Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English: English Studies

First Advisor

Amy E. Robillard


Believing Mary Karr examines how belief, represented in the memoirs of Mary Karr, works in our contemporary moment. This examination is supported by the argument that our identities and the stories we tell about them are always constructions of belief, and that these beliefs are ultimately relational, enacted in the intersubjective relationship between writers and readers of autobiography. This dissertation provides the fields of both rhetoric and life writing studies not only an awareness of how ideas about belief—how beliefs about belief—have already shaped our scholarly imagination but also the possibilities a rhetoric of belief can offer to future conversations about what it means to read and write autobiography in America today. Engaging theorists such as Graham Ward, Paul Ricoeur, Jessica Benjamin, Michel Foucault, and Judith Butler, this dissertation examines various beliefs, both sacred and secular, represented in Karr’s The Liars’ Club, Cherry, Lit, and The Art of Memoir.

Believing Mary Karr suggests that stories of belief, epitomized by Mary Karr’s memoirs, offer readers an embodied experience that operates through the expectant affects of desire and hope and that also forms, re-forms, and transforms their own structures of believing. Thus, such narratives reveal their power on at least two levels. Individually, they invite us to reconsider the role of belief in our own lives. Collectively, they hold the potential to reinscribe pervading cultural myths by acknowledging how beliefs help create shared worlds.


Imported from ProQuest Guedet_ilstu_0092E_11012.pdf


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