Eakin describes autobiographies as performative acts in which the self is created through language and narrative. He describes the autobiographical works of Mary McCarthy, Henry James, and Sartre, and points out that although we have no problems with autobiographical elements in works of fiction, we do struggle with elements of fiction in autobiographies. Eakin then continues to point out that fiction plays an important role in this narrative process of self-construction and that there is something as a psychological truth. Moreover, Eakin tells us that the narrative strategy of self-invention is a way for writers and novelists to regain the strengths of their imagination.
In chapter four Eakin focuses on The Words by Jean-Paul Sartre, a work that has started the debate on the question of whether the self is autonomous or provisional, dependent on language, narrative and others. Sartre describes the childhood illusion of the self as an existing entity that creates the world through language. At this point in the text, I had troubles understanding the example of the fable of the train in Sartre's The Words.
Selfhood has a fictive nature, but it is held to be a biographical fact. Because of this, and previously mentioned ideas of the self as constructed in narrative, critical debates are surrounding the nature of autobiographies, as this has become an ontological issue about the status of the self.
Eakin describes the "French" (inspired by French critics) challenge of the autobiographical act as the thought that the reality of the self can be denied, and that it is impossible for the self to be the author, the originator, of his own discourse. On the other hand, from a Cartesian point of view, it can be said that the self is transcendent and a timeless absolute that cannot be described in any language. This thought also makes an autobiography impossible, as the self just "is", and never "was".
Eakin continues by discussing the thoughts of Paul De Man who suggested the possibility of the autobiography as a producer of life, instead of the other way around. He implies that the writer might very well produce his life according to the desired self-portraiture. De Man states that the self in this case is a linguistic structure, an imagined narrative construction.
James Olney suggests that the self is expressed by metaphors which it creates and projects and by doing this the self comes into a different existence; we can see the metaphors, representations, of the self, but not the self itself. Language for Olney is an instrument that can be used for self construction and definition.
Eakin comes to the conclusion that if indeed the self is a metaphor, a product of language, we should use this as a power to create a lasting, strong human illusion; an illusion that the self comes before language, an illusion that is necessary to live our human lives.