link can be established with the present; yet, the narrative displaces the pastness that accompanies memories. Deprived of their pastness memories gain a meaning connected to the present of the narrative discourse. Confession thus casts a bridge; in the process, memories get universal meanings. The image of the self is simultaneously in time, and timeless. It can do this because it posits a total world (characters, actions etc.), which invite readers to supplement them with their experiences. The present ratifies the past either positively or negatively. Sensitive to the underlying assumptions, the reader of confession constantly senses the impact of the author's present historical moment, and present message of his culture. Confession deepens the duality inherent in personal memory acts, the disjunction between experience as lived and experience as knowable. At the same time, it exposes the relation between the act of signification, and the signified past as arbitrary. Confession thus defines a meditative space that brings to light the dissimilarity between the lived past, and its current signification, to the extent that it elicits a consciousness of self that transcends his words, and is therefore ageless. Although the difference between the past self, and the author's present is visible, readers will continue to deceive themselves that the conversion is not only an image. For the homo religiosus the limit was absolute, for the one who has lost his connection with the sacred, the limit is merely communitary and ethical. This only helps to delineate the tragic condition of the confessant: one is no man unless one confesses.
By abandoning himself to confession in his search for truth, the writer descends into a sort of maelstrom. Looking at his life from the inside, and from close-quarters--in confession the minimally necessary distance is in question and almost impossible to determine exactly--he never seems to be in a position to write its resolution. His aim looks problematic and indeterminate. The confessant gropes for an identity that seems to elude him perpetually. Constituted at the borderline that separates reality from fiction, and mediating between them, confession delineates an evanescent, and ambiguous space, a no man's land, a realm of experiences, ideas, representations, and imaginary projections, charged with affects, emotions, a place where inner, and outer forces exchange their vectorial energies; it is a tensional field structured by the movements of the creative spirit. There, objects get their meanings while being created. Rather than an answer, the essence of confession is a question.
Confession is tentative and experiential, an open form, doomed to remain fragmentary. Fragmentation prevents the writer to assume the position of organizer of discourse. Confession is typically erratic; its parts tend to be self-sufficient, and almost autarchic. Temporal order has no definite course: time is freely manipulated or suspended, spatial relations are dominant. Data seem to accumulate continuously; its space apparently spreads forever. There is no apparent rigor, both in the organization of the work as a whole, and in the structuring of its parts. Convulsions and violence permanently menace its composition. Feelings, subjectivity, and involuntary expressiveness apparently disturb authorial control. Its generic images emerge with difficulty. Confessional writers doubt the importance of generalizations, and stick to personal, subjective categories. A confession is an attempt to solve value problems, usually without reference to cultural, philosophic, mystical or mythical explanatory systems. It is the experience itself that matters, and, therefore, no interpretation is seemingly given.
