Autobiography / memoir

(This page is a stub).

The practice of autobiographical and memoir writing takes center stage on this website, both theoretically and empirically.

First I will discuss the distinction (if any) between autobiography and memoir. Then I will go through and pick the cherries out of some interesting aspects of the scholarly literature from three main fields:

1) There is a vast theoretical literature on memoir and autobiography. Most of this literature, however, deals with the history of the genre, or literary analyses of finished works: their composition, author intentions, reader expectations, etc., like Philippe Lejeune’s immensely influential book Le pacte autobiographique (1975); see On autobiography (1989).

2) There is also a large practical literature on autobiography and memoir writing, the kind of writing manuals which historical and literary scholars would probably scoff at, but which is pretty interesting from my perspective.

3) There is fairly large literature on the history and sociology of intellectuals, thinkers, etc., and I have to be very choosy when I pick the cherries from this corpus, to make sure I find what has been written specifically about autobiographies and memoirs of intellectuals, writers, thinkers, men and women of learning etc.

4) Finally, there is an interesting subset of literature dealing with the significance of autobiography for understanding human ageing and with the use of life stories and other autobiographical materials in gerontological practice. Some of this literature, e.g., G. Kenyon and W. Randall, Restorying our lives (1997), emphasises the narrative (story-telling) dimension of life-writing. I am not entirely happy with idea that one’s life is best understood in narrative terms, and I will therefore develop the argument pro et contra autobiographical narration on separate subpages: see ‘Narrative vs. episodic life’.

Based on these four corpora of literature and my own practical experiences in documenting and writing about my own life, I will try to develop a ‘manual’ for using autobiographical and memoir writing as method for intellectuals etc. to understand themselves and achieve graceful ageing.

(I have not organised the subpages yet)work in progress