Introduction

The aim of this site is to investigate the genres of memoir and autobiography.

It may sound paradoxical, because this site is filled with reports about me and my life history, my own experiences, feelings and memories, and photos of myself, from birth to the present.

But the goal is not to produce an autobiography or memoir as such. (Sure I am interested in myself, who isn’t?, but I have no illusions about other people having any special interest in the concrete story of my life. And if I write my life story anyway some day, it will be put in the deskdrawer.)

The reason I use so much space on reporting about myself and quote letters and share photos of myself, is that I am utilising the best possible empirical material I can get access to — namely my personal archive and my memories — as resources for understanding the practice of self-writing and for investigating autobiography and memoir as genres of writing.

In other words, I’m using myself as empirical study subject/object and using events from my life as illustrations for the simple reason that I have a privileged access to myself. I think this is one of the things that makes research for an autobiography or memoir such a fascinating form of investigation: Each and everyone of us has privileged access to our own life, a unique access that no other person in the world has.

I think self-investigations of this kind can be used for a number of practical and theoretical purposes.

First of all, I think such studies are of potentially great value for ourselves (including myself). Wrting about oneself is potentially self-therapeutical. It can be a source of joy and pleasure, similar to amateur family history research (geneaology), but it can also be a source of frustration and pain as one confronts one’s own past, waking up the inner demons one thought were safely put away.

Either way, self-writing can be seen as a method for mentally caring for oneself in the later phases of one’s life. A method for coming to terms with one’s achievements and misdeeds, of attaining mental tranquility (ataraxia), and preparing oneself for the inevitable end.

Thus writing memoirs and autobiographies is a way, I suggest, to help us age with grace, not so much a means for congratulating ourselves as for forgiving ourselves. It is also a very democratic and low-cost method for graceful ageing. Investigating, contemplating and writing one’s own life is a tool that everyone who has memories and has left a trail of papers and things, however tiny, can engage in.

These are some of the practical uses of the genres of memoir and autobiography I will discuss in the posts and pages on this site.

I should add that I am specifically interested in autobiographies and memoirs of what we sometimes call ‘the intelligentsia’ — intellectuals, thinkers, writers, scholars, researchers, men and women of learning, etc. Partly because this is the kind of life and work I know best in practice, and partly because I have spent most of my life in the history, philosophy and sociology of science studying thinkers and researchers.

I think ‘the intelligentsia’ is an extremely interesting social and political stratum (maybe even a class in sich?). By restricting myself to the subgenre of memoirs and autobiographies of ‘the intelligentsia’ I hope to be able to throw further light on the status and role of this stratum. In describe these academic purposes of the investigation under the heading ‘Purposes‘.

At the moment this is an online investigation only. Most of the results will be posted on this site, but I am also planning to publish selected aspects of the study in academic research journals. At a later stage I might contemplate writing a small book (in Danish or Swedish), but I do not have any structure for it yet, or even a tentative title. Suggestions are welcome — contact me here.