Although, at times, it may assume a relatively orderly form, more frequently, textualization in confession is an enigmatic and halting process. The confessional writer often jams the unity of his work with the pledge of overruling the self-conscious transcription of his life, by overdetermining its parts, hence, its characteristic ambiguity, splitting, antiphrasis and interference. Confession tends to work by spontaneous revelations that shed light on the transformation of the self. It demonstrates preference for collage, and free association; it is a composite literary form that bears the distinctive signs of other genres. However, the genre rejects complete subordination to traditionary formulas: it borrows from all, but subordinates to none entirely. The eclecticism typical of such an ecriture intime may signal the writer's dissatisfaction with the way ordinary discourse transcribes his existence into a progressive self-image, not entirely his own. At the same time, it is a necessary means of constructing a truthful image of oneself. The heterogeneity of its constitutive elements also marks the authenticity of the writer's feelings, the irretrievable content of the soul, and is its primary source of sincerity: "Those who evoke themselves by means of phantasy, or exclusively by means of language for some time, do not examine themselves primarily so, nor do they so deep inside themselves, as does the one who makes of it his study, his work and his job, who engages himself in it for a long time, with all his determination and with all his energy." (Montaigne 1907, 2: 254)
The fluid configuration characteristic of confession clearly thematizes its struggle for a definite form and meaning. It follows then that the proper, natural form of confession might be the essay! Not fortuitously does Michel de Montaigne use the term as title for his book; its ambiguity, i.e. it designates both a form of writing and one's experience, in other words, it binds life and art together: "The dish that I am preparing here is nothing else but a record of the trials of my life" ("De l'Experience," 1907, 3: 626). The unprecedented type of discourse that the French writer chose shows that he never meant his immobilize writing in absolute certitudes. In fact, he continued to write at his work all his life, constantly changing and completing it. Likewise, the discursive continuity of confession, as opposed to the inner discontinuity of the confessing subject, which has been the hallmark of the genre ever since Augustine, is for many confessional writers a way of getting at the truth of the past and deepening it (Jauss 1983: 242). Its formula is unique, because the confessional act itself is singular: the same 'sin' is never avowed twice! In confession, the desire to understand seems to be more powerful and governs the will to contain one's experiences. Confession runs away from composition, for all this, it does not revolutionize. Dramatizing an existential drama, confessional writing remains a heroic adventure with prophetic and symbolic resonance.
Confession remains, in all its forms, an act of public exposure, done in humility, a defeat of one's egotism. It turns to general attention what is otherwise private, and intimate, an area of one's existence to which the confessant has privileged access. The paradox is that, in order to exist, it must turn public: a confession begins to exist the very moment it is shared with others. This is reminded to us in an odd manner by historical facts: the New England Puritans restrained church membership to 'visible saints', that is persons who were able to produce a convincing narrative of conversion, based partially on what one had learnt through self-examination.
In confession, the rule of secrecy is subverted from the inside. However, confession goes beyond the simple mechanical description of inner states, and develops intricate strategies. The need of self-scrutiny entails an 'effect of reality', as well as an 'effect of fiction'. The distinction between fiction and history is not so rigorous, and absolute, as it may look. Actual practices testify to the fact that there is no historical discourse that has a minimum of emplotting, Gerard Genette arguing that no textual, semantic or syntactic features distinguish factual from fictional discourses, and supports the idea that the relation with the reader is decisive. (1994: 136, 158)
If it were to remain faithful to its fundamental norms, confession would be an arrangement of unrelated objects and words in a random fashion, i.e., automatic writing! Absolute frankness is amorphous, and chaotic. Direct, bare confession has no msthetic or moral relevance, and is the opposite of what one commonly takes for art. The constructive effort is inherent to any creative act. Fiction spontaneously and insidiously inserts itself into the confessional discourse, and produces selection, and structuring. The meaning of confession does not lie in the separate parts of the work, but in the whole: "Suspend your judgment, reader, as to the reasons that forced me to it. You cannot judge them until you have read me to the end" (Rousseau 1953: 261). Moreover, the separation of the creative self, as reflecting subject, from the empirical self, as reflected object, in confession, generates a distinction that is a central condition of artistic creation in general. Although governed by a strictly individual determinism, the act of self-reflection manifests itself as lucid critical control of spontaneity, inhibition of impulses. No matter what initially compels somebody to confess, he pursues, within limits, his task as a conscious writer, who seems to discover his means of mastering his material, in the very practice of writing. Literary confession reveals a world in which the self builds its own determinations. For all this, the selective process is not done at random: "And even the contemporary confessional poem has its distinctive attitude. This is not, as one might expect, spontaneously intimate. It is more deliberately staged-almost like the attitude of one in the act of adding to a public personality or image. Thus, confessional poems convey gratuitous information that would be out of place in an overheard meditation by Yeats or Eliot. Lowell will tell us the names of his summer cottage's owners. The confessional attitude here contrasts with that of the verse epistle, whose intimate direct address limits informativeness." (Fowler 1982: 73)
Conscious factors obviously govern the writing process. Motives, particularly the double, which expresses the protagonist's relations with others in terms of self-discovery, are frequently used to illuminate some suppressed facets of one's own consciousness. Irony remains the primary ordering factor: it maintains the author's detachment, and destroys any Cartesian notion of self. Confession questions the status of literature itself, whose fundamental condition is the reflexive attitude of the ego, now turned into objects of its own contemplation. In it, the condition of literature of being simultaneously illusion, and delusion, is continuously reiterated.
