How To Write An Autobiography For College

How To Write An Autobiography For College

Autobiography thus centers on the life of a singular individual within its specific historical context, retracing the “genetic personality de­ve­lop­ment launched in the awareness of a complex in­terplay bet­ween I-and-my-world” (Weintraub 1982: 13). In this sense, it may be seen to represent the “full convergence of all the factors constituting this modern view of the self” (XV). Its central figure is that of a romantic self-constitution, grounded in memory.As memory informs autobiography, self-consciously reflected upon since Augustine (Book XX, Confessions), the boundaries between fact and fiction are inevitably straddled, as Goethe’s title Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth) ([1808–31] 1932) aptly implies. In the face of the inevitable subjectivity (or fallibility) of autobiographical recollection, the creative dimension of memory, and thus autobiography’s quality as verbal/aesthetic fabrication, has come to the fore. In this respect, the history of autobiography as a literary genre is closely interrelated with corresponding forms of autofiction/the autobiographical novel, with no clear dividing lines, even though autobiographical fiction tends to leave “signposts” of its fictionality to be picked up by the reader (Cohn 1999).123helpme.me In any case, autobiography’s temporal linearity and narrative coherence has frequently proved prone to deliberate anachronisms and disruptions—programmatically so in Nabokov (1966). Indeed, by the early 20th century there was an increasing scepticism about the possibility of a cohesive self emerging through autobiographical memory.

Modernist writers experimented with fragmentation, subverting chronology and splitting the subject (Woolf 1985, published posthumously; Stein 1933), foregrounding visual and scenic/topographical components, highlighting the role of language (Sartre [1964] 2002), conflating auto- and heterobiography or transforming lives into fiction ( e.g. Proust [1913–27] 1988).From its critical beginnings, then, autobiography has been inextricably linked to the critical history of subjectivity. In his monumental study of 1907, Misch explicitly surveyed the history of autobiography as a reflection of the trajectory of subjective consciousness ([1907] 1950: 4). He thus acknowledged the historical specificity of forms of autobiographical self-reflection. With his concept of autobiography as “a special genre in literature” and at the same time “an original interpretation of experience” (3–4), Misch aligned with the hermeneutics of Dilthey, who considered autobiography the supreme form of the “understanding of life.” Such understanding involves selection as the autobiographical self takes from the infinite moments of experience those elements that, in retrospect, appear relevant with respect to the entire life course. The past is endowed with meaning in the light of the present. Understanding, according to Dilthey, also involves fitting the average person parts into a whole, ascribing interconnection and causality ([1910] 2002: 221–22). Autobiography thus constructs an individual life course as a coherent, meaningful whole. Even if autobiography’s aspect of re-living experience, of rendering incidents as they were experienced at the time, is taken into account, the superior ‘interpreting’ position of the narrative present remains paramount, turning past events into a meaningful plot, making sense (Sinn) of contingency.Hermeneutics continued to dominate the theory of autobiography, lagging behind its poetic practices. Gusdorf defined autobiography as “a sort of apologetics or theodicy of the indivi­dual being” (1980: 39), yet shifted the emphasis somewhat by prioritizing its literary over its historical function.

Anglo-American theories of autobiography similarly tended to focus on such a poetical norm of autobiography as a literary work devoted to “inner truth” (Pascal 1960), with Rousseau’s/Goethe’s autobiography as the recognizable generic model. “Any auto­biography that resembles modern auto­biographies in structure and content is the modern sort of au­to­biography”; these are “works like those that modern readers in­stinctively expect to find when they see Autobiography, My Life, or Memoirs printed across the back of a volume” (Shumaker 1954: 5). Whether hermeneutics- or New Criticism-inspired, the history of autobiography as“art” (Niggl 1988: 6) is seen to culminate around 1800, while its more immediate forerunners are often located in the Renaissance or earlier (e.g. Petrarch [1326] 2005; Cellini [1558–66] 1995). With regard to the primary role of the autobiographer as subject of his work, Starobinski argued that his/her singularity was articulated by way of idiosyncratic style (1970, [1970] 1983).Only in the wake of the various social, cultural and linguistic turns of literary and cultural theory since the 1970s did autobiography lose this normative frame. Relying on Freud and Riesman, Neumann established a social psychology-based typology of autobiographical forms. Aligning different modes of narrative with different conceptions of identity, he distinguished between the external orientation of res gestae and memoir, representing the average person as social type, on the one hand, in place of autobiography featuring its focus on memory and identity (1970: esp. 25), on the other hand. Only autobiography aims at personal identity whereas the memoir is concerned with affirming the autobiographer’s place in the world.More recent research has elaborated on the issue of autobiographical narrative and identity in psychological terms (Bruner 1993) as well as from interdisciplinary angles, probing the inevitability of narrative as constitutive of personal identity ( e.g. Eakin 2008) in the wake of “the twin crisis of identity and narrative in the twentieth century” (Klepper 2013: 2) and exploring forms of non-linearity, intermediality or life writing in the new media (Dünne & Moser 2008).

