The Art of Confession

The Performance of Self from Robert Lowell to Reality TV

320 pages

35 halftones and 1 table

November, 2017

ISBN: 9781479829170



Add to Cart Available: 10/13/2017

Also available in


Christopher Grobe is Assistant Professor of English at Amherst College. His scholarly essays have appeared in PMLA, Theater, Theatre Survey, and NLH, as well as in several edited collections. He has also written essays and reviews for Public Books and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

All books by Christopher Grobe

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 love The Art of Confession. In clear and stylish prose, with gusto and flourish, and through original arguments about the compulsion to confess and the compulsion to perform, Grobe has produced a stunning book. Broadly engaged, yet sharply focused, this work is cultural criticism of the highest standard.”

    —Nick Salvato, author of Obstruction

  • "Grobe traces 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 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 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."