If the author seems to have only loose control, who, or what then organizes a discourse which having ceased to be a mere word-play, grows into a cognitive experience that directly, and fully engages the individual? 'The symbolic image' could be an answer. Literature is capable to set up a new reality that adds to the existing one, a realm that has meaning for man only, and for which the symbolic image, or the symbolizer, is 'the best possible expression' one cannot name more clearly otherwise, and which represents the necessary complement of the image; "the symbol cannot be replaced by a closer or similar image, nor can it be better transcribed by an equivalent signifier and, in no case can it be taken for a simple linguistic sign that draws its reality on itself and finds its meaning in the formal disposition of the text where it sets itself up." (Burgos 1988: 105)
The symbol is dynamic: no definite meaning can circumscribe it entirely. Emerging from the deepest pulsation of the unconscious, the poetic image conduces us to the origin of the human being (Bachelard 1978:7). The symbolic image mirrors the creativity of the unconscious: it does not have a substantive content, a referent that precedes it. The symbol is a place where a new reality is set up. By the way, the image, i.e., the symbol, should not be mistaken for the metaphor. It does not result from some density of the linguistic expression, nor does any deliberate selection of the linguistic material generate it. Metaphors always have a logical signification, no matter how far-away the tenor and the vehicle may be.
Thus defined, the image carries us out of the enunciation, and carries us, as readers, beyond logical thinking. Its intrinsic dynamism prevents it from closing on a definite meaning, and destroys the discursive continuity of the text, which, in turn, modulates it. With it, the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign neutralizes. Through symbolic images, a text communicates an experience, whose authenticity they guarantee. Symbolic images generate 'catastrophes' in the linear development of the poetic discourse, and insert in it a cluster of possible complementary or even contradictory meanings, to be distinguished from the mere linguistic ones. They permanently threaten the identity of writing, divert the text from a mechanical genesis, and favor the gradual shaping of meaning. The temporary situation of consciousness also shapes them. In them, the conscious and the unconscious condition each other. The imaginary is the site where the deepest pulsations of the human being, which tend to express themselves spontaneously in language, exchange their forces with those of external pressure, thus seeming to contradict the idea that the journal gets its expressiveness by annulling the forces that constitute its raw material and by assembling them in a tensional body (Mihaies 1995: 130). It is the trajectory where representations of objects are assimilated and modeled by the subject's innermost pulsations, and where internal images can be accounted for by means of the subject's previous adaptation to the environment (Durand 1977: 48-49). It is a dynamic space, ordered and oriented by organic tendencies towards a sense, which is always an answer to man's functioning in the universe. However, images tend to express only those contents that organize in constellations. They do not mirror reality, instead they select, figure and give meaning to the linguistic materials in the text, and thus a particular form (the images becomes congruous to a global spiritual significance, whose dynamic, immediate, and concentrated representation they are. Images set up a new mode of perceiving the world, and establish new relations between words, and reality, thus expanding the realm of being.
