“Escape to Impersonality”
Personas in H.G. Wells’ Experiment in Autobiography
Keywords:H.G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography, Multiple Personality, Biopolitics, Surveillance Capitalism
This article reads H.G. Wells’ Experiment in Autobiography (1934) through the lens of Persona Studies to situate life writing in the context of (post) human rights, biopolitics, and surveillance capitalism. Carl Jung’s concept of persona pervades Wells’ writing and life. Persona, for Wells, is the path towards the “impersonality” that is essential to humanity’s evolution. Wells recognized that personas are plural, inconsistent, and evolving performances whose fictional unity, if enacted deliberately without self-delusion, can serve real ends—such as the prolific creative and intellectual work that earned him four nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Further, Wells presents life writing as a human right: the right to tell our own stories, access our own records, represent the personas which we elect, and enjoy the freedom to evolve from one persona to the next. A persona’s double movement, poised between the personal and the impersonal, the individual and the world, the biological and the historical, represents both the form and content of Wells’ Experiment in Autobiography. If Wells gives us reason to hope amidst a global pandemic, the specter of World War III, the proliferation of nuclear arms, and climate catastrophe, it is that these existential threats help us answer the question, “What will come after man?” To consider the answer is not to give up on humankind. On the contrary, to imagine non/post human lifeforms is essential in defining human rights and securing a human future.
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