A Philosophy of Autobiography, Body and Text by Aakash Singh Rathore: Review

Book: A Philosophy of Autobiography: Body and Text

Author: Aakash Singh Rathore

Publisher: Routledge

Pages: 149;

Price: Rs 995

The book A Philosophy of Autobiography: Body and Text offers a series of readings and reflections on twelve diverse range of autobiographies of eminent personalities. The introduction comprehensively explains the uniqueness of this engagement, its aim is to discover the body as the ever present mediator, vehicle and crucible of lived experiences.

Through Nietzsche’s autobiography the author offers a critique of the Christian values that demand sacrifice of the body for the sake of acquiring truth, of prescribing “life affirming lies” over pursuits of life denying truths. Similarly Gandhi’s autobiography is read as self re presentation that makes body the battle ground for realizing an ethical life. B R Ambedkar’s Waiting for a Visa and Daya Pawar’s Baluta explains, “…how one becomes an untouchable?” According to the author Ambedkar’s experiences reveal to us that untouchability is carried out, maintained/enacted in the presence of the flesh and body of person from low caste. The oppressors seek to write on the body what the system has already inscribed into their bodies(in an invisible fashion).

Similarly, race discrimination is addressed through Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings. The author finds Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Yukoi Mishima’s Sun and Steel interesting as their journeys explain unifying of intellectual and physical virtues in his works as well as in his life. Elie Wiesel’s Night and Art Spiegelman’s MAUS is an account of survival through violence, humiliation, suffering and death at the Nazi death camp.

The author rightly elaborates how the mind body dualism get played out in the autobiography. While the spirit is crushed it is the despised body that resists being broken and wills to survive. Thus, being a survivor is being a body. Surprisingly, the author is critical of Kamala Das’ My Story, he does not approve of her representation of the body as he thinks it lacks agency. Any Warhol’s autobiography celebrates his “genuine fakeness”as his pop art that conveys deeds rather than thoughts. Marjane Satprapi’s Persepolis” fascinates the author as her work (illustrating her experiences in Iran and Europe), intuites (he says) Focault’s teachings on bio politics and governmentality sketched into a few squares of a book of cartoons!

The book is an absolute treat for those interested in philosophy, devising theater, telling stories through body (among many other disciplines). Yet, its version of embodiment is not inclusive, it is problematic from the perspective of disability studies. Each autobiography spells a reconciliation of mind and body and a celebration of self that is strong, functional and beautiful.

Critical of the values of strict independence, disability studies theorists reject the concept of autonomy and control over ones body as authentic measures of personhood. It is a thought-provoking interrogation of the lives of some of the greatest people of the world.

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