In the same line of thinking, the directions along which the representations of an object are assimilated, and shaped by the most deep-rooted pulsations of the subject can be called 'schemes'. Distinctly reminding of Kantian transcendental schemes, or the formative tendencies in genetic psychology, they are routes inscribed in representations which conduce the structuring and functioning processes in living bodies, throughout various stages of their development. Discernible at the level of the syntax of the imaginary and in the mechanisms by means of which the dialectics of the actual and the virtual manifests itself, they create not only a new reality, but also a meaning, in modalities that possess some structural stability. Closely connected to the functional mechanisms of language, the schemes provide a general model for the structure of the imaginary. Through their convergence, the schemes provide lasting modalities for the relations established between the various materials of the text, whose unity can thus be grasped. By means of the virtualities thus opened, they determine the emergence of meaning. Rising from profound organic tendencies (which Gilbert Durand identifies with postural, nutritional and rhythmic pulsations: what he calls the matrix of human gestuality), by means of the itineraries they open, the schemes are answers to man's fear of the devouring time. There are only three such global answers, i.e. of conquest, denial and progress (Burgos 1988: 157-159). Permanently diversifying the continuum of writing, they develop a syntax of the imaginary that, in turn, determines the functioning of the poetic text, of regimes in particular, the substantiality of which is guaranteed by images. One could thus identify an antithetical regime, a euphemistic regime, and a dialectical regime; to them. correspond three types of ecritures, namely of revolt, refusal, and duplicity, respectively. (Burgos 1988: 157-159, 187-209)
A literary work, the more so as confession apparently runs away from composition, possesses profound intentionality, a deep structure motivated by conscious, cultural, social, and psychological factors as well as unconscious ones, which assert themselves to the writer. As a hypersign, a confessional text is a space crossed by various tendencies, whose organizing principle is ultimately provided by the symbolic level. By placing himself inside the text, following its symbolic itineraries in order to disclose the deep coherence of its structuring, and account for its continuous genesis, as well as for its discontinuities, the reader may show that "what is given in the text is given to be experienced while reading it" (Burgos, 1988: 466). Limiting its area of investigation to the possibilities the text opens, such an approach may successfully approach the deeper truth of confession.
Are there any patterns discernible in confessional writing? If any, what would then be the criteria for their identification? Given the protean nature of confession, such a question seems difficult to answer. In its excessive forms, confession offers various formulas of irrationalization of experience, as a means of keeping innocence and purity intact; its thematic order is often based on association, or obsessional, ad hoc. For all this, the fall-redemption-reunification pattern identifiable in Augustine's Confession, reminding of the structural type of romance (Frye 1990: 186-206), has not passed unnoticed by critics. A similar structure can be recognized in the confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath, e.g. "Lady Lazarus." Another structural classification could be arrived at if one distinguishes between 'confession as oratory', 'confession as drama', and 'confession as poetry'. Confession is, among other things, persuasive discourse, and the strategies the writers use, help make further differentiation. The problem with these classifications is that the criteria used are rather fluid, impressionistic, although one cannot deny their suggestiveness and, consequently, their usefulness. What apparently gives coherence to confession is the 'I', the sole possessor of its problems. Confession is a return to the personal, an epic of the self. The confessant is subjectivity constructed by the text, not one that reflects in it, with multiple determinations. The thematization of the subject in confession is inseparable from a certain rhetoric of the self (Krysinski 1980: 248), 'confession as memoir', e.g., being distinguished from 'confession proper' and 'narcissistic confession'. (Renza 1980: 286-295)
A number of typologies of confessants have been proposed. A suggestion made Adrian Marino (1973: 280-282), with reference to autobiography, who differentiates between 'the biography of the moral ego' and 'the biography of the creative ego', cannot be extended to confession, for confession is always moral; in it, interest in moral values never ceases. Although confined to the confessional poem only, a classification like, i.e., 'the confessional I as primitive' (Theodore Roethke), 'the confessional I as historian' (Robert Lowell), 'the confessional I as martyr' (John Berryman), and 'the confessional I as prophetess' (Sylvia Plath), may prove relevant to other confessional texts as well. (Gray 1990: 243-264)
By means of modal and pathic features one could disclose the psychical, socio-cultural and discursive plurality of the subject; they also allow for a semiotic typology of the subject to emerge (Parret 1986: 246ff)--a semiotization of some Heideggerian categories. Such an approach is necessary, as earlier actantial and narrative models tend to reduce the narrative subject to an 'abstract punctuality' emptied of meaning. Obviously, the above classifications are theoretical constructs only; the reality is that there are no such pure confessional types.
