The Art of Confession: The Performance of Self from Robert Lowell to Reality TV

Christopher Grobe. New York Univ., $32.50 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4798-8208-3
Grobe, an assistant English professor at Amherst College, traces the history and evolution of modern American confessional art in this impressive and wide-ranging debut. His analysis primarily focuses on how artists have approached the act of candid personal revelation as a self-conscious performance. The book’s movement through recent history demonstrates the politically charged nature of this artistic approach and its intersection with questions of identity. He argues that the current American preoccupation with confession in art began with mid-20th-century figures such as Robert Lowell exercising the white male “privilege... to strike a delicate balance—to seem both private and public, both personal and social, both unique and representative.” According to Grobe’s analysis, this privilege was upended by the feminist movement and avant-garde queer artists. Fast forward to today, and confessional performance can be easily practiced by the many, not just an artistic elite, on social platforms such as Twitter. Devoting close readings to examples including Ann Sexton’s poetry, Eleanor Antin’s autobiographical performance art, and Spalding Gray’s monologues, Grobe demonstrates how the form has fascinated audiences and artists as a way of exploring “conceptions of the self.” Grobe’s book is an engrossing, dense work of literary scholarship for the 21st century, or, as he refers to it, “the age of aggregation.” (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/28/2017
Release date: 11/01/2017
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Hardcover - 320 pages - 978-1-4798-2917-0
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