Vulnerable Subjects: Ethics and Life Writing

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9780801441851: Vulnerable Subjects: Ethics and Life Writing
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"My primary concern is with the ethics of representing vulnerable subjects-persons who are liable to exposure by someone with whom they are involved in an intimate or trust-based relationship, unable to represent themselves in writing, or unable to offer meaningful consent to their representation by someone else.... Of primary importance is intimate life writing-that done within families or couples, close relationships, or quasi-professional relationships that involve trust-rather than conventional biography, which can be written by a stranger. The closer the relationship between writer and subject, the greater the vulnerability or dependency of the subject, the higher the ethical stakes, and the more urgent the need for ethical scrutiny."-from the Preface Vulnerable Subjects explores a range of life-writing scenarios-from the "celebrity" to the "ethnographic"-and a number of life-writing genres from parental memoir to literary case studies by Oliver Sacks. G. Thomas Couser addresses complex contemporary issues; he investigates the role of disability in narratives of euthanasia and explores the implications of the Human Genome Project for life-writing practices in any age when many regard DNA as a code that "scripts" lives and shapes identity. Throughout, his book is concerned with the ethical implications of the political and economic, as well as the mimetic, aspects of life writing.

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Review:

"Couser cares about all biographical subjects and the various authoring permutations that exist, but he is especially concerned with the truly vulnerable: the very young and old, illiterate, disabled, mentally impaired, institutionalized, jailed, unborn, or dead--anyone, who must relinquish rights in order to bring a biographical account into existence. The issues are manifold and no one who reads this study will ever be able to consider a formal overview of a person's life--whether biographical or autobiographical, whether authored or ghost-written, whether written or cinematic--in quite the same way.... Couser raises so many possibilities and problems, many that would never occur even to a sophisticated, knowledgeable, and caring scholar, that one is awestruck with trepidation."

--The Journal of Information Studies

"What responsibilities do 'life writers' have to others' asks the scholar Couser, an English professor at Hofstra University. He urges the embrace of key tenets of bioethics: respect for autonomy, nonmaleficence, and beneficence."

--The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Clear to me in this reading is that no matter who we are, we are all potentially vulnerable subjects.... I highly recommend this book to anyone studying ethics, life writing, or any of the chapter subjects."

--The Review of Disability Studies

"G. Thomas Couser's courageous scholarship and close readings of life writing bring text, body, intersubjectivity, and power into tension, narrativizing ethics and opening an urgently needed dialogue about the duties incurred by writing of another. This book is critical reading not only for students and practitioners of life writing but also for ethicists, clinicians, and all who recognize the peril, vulnerability, liberation, and necessity of writing and reading of lives."

--Rita Charon, Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine, Columbia University

"In Vulnerable Subjects, G. Thomas Couser brings his customary care and intelligence to a remarkably wide range of literature, from celebrity 'as-told-to' autobiographies to problematic 'as-told-about' disability memoirs. This is not only an important contribution to the scholarship on lifewriting and to the advancement of disability studies in the humanities, it's also, quite simply, a fascinating, engrossing book."

--Michael Bérubé, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor in Literature, Penn State University

"Thomas Couser's Vulnerable Subjects: Ethics and Life Writing explores the moral perils of speaking for those who either cannot speak for themselves or can give no meaningful consent to being depicted by others. The range of cases Couser entertains is remarkably broad, and many of them are fascinating.... Vulnerable Subjects is a fine read, opening up a discussion about the ethics of representing vulnerable others that is long overdue. Couser has performed a valuable service by directing our attention to this underexplored issue, and we may perhaps leave it to others to continue the work that he has here begun."

--Literature and Medicine

"Well conceived, well focused, and well written, Vulnerable Subjects shows G. Thomas Couser to be particularly gifted at clarifying the philosophical problems of life writing. Couser's concern that life writing generate discovery and possibility rather than control is evident throughout, yet he is very careful to avoid a judgmental stance, preferring to map the issues. He goes to the heart of problems that are both urgent and very difficult for individuals, for communities, and for the interpretive activity that is auto / biography."

--Susanna Egan, University of British Columbia

"What are our responsibilities to others when we write about their lives? And how should lives be valued? Searching for answers to these hard questions, G. Thomas Couser grapples with a wide range of sensitive problem cases. His conclusions are judicious and never prescriptive. There is no better guide than Couser to life writing today. Vulnerable Subjects is an absorbing and important book."

--Paul John Eakin, author of How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves

"When may life writing violate the privacy of its subject? This question is the theme of this interesting, accessible examination of quandaries of authorial ethics.... Highly recommended."

--Choice

Synopsis:

"Vulnerable Subjects" explores a range of life-writing scenarios - from the "celebrity" to the "ethnographic" - and a number of life-writing genres from parental memoir to literary case studies by Oliver Sacks. G. Thomas Couser addresses complex contemporary issues; he investigates the role of disability in narratives of euthanasia and explores the implications of the Human Genome Project for life-writing practices in an age when many regard DNA as a code that "scripts" lives and shapes identity. Throughout, his book is concerned with the ethical implications of the political and economic, as well as the mimetic, aspects of life writing.

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9780801488634: Vulnerable Subjects: Ethics and Life Writing

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ISBN 10: 080148863X ISBN 13: 9780801488634
Publisher: Cornell University Press, 2003
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