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Essays on Life Writing

Essays on Life Writing: From Genre to Critical Practice

Edited by Marlene Kadar
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 234
  • Book Info
    Essays on Life Writing
    Book Description:

    Marlene Kadar has brought together an interdisciplinary and comparative collection of critical and theoretical essays by diverse Canadian scholars.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7461-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Coming to Terms: Life Writing — from Genre to Critical Practice
    (pp. 3-16)

    There are at least three ways to view life writing, each of which includes an attempt to define or redefine what exactly life writing is. Let me go over the two that have been and still are used in the scholarship to date, and then let me tell you about the one ‘She’ made me do. This ‘she’ is a reading presence which reminds me that life writing is not a fixed term, and that it is in flux as it moves from considerations of genre to considerations of critical practice. ‘She’ also ensures that the text does not become...

  5. PART ONE LITERARY WOMEN WHO WRITE THE SELF: Autobiographical Documents by Literary Women as Primary Texts
    (pp. 17-20)

    IN PART ONE the contributors focus on primary texts by literary women whose reputations have been made on the basis of published fiction and non-fiction works, that is, texts other than the life-writing documents considered here. Elizabeth Smart’s early journals, for example, were published in 1986, but Smart is known for her novel,By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept,1941. Similarly, Marian Engle’scahiersand notebooks, part of the Marian Engel Archive at McMaster University, complement Engel’s published fiction, includingSarah Bastard’s Notebook(1968);Bear(1976);The Glassy Sea(1978); andLunatic Villas(1981). These life-writing documents have...

  6. PART TWO Recording a Life and the Construction of Self:: Non-Literary Life Narratives as Life Writing – Personal Oral Narratives, Life Histories, and Testimonials

    • 5 Court Testimony from the Past: Self and Culture in the Making of Text
      (pp. 83-93)

      For understanding other places and times, reading the ‘life’ of someone who lived there has long been a favourite means. The enduringly popular genres of biography and autobiography gratify the appetite to see into the experience, the mind, the sensibility of another. It may be difficult, however, to satisfy such curiosity about the many men and women of earlier eras who could not read and write. While historians can reconstruct much about the circumstances of their lives, we can rarely see directly into their minds and feelings. Before modern times only a very few, nonélite people have represented themselves to...

    • 6 Agostino Bonamore and the Secret Pigeon
      (pp. 94-112)

      It has been some years since historians could say with any justice that the minds and hearts of the men and women of the Euro’pean lower classes, in early modern times, must remain beyond our ken. We now enjoy a growing literature, which sometimes browses on scattered diaries and letters, tales, songs, and proverbs, but most often battens on well-heaped court records, a new scholarship that brings us almost face to face with the no longer forgotten masses.¹ We are beginning to learn how the common people spoke, thought, and felt, how they did business and negotiated the delicate politics...

    • 7 Anthropological Lives: The Reflexive Tradition in a Social Science
      (pp. 113-128)

      ‘Whose life is it anyway?’ our editor asks and goes to the heart of the current interest in reflexivity in anthropology. The question also evokes traditional concerns within the discipline. My purpose in this essay is to explore the history of reflexivity in anthropology and to suggest that the contemporary concerns of postmodern and feminist practitioners may be traced to a long tradition of personal narrative that comprises a subgenre in anthropological writing.

      Anthropologists travel (generally alone) to places (that today include the inner cores of our cities) usually far away from their university offices, where they share the daily...

  7. PART THREE Fiction and Autofiction as Life Writing:: Reading as Emancipating the Subject

    • 8 ‘I Peel Myself out of My Own Skin’: Reading Don’t: A Woman’s Word
      (pp. 133-151)

      To write a body in pain, a particular historical body that has suffered particularly damaging abuse, is to articulate one of our culture’s unspeakable secrets. To read a daughter’s interpretive account of incestuous relations with her father is to experience how feminist writing rattles canonical and textual borders. In her analysisBeyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature and Social Change,Rita Felski argues that ‘the politics of feminist reading or writing is not a question which can be resolved at an aesthetic level alone; it is inextricably linked to the fate of the women’s movement as a whole ... Writing should...

    • 9 Whose Life Is It Anyway? Out of the Bathtub and into the Narrative
      (pp. 152-161)

      Life writing is the broad term used by Evelyn Hinz and Donald Winslow to refer to a genre of documents or fragments of documents written out of a life, or unabashedly out of a personal experience of the writer. In my view, life writing includes many kinds of texts, both fictional and non-fictional, though we tend to focus on the latter because they appear more ‘true to life.’ The texts that comprise life writing, and that are obviously life stories, are better named life-narratives, and as such fulfil Aristotle’s minimum criteria for a whole story with a certain unity -...

    • 10 Reading Reflections: The Autobiographical Illusion in Cat’s Eye
      (pp. 162-170)

      I have been told by friends, relatives, colleagues, and teachers - in fact, by everyone I know who has read it - that Margaret Atwood’sCat’s Eyeis ‘more autobiographical than her other books.’ And, of course, they are right. Itismore autobiographical - or, anyway, it is more obviously about self-representation¹ - than her other books. But it is autobiographical in the same way thatLady Oracleis gothic: it speaks to the form as much as it speaks from or within it.

      The fascinating part about all this is that those experienced readers who would be embarrassed...

    • 11 Dreaming a True Story: The Disenchantment of the Hero in Don Quixote, Part 2
      (pp. 171-190)

      In the last chapter of the novel bearing his name, the imaginative gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha falls ill from a fever whose cause is identified by the village doctor as extreme melancholy. After hearing this diagnosis, the protagonist falls into a profound sleep, which both his niece and his housekeeper fear may presage his death. From it he awakens to announce his return to sanity by means of the grace of God:

      My judgment is now clear and free from the misty shadows of ignorance with which my ill-starred and continuous reading of those detestable books of chivalry...

  8. PART FOUR Poetics and Life Writing

    • 12 Mimesis: The Dramatic Lineage of Auto/Biography
      (pp. 195-212)

      Auto/biographical documents¹ come in a variety of forms, appeal a diverse audience, and provide valuable data for scholars from numerous disciplines; in the past couple of decades, auto/biography has also emerged as one of the most popular and prolific forms of literature. Small wonder, then, that the need to formulate ‘poetics’ of this material has become so urgent, but that attempts do so have met with such little concrete or comprehensive success.

      Yet perhaps the problem has less to do with the heterogeneity auto/biography and more to do with the way the hegemony of novel has misled critics into using...

    • 13 Autobiography: From Different Poetics to a Poetics of Differences
      (pp. 213-230)

      For most readers and writers of autobiography, the genre contracts that its authorial and narrating ‘I’ is verifiably an actual person to whom that ‘I’ refers.¹ That is, autobiography’s definitive feature is that it seeks to represent, or at least is figured upon, a (perhaps impossible) correspondence between its narrating ‘I’ and a subject actually-in-the-world. This remains true whether we grant the ‘self’ ontological status or whether we theorize a ‘subject’ as the product of discursive and ideological structures - whether we see the reference of autobiography as to a self already existent in the world or as to a...

  9. Biographical Notes
    (pp. 231-234)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)