Date of Award

2003

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Welch Everman

Second Committee Member

T. Jeff Evans

Third Committee Member

Steven Evans

Abstract

A scholar who wishes to examine the works of Jerzy Kosinski faces a problem not found in the study of many other authors: Kosinski's personal history, critical to many approaches to the study of literature, is filled with fictions, contradictions, and unverifiable events. For years Kosinski's first novel, The Painted Bird, was taken to be autobiographical. However, as interest in Kosinski's work grew, inconsistencies and obvious falsehoods contradicted this accepted autobiographical reading. The Painted Bird describes the wanderings of a young boy in Eastern Europe during WWII, yet Kosinski was not separated fiom his parents as had been previously believed. However, within Kosinski's texts there are many events that can be related to his personal life: the loss of nearly his entire family to the Nazis, his first marriage, and many other elements are verifiable. Because fact and fiction blend into one another in Kosinski's personal history, it is difficult to know how to address his work. This thesis posits that Kosinski's personal life constitutes a tenth text, a text available for study, which can inform Kosinski's novels. By drawing parallels between his life as reported and his written work, Kosinskian scholars can examine emergent patterns of behavior and the philosophical foundations of his project. These foundations provide a tool for examining Kosinski's novels, allowing a greater understanding of those texts typically considered problematic, especially Being There and The Hermit of 6Pth Street. This examination focuses on Kosinski's concept of the Self, dividing the Self into two parts: the interior "subjective Self' and the Self available for examination, the "phenomenological Self." The subjective Self is defined as that which it typically known as the "true Self," that which is unavailable to the Other. However, the phenomenological Self is often constructed by the Other, through the use of labels, prejudice, and habit. Kosinski's philosophy of the Self emerges as a willful attempt at Self-authorship, a determination to willfully create a phenomenological Self, that set of behaviors, appearance, and affiliations that can provide advantage in dealing with the Other. This thesis contends that Kosinski's project was to influence the Other's perception of the Self to protect the subjective Self. Kosinski's metaphor of the painted bird becomes important in this reading. Within this framework, the bird is always painted by perceptions; for Kosinski the choice was whether the painting of the bird was to be done by the Other or the Self. This theory is then applied to Kosinski's texts, showing how Being There and The Hermit of 6gh Street are, in fact, consistent with this philosophy. Both show an emphasis on the perceptions of the Other and the Self s struggle with those perceptions. The thesis does not attempt an in-depth study of Kosinski's canon, but the creation of a critical tool that may be useful in Kosinskian studies.

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