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TitleData-Driven Modernism: Collecting Lives and Narrating Selves in Early 20th Century US Literature ...
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LanguageEnglish
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here, that The Education’s textual affinity to data collection is literal. Adams is actually not

presenting us with an unedited list of observations. As a number of critics have pointed out,

Adams’s ironic, aphoristic style is highly polished. Alfred Kazin insists, Adams is above all

“crafty…in editing the facts of his own life; of how much he leaves out, how much he

glosses over, how archly, cynically, and self-hallucinatingly he retouches material reported

very differently in his earlier accounts of the same material,” making him “the master of his

literary trade and the willing tool of his own imagination.” Nadel adds, “It [The Education] is

not only incomplete, with twenty crucial years omitted, but replete with factual errors” (viii).

Given these accurate and astute observations, to argue that The Education is literally a data

collection would clearly be in error, but what I seek to call attention to is not a literal method

but a formal effect or effects arising from an underlying epistemological commitment to and

engagement with a data-driven view of the reality of the world and the self. The formulation

of self as manikin signals a commitment to empiricism that triggers a tension with traditional

narrative form. Whether Adams set out with the representation of self as multiplicity as a

goal or whether it was, quite literally, the epistemological commitment to empiricism and the

formal choices of The Education that prevented him from telling the story of a unified self

and thereby creating a new form of selfhood, the form and the narrative self of The Education

remain deeply linked. The frustration of narrative, the self-conscious claim that the story is

not finished, does not imply that the text itself is less finished or that a data aesthetic requires

that the text be fully non-selective. What the data aesthetic calls attention to is that Adams’s

selections represent a self that cannot justify selecting.

The narrative self of The Education is driven not just by the form of data collection

but by the thematic representation of the self interacting with data. From childhood on,

technologically driven shifts in his perception of the self and social incite re-assemblages of

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