The Limits of Autobiography and the Exilic Imagination: Charlie Kaufman’s "Synecdoche, New York"

By Joseph Klemens Lambert.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: October 2, 2015 $US5.00

This paper examines Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York” from the perspective offered by Paul de Man’s essay “Autobiography as De-facement,” a work in which de Man asserts that the correlation between figure and the artistic representation of self (autobiography) can never be fully dominated because a system of linguistic tropes prevents closure and totalization. In “Synecdoche, New York,” the autobiographical is manifested on different levels; the film takes a meditative and analytical approach to the nature of representing oneself through art in a truthful way. In my paper, I argue that de Man’s theories help us to understand Caden Cotard’s failure to represent his true self via artistic expression. De Man insists that the tropological structure used to define the self is governed by a master trope. In Kaufman’s film, the title names this trope, i.e., the synecdoche is the trope which prevents Caden from discovering knowledge of self through his untitled performance piece. Reading de Man while examining this film helps us to understand how literary and genre theory can enrich our understanding of linguistic/tropological structure in contemporary cinema.

Keywords: Literary Theory, Autobiography, Cinema

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 13, Issue 4, December 2015, pp.81-86. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: October 2, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 348.980KB)).

Joseph Klemens Lambert

Graduate Student, Comparative Literature, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras, San Juan, Puerto Rico