Lyn Hejinian's poetic autobiography 'My Life' crosses over the boundaries of genre and into an indefinable realm of its own. It contains elements of poetry, autobiography, personal narrative, and women's fiction, while simultaneously entering into a continuous dialogue with the nature of poetry, language, and personal experience. 'My Life' demonstrates Hejinian's position in the language movement of the 1970s and her unique version of poetic language writing. For the most part, the language poetry sought to create new possibilities of interaction between the reader and the poem by placing an unprecedented emphasis on the function of language to dictate meaning, rather than meaning to dictate language. In other words, language poetry urges the reader to participate in a way that other poetry does not, by requiring the reader to participate in the construction of meaning provided by the language. Language poetry has often been criticized for being a kind of linguistic anarchy (Martin, 16) that fails to adhere to any kind of linguistic rules of syntax and structure. I would like to argue, however, that it is precisely this disregard for convention that allows Hejinian to conceive of the so called “real” in such a way that captures the emotional nature of each experience rather than a chronological account of definitions. Thus, I plan to discuss how Hejinian is able to – through the manipulation of language, structure, and style – alter the reader's previous conception of poetry, language, authorship, and life itself.
[...] In short, Hejinian's work, My Life, crosses the boundaries of genre and breaks through the limitations of language by creating a kind of poetic autobiography of multiplicity. By combining elements of prose and poetry, Hejinian is able to reflect on the past while maintaining her self in the present, achieve a level of comprehensibility that nevertheless escapes the rigidity of definition, invite the reader to participate in the construction of meaning and immerse themselves in each experience, and reflect on the limitations and possibilities of language as a whole. [...]
[...] Hejinian explains this concept of identity as a multiplicity of subjectivities in her essay The Person and Description, in which she states, ‘personal' is already a plural condition One can look for it and already one is not oneself, one is several, incomplete, and subject to dispersal” (Hejinian, 1991). In other words, the self that wrote My Life is not the same self as the self she is describing, and it would be a mistake to assume present perspective on a previous self. [...]
[...] Hejinian takes on the task of creating a kind of autobiography of multiplicity, to which, she argues, is the only real means of representing some semblance of a confessional self. Rather than producing an autobiography that details her life through a prose narrative style that both connects and unifies her past Hejinian combines elements of prose and poetry, detailing her remembrances as they come rather than in a chronological, orderly fashion. Thus, My Life focuses more on the nature of the mind than it does on presenting a distinctly unified persona; therefore, her autobiography details multiple subjectivities as no individual person maintains a united identity throughout their lives in order to reflect her life as she remembers it, which, she argues, is constantly in the process of changing. [...]
[...] Furthermore, narration typically commences at the closure and presents events in the past tense, thus imparting the feeling that the persona's story is complete (Dworkin, 1995); poetry, on the other hand, is typically written in the present, thus maintaining the illusion of a continuous existence. Poetry thus immortalizes the poet's thoughts, while narration reflects on a self of the past. Thus, if poetry presents a present self, and prose a past self; Hejinian's poetic autobiography reflects a present self in the act of remembering past selves. [...]
[...] Moreover, by presenting a multiplicity of subjectivities all through the subject of a pronoun Hejinian invites the reader to choose among the multiplicities (Spahr, 142). In an attempt to render her autobiography of multiplicity more comprehensible, Hejinian sets up her autobiography in distinct sections that mark an attitude of the given year's thoughts first section invokes themes of childish timidity: was afraid of my uncle with the wart on his nose ( ) I was shy of my aunt's deafness . [...]
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