Deliberately constructing on the data of everyday life, confession subjectively delineates an unknown, ignored space of one's being. The realm of confession, is never given in advance, it exists only as 'intentional projection'; it is a zone that the confessant gradually fashions, gives a direction of movement, and a meaning, an identity. The insurmountable tensions that generate it do not disappear; they only find temporary balance. The truth of confession does not exist before the work or outside it; however, it comes to be mirrored in it, while constructing it. The two are mutually dependent. The confessional discourse is only the vehicle that helps it emerge. The text does not set up real existence; it has however the power of reinventing it, and organizing it according to linguistic and literary categories. The confessional text has not only a thematic dimension, but also an ontological one: it creates a medium between time as flux and time as duration, thus redeeming time. Through it, the confessant returns from the abstract representation of temporality, in which there is nothing but succession, to an existential representation of it; this elicits a pattern and adds a sense of an ending. The confessing act thus makes a totalizing fusion, amends the individual destiny, and brings it to a sort of conclusion. However, life has no such finale, it passes away. Confessional writers firmly believe in the power and efficacy of literature. For them, only the writing lasts.
The strongest claim that literary confession makes is that it searches for truth. No matter how dramatic the changes that mark the genre have been, all writers, from Augustine to Robert Lowell, assert that they tell the undisguised truth about themselves. While others write about it, confessional authors write out of it. This demand does not seem to accommodate with the fictional status of confession. Are confessional writers perpetual prisoners of a delusion?
Traditional viewpoints on truthfulness are a cul-de-sac. For all this, it is only from msthetics that any acceptable justification of confessional literature should come. The contribution of phenomenological philosophy (Martin Heidegger) and msthetics (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur) seems to us decisive for providing an answer to a problem which, otherwise, looks insoluble. Following Gadamer, we argue that the problem of truth in confession can be successfully answered if we approach it from the fore-structure of what Heidegger calls the Dasein. The veracity of literary confession does not reside in the factuality of the discourse, but in its capacity of orienting us towards, and of disclosing Being. As art, it speaks to us in terms of the significance of its contents. Our understanding should focus on what it tells us, rather than on its formal characteristics. Literary confession constructs through language an imaginative 'world', which, within its own terms, has almost full referential status, yet it does not propose itself as an alternative to the real one. How much truth there is in a confessional poem, ultimately depends on the quotient of msthetic value there is in it.
What truth manifests itself in confession? Here, as in any work of art, only 'what is represented exists'. However, the Being of a confessional piece of literature exists only in being mediated, not in itself. Despite the varieties of realizations which can be traced back to the conception of the writer/reader, such a structure does not remain enclosed in their subjectivities, although embodied there. In its presentation, this particular thing that presents itself to us, as readers, achieves full presence, it becomes contemporaneous with us, and thus all mediation is superseded in total presence. Yet, the modes of presentation of confession are neither free, nor arbitrary, for they follow models constructed by tradition. What presents itself in confession stakes a claim to permanence materializing in a demand that is never fixed. The criteria for correct presentation in literature remain highly flexible and relative. Similarly, critical interpretation is both bound and free: it is a representation that builds on the meanings the interpreter finds in it.
The communicative purpose determines the interpretative-cognitive structuring of the genre, which, in turn, reflects the accumulated and traditional social knowledge available to it, at a particular historical moment, which makes its taxonomy possible. Criteria remain to be established.
Another fundamental aspect of confession is the individuality of the self. Again, confession seems to anticipate a movement whose origins can be traced back to Augustine, which reveals its essentially modern, even post-modern nature. Unlike Augustine, who believed in some deep level of meaning revealed by epiphanic moments, modern confessional poets no longer accept any final structure of authority (see Waugh's portrayal of modernism and postmodernism, 1993: 23).
