Autobiography and Community

In what I am currently writing I have become quite interested in the way autobiographies and autobiographical work constructs an imagined community, obviously Benedict Anderson doesn’t quite apply here, but he also doesn’t NOT apply, you know? Instead of looking at the way autobiography explores the self, and applying various ideas of selfhood and truth etc. to it, I have become more interested