The field of life writing as narratives of self—or of various forms of self—has thus become significantly broader, transcending the classic model of autobiographical identity qua coherent retrospective narrative. Yet whatever its theoretical remodelling and practical rewritings, even if frequently subverted in practice, the close nexus between narrative, self/identity, and the genre/practice of autobiography continues to be considered paramount. The underlying assumption concerning autobiography is that of a close, even inextricable connection between narrative and identity, with autobiography the prime generic site of enactment. Moreover, life narrative has even been promoted in modernity to a “general cultural pattern of knowledge” (Braun & Stiegler eds. 2012: 13). (While these approaches tend to address autobiographical writing practices claiming to be or considered non-fictional, their relevance extends to autofictional forms.)Next to narrative and identity, the role of memory in (autobiographical) self-constructions has been addressed (Olney 1998), in particular adopting cognitivist ( e.g. Erll et al., eds. 2003) and psychoanalytical (Pietzcker 2005) angles as well as elaborating the neurobiological foundations of autobiographical memory (Markowitsch & Welzer 2005). From the perspective of ‘natural’ narratology, the experiential aspect of autobiography, its dimension of re-living and reconstructing experience, has been emphasized (Löschnigg 2010: 259).With memory being both a constitutive faculty and a creative liability, the nature of the autobiogra­phical subject has also been revised in terms of psychoanalytical, (socio‑) psychological or even deconstructive cate­gories (e.g. Holdenried 1991; Volkening 2006). ‘Classic autobiography’ has turned out to be a limited historical event whose foundations and principles have been increasingly challenged and subverted with respect to poetic practice, poetological reflection and genre theory alike.

Even within a less radical theoretical frame, chronological linearity, retrospective narrative closure and coherence as mandatory generic markers have been dis­qualified, or at least re-conceptualized as structural tools ( e.g. Kronsbein 1984). Autobiography’s generic scope now includes such forms as the diary/journal as “serial autobiography” (Fothergill 1974: 152), the “Literary Self-Portrait” as a more heterogeneous and complex literary type (Beaujour [1980] 1991) and the essay ( e.g. Hof & Rohr eds. 2008). While autobiography has thus gained in formal and thematic diversity, autobiographical identity appears a transitory phenomenon at best. In its most radical deconstructive twist, autobiography is reconceptionalized as a rhetorical figure—“prosopopeia”—that ultimately produces “the illu­sion of reference” (de Man 1984: 81).