Confession is the history of confession. The synthesis that it proposes has meanings only in the historical field, for any genre remains a historical phenomenon. In addition, confession also has a protohistory: the literary phenomenon is anticipated, in its fundamental aspects, by movements outside its sphere. In the course of the study we have pointed out how some of its claims to truth, sincerity, authenticity, honesty, etc., forged elsewhere, have gradually turned into aesthetic principles. There is a primary moral interest that characterizes confession, but it is sufficient to juxtapose Augustine's and Rousseau's confession to understand how different their solutions are. During its millennial history, confession has proved a remarkable capacity of adaptation to the requirements of the times. Its development, in various forms, without ever betraying its fundamental meaning or altering its character, confirms its perennial character, as well as its importance.
More than other genres, confession rejects normative approaches. Modern critical thinking rejects the theory of genres as irrelevant since modern literature marks a discontinuity with tradition, and the boundaries of genres no longer exist. Confession seems to provide a strong counter-argument.
What seems to define confession is a quest for enduring values. In the course of its history, defying the destructive agency of time, three solutions have endured: the religious, the psychological, and the aesthetic ones. It is no surprise that a century like as ours, which has lost most of its idols, shows preference for Goethe's solution, by means of which the msthetic act integrates the existential one. Confession constitutes, as much as it transforms, the reality to which it is presumed to refer. The whole notion of an inner experience enters our consciousness only after it has found a language that the individual understands. The solution, intuited by Nietzsche, is to find the adequate idiom to create the illusion. Nevertheless, the cognitive import of confession is undeniable. If the basic function of literature is to supply the means for the re-description of the world--"the capacity to bring about the configurational sense of experience and the refigurational projection of reality is the condition of identity of literature" (Valdes 1987: 29)--then confession belongs to literature. It does not deserve the marginal place it occupies nowadays in theoretical studies. The propensity to confession of the twentieth century, which so many critics have noticed, may be the manifestation of a particularly interrogative spirit, characteristic of modern consciousness. It may also be the sign of an axiological crisis, which contests established taxonomies. At the same time, we may interpret this as an expression of an aspiration toward more authentic forms of expression. Accompanying the confessional gesture, there is a belief in some profound level of meaning, which epiphanic moments may disclose.
Confession would easily find place among those genres that could be located at the frontier between langue/parole and which, for this reason, are condemned to remain in a permanent state of precarious balance (Hirsch 1967), hence, the difficulty of clearly circumscribing it. Yet, the condition of the margin obviously has its benefits, for, as we have seen, confession--a fluid, protean form--can easily adapt to various circumstances and historical contexts, while still preserving its identity.
There is no doubt that Marino's hermeneutics of literary ideas is a powerful system of analysis. It has helped us to construct a model of confession and to identify several of its invariants and meanings. The procedure of examination may appear too atomistic. However, each step should be understood in the context of the whole, it is part of a holistic activity. One aspect however needs emphasizing: while no new elements were added to the palette of invariants known, the important thing is that they were not abstracted from texts, only confirmed by them. Instead, they were derived from the 'idea' of confession. They belong to the model and should be understood as 'ideal projections'. The content as well as the concrete form it manifests vary from one moment of history to the next and are conditioned by a number of factors--ideological, literary, or cultural--some of them have been subject of closer examination. We strongly believe that the model of the idea of confession could be further refined. Some of the invariants which, for various reasons, have been given only cursory attention in the present study (memory, the treatment of time, and the typology of confessional discourses) need further elaboration and discussion.
The history of confession does not end here, although its polysemy is, probably, not infinite. Its metamorphoses are bound to continue. Some answers we have provided are inevitably incomplete, others only tentative. We may not have found all the solutions we sought; it is our hope that, at least, we have asked a number of legitimate questions.
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|Title Annotation:||Taking the long good-bye|
|Publication:||Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2015|
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