The Art of Confession
The Performance of Self from Robert Lowell to Reality TV
Published by: NYU Press
The story of a new style of art—and a new way of life—in postwar America: confessionalism.
What do midcentury “confessional” poets have in common with today’s reality TV stars? They share an inexplicable urge to make their lives an open book, and also a sense that this book can never be finished. Christopher Grobe argues that, in postwar America, artists like these forged a new way of being in the world. Identity became a kind of work—always ongoing, never complete—to be performed on the public stage.
The Art of Confession tells the history of this cultural shift and of the movement it created in American art: confessionalism. Like realism or romanticism, confessionalism began in one art form, but soon pervaded them all: poetry and comedy in the 1950s and ’60s, performance art in the ’70s, theater in the ’80s, television in the ’90s, and online video and social media in the 2000s. Everywhere confessionalism went, it stood against autobiography, the art of the closed book. Instead of just publishing, these artists performed—with, around, and against the text of their lives.
A blend of cultural history, literary criticism, and performance theory, The Art of Confession explores iconic works of art and draws surprising connections among artists who may seem far apart, but who were influenced directly by one another. Studying extraordinary art alongside ordinary experiences of self-betrayal and -revelation, Christopher Grobe argues that a tradition of “confessional performance” unites poets with comedians, performance artists with social media users, reality TV stars with actors—and all of them with us. There is art, this book shows, in our most artless acts.
"I must confess: I loveThe Art of Confession. In clear and stylish prose, with gusto and flourish, andthrough original arguments about the compulsion to confess and the compulsion to perform, Grobe has produced a stunning book. Broadly engaged, yet sharply focused, this workis cultural criticism of the highest standard." ~Nick Salvato,author of Obstruction
"A feeling that Grobe is working to piece things together, and take them apart, to present them to the reader for further contemplation. . . . resonates strongly throughout the book. Seeing the author arrive at his conclusions, rather than present them as a fait accompli, offers a compelling act of reading." ~Popmatters
"Grobe explores 'the performance of self' in as multifarious a fashion as befits the topic and with just the right balance of theoretical acumen, playfulness, tongue-in-cheek observations, and historical, literary, political, and cultural accuracy." ~STARRED Library Journal
"A cogent and often entertaining demonstration of what the confessional self looks like as it unfolds over his subjects’ cross-media careers during decades rife with cultural and political significance." ~Biography
"Grobetraces the history and evolution of modern American confessional art in this impressive and wide-ranging debut. An engrossing . . . work of literary scholarship for the 21st century." ~Publishers Weekly
"Grobe helps uncover continuities between Robert Lowell and reality television, revealing that all along confession has been a matter of art as much as truth. … The Art of Confession is itself an impressive performance, written with an eloquence and uncommon verve." ~Los Angeles Review of Books