How memoirs justify deviant behavior from crime to sex to politics
Self-Vindication in Memoir
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How do memoirists make their work interesting, daring, exciting, and unorthodox enough so that they attract an audience, yet not so heinous and scandalous that their readers are unable to empathize or identify with them? In Justifiable Conduct, renowned sociologist Erich Goode explores the different strategies memoirists use to "neutralize" their alleged wrongdoing and fashion a more positive image of themselves for audiences. He examines how writers, including James Frey, Susan Cheever, Roman Polanski, Charles Van Doren and Elia Kazan, explain, justify, contextualize, excuse, or warrant their participation in activities such as criminal behavior, substance abuse, sexual transgressions, and political radicalism.
Using a theory of deviance neutralization, Goode assesses the types of behavior exhibited by these memoirists to draw out generic narratives that are most effective in attempting to absolve the actor-author. Despite the highly individualistic and variable lives of these writers, Goode demonstrates that memoirists use a conventional vocabulary for their unconventional behavior.
"Justifiable Conduct is an engaging, consistently insightful, and invariably lucid book. Goode’s focus on autobiographical memoirs is very much in keeping with what is at least a minor movement in sociology: taking narratives of various sorts more seriously than we have in the past. He makes a powerful case that deviance remains a powerful framework—a concept that ties together a range of now seemingly disparate phenomena. By organizing his observations around the idea of ‘accounts,’ he substantively analyzes how autobiographies share their effort to neutralize attributions of deviance. In short, this book is fun to read, helps revive a field more than due for revival, and advances an important concept."
"[Goode] demonstrates wide knowledge of confessional memoirs throughout history from at least as far back as Augustine.... [He] provides a lot of arresting information and deepens what we already know. Anger, thrill, and surprise await around every corner."
"Goode examines memoirs written by a number of well-known 20th-century Americans who, on the whole, have committed deviant acts and subsequently attempted to justify, on the page, what they did.... With his careful approach, Goode...hopes to draw parallels among these memoirists.... Largely, Goode succeeds in elucidating common threads among the autobiographical accounts of these diverse figures.... Summing Up: Recommended."
2. Autobiography and Memoir
3. Autonarrating Transgression
4. Criminal Behavior
5. Substance Abuse
6. Sexual Transgressions
7. Political Deviance
8. Accounting for Deviance
Erich Goode is Sociology Professor Emeritus at Stony Brook University. He has published ten books, including Moral Panics (coauthored with Nachman Ben-Yehuda), The Paranormal, Deviant Behavior, and Drugs in American Society; seven anthologies; and articles in magazines, newspapers, and an array of academic journals. He is a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, and he has taught at half a dozen universities, including the University of Maryland, New York University, and the University of North Carolina.