An Account

“My account of myself is partial, haunted by that for which I have no definitive story (27).”

In Judith Butler’s essay “Giving an Account of Oneself” she proclaims that it is quite impossible for one to be able to tell their own complete history. She takes a Levinasian standpoint affirming that this inability to tell one’s own story is due to our inherent and inextricable connection to the Other. One must rely on this Other to tell of one’s own emergence into being. Thus, at the very moment we are able to relay our story to the Other we fail to ever give a complete account of our life because this moment of emergence is enigmatic to us. Ultimately, Butler claims that when we believe we are telling our autobiography what we are actually doing is re-creating ourself; attempting to make ourselves transparent to ourself.

I find that this essay, and in particular, this passage resonates heavily with the literature we have read in this class. In almost all of the works we have read there have been at least one character that attempts to relate its history to the readers. For instance, Sophie, Audre, and Arenas all provide a chronological account of their lives; at some point even managing to retell their birth tales. Yet, the mere fact that they relay a tale of their birth, rather than telling us of their birth, speaks to Butler’s assertions. It in specifically in this way that draws out their inability to give us the whole truth of their lives.

Moreover, neither of their stories is bereft of the life stories of others. In order for Sophie to relay her conception tale, she must tell of the life of her mother. The same can be said for Arenas and Antoinette/Bertha and to lesser, more implicit, degrees, Audre and most of the Cliff’s characters. Arenas’ memoir is of special interest in this sense because it is exactly that: an account of his life. Yet, his memoir will always be incomplete because his beginning and ending with always be unknown to him. Additionally, his middle will forever be muddled because to answer the Butler’s question of “who are you?” he has to answer the question of “who have you become?” which he cannot do without telling how each person has shaped a bit of his personality. That is, he is a prime example of how one fails to be able to fully give an account of oneself because each time the question of “who are you?” comes into play, the story works off the assumption that you were born as someone else told you.

Given this, I believe this class has expounded upon the inner desires of all people of the African and Caribbean Diaspora. We all so desperately want to answer that question of “Who am I?” and “What have I become?”. But our incapacity to respond is not only bound in the mere fact that we cannot recall our own births, or relay our deaths. We are more incomprehensible to ourselves than most other peoples in that even our histories are incomplete. Walcott’s sea holds our history yet it is one that has been buried by sands carried from Australia. That is to say, that even if we were to search for our history, attempt to trace it back to the motherland, the chances of us coming to a complete account of our composition has been lost at the bottom of the ocean.