De Man thus challenges the very foundations of autobiography in that it is said to create its subject by means of rhetorical language rather than represent the subject. Autobiography operates in complicity with metaphysical notions of self-consciousness, intentionality and language as a means of representation.Whereas de Man’s deconstruction of autobiography turned out to be of little lasting impact, Lejeune’s theory of the “autobiographical pact” has proven seminal. It rethinks autobiography as an institutionalized communicative act where author and reader enter into a particular ‘contract’—the “autobiographical pact”—sealed by the triple reference of the same proper name. “Autobiography (narrative recounting the life of the author) supposes that there is identity of name between the author (such as s/he figures, by name, on the cover), the narrator of the story and the character who is being talked about” ([1987] 1988: 12; see Genette [1991] 1993). The author’s proper name refers to a singular autobiogra­phical identity, identifying author, narrator and protagonist as one, and thus ensures the reading as autobiography. “The autobiographical pact is the affirmation in the text of this identity, referring back in the final analysis to the name of the author on the cover” (14). The tagging of the generic status operates by way of paratextual pronouncements or by identity of names; in contrast, nominal differentiation or content clues might point to fiction as worked out by Cohn (1999).While Lejeune’s approach reduces the issue of fiction vs non-fiction to a simple matter of pragmatics, he acknowledges its very own historical limitations set by the “author function” (Foucault [1969] 1979) along with its inextricable ties to the middle-class subject. As an ideal type, Lejeune’s autobiographical pact depends on the emergence of the modern author in the long 18th century as proprietor of his or her own text, guaranteed by modern copyright and marked by the title page/the imprint. In this sense, the history of modern autobiography as literary genre is closely connected to the history of authorship and the modern subject and vice versa, much as the scholarship on autobiography has emerged contemporaneously with the emergence of the modern author (Schönert → Author).In various ways, then, autobiography has proved prone to be to “slip[ping] away altogether,” failing to be identifiable by “its own proper form, terminology, and observances” (Olney ed. 1980: 4). Some critics have even pondered the “end of autobiography” ( e.g. Finck 1999: 11).

With critical hindsight, the classic paradigm of autobiography, featuring its tenets of coherence, circular closure, interiority, etc., is exposed as a historically limited, gendered and socially exclusive event (and certainly one that erases any clear dividing line between factual and fictional self-writings).As its classic markers were rendered historically obsolete or ideologically suspicious (Nussbaum 1989), the pivotal role of class (Sloterdijk 1978), and especially gender, as intersectional identity markers within specific historical contexts came to be highlighted, opening innovative critical perspectives on strategies of subject formation in ‘canonical’ texts as well as broadening the field of autobiography studies. While ‘gender sensitive’ studies initially sought to reconstruct a specific female canon, they addressed the issue of a distinct female voice of/in autobiography as more “multidimensional, fragmented” (Jelinek ed. 1986: viii), or subsequently undertook to explore autobiographical selves in terms of discursive self-positionings instead (Nussbaum 1989; Finck 1999: esp. 291–93), tying in with discourse analytical redefinitions of autobiography as a discursive regime of (self-)discipline and regulation that evolved out of changes in communication media and technologies of memory during the 17th and 18th centuries (Schneider 1986). Subsequently, issues of publication, canonization and the historical nexus of gender and (autobiographical) genre became subjects of investigation, bringing into view historical notions of gender and the specific conditions and practices of communication within their generic and pragmatic contexts ( e.g. Hof & Rohr eds. 2008). The history of autobiography has come to be more diverse and multi-facetted: thus alternative ‘horizontal’ modes of self, where identity is based on its contextual embedding by way of diarial modes, have come to the fore. With respect to texts by 17th-century autobiographers, the notion of “heterologous subjectivity”— self-writing via writing about another or others—has been suggested (Kormann 2004: 5–6).If gender studies exposed autobiography’s individualist self as a phenomenon of male self-fashioning, postcolonial theory further challenged its universal validity. While autobiography was long considered a exclusively western genre, postcolonial approaches to autobiography/ life writing have notably expanded the corpus of autobiographical writings and provided a perspective which will be critical of both the eurocentrism of autobiography genre theory and the concepts of selfhood in operation ( e.g. Lionett 1991).

In this context, too, the question has arisen as to how autobiography is possible for those who have no voice of their own, who cannot speak for themselves (see Spivak’s ‘subaltern’). Such ‘Writing ordinary lives’, usually aiming at collective identities, poses specific problems: sociological, ethical and even aesthetic (see Pandian 2008).Following the spatial turn, the concept of ‘eco-autobiography’ also carries potentially wider theoretical significance. By “mapping the self” (Regard ed. 2003), eco-biography designates a specific mode of autobiography that constructs a “relationship between the natural setting and the self,” often aiming at “discover[ing] ‘a new self in nature’” (Perreten 2003), with Wordsworth or Thoreau ([1854] 1948) as frequently cited paradigms. Phrased in less Romantic terms, it locates life courses and self-representations in specific places. In a wider sense, eco- or topographical autobiographies undertake to place the autobiographical subject in terms of spatial or topographical figurations, bringing into play space/topography as a pivotal moment of biographical identity and thus potentially unsettling autobiography’s anchorage in time.

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