Under this heading I will discuss the notion of modes of writing (rhetorical modes) and its consequences for writing autobiography and memoir.
Most of the literature on autobiographical writing seems to take for granted that narration (story-telling) is the only relevant mode of life-writing.
However, drawing on my own experiences, I believe other modes of writing, like exposition, description, illustration/exemplification etc., play an important role as well, and that all these analytically distinct modes of writing are combined in autobiographical writing.
A closely related issue is our understanding of self. Many authors claim that self-understanding is cast in narrative form (a ‘narrative self’), while critics suggest that the self can also be understood in non-narrative terms, for example as an ‘episodic self’? I will discuss this question in relation to my own experiences from self-inspection and will also draw heavily on Galen Strawsons criticism of the narrativity thesis, e.g., his seminal article “Against narrativity”, Ratio, 17: 428-52 (2004) and the more recent article “The unstoried life” (2017).
Illustration / exemplification
A thematic memoir?
I understand a thematic memoir as an alternative to a chronological and/or narrative memoir.
I have two choices: I can either write the narrative in terms of an motif (overarching theme), or organize the text in a number of themes instead of writing chronologically.
Motif (overarching theme)
One possibility is to summarize the myriads of episodes, events, actions, feelings and memories of my life into an overarching theme, for example ‘a life in opposition’ or ‘in search of recognition’, or someother recurrent motif. I imagine that such a motif might came upon me one day as a one-liner or a single powerful word, almost as an epiphany. (Or maybe this will never happen to me.)
The overarching motif will give coherence to the chronological narrative, a feeling of having a clear identity — “this is who I am”, “this is the truth about me”. Such a thematic memoir can very well be written chronologically, with chapters spanning my whole life.
Structuring the memoir thematically
On the other hand, I’m also playing with the idea of taking the consequence of the fact that I’m beginning to discern a number of less overarching themes and motifs in my life, such as aesthetic preferences, political and religious ideas, emotional reactions, etc.
Hence, I’m playing with the idea of organizing the memoir text thematically instead of chronologically.
Some of these themes will be outlined here → (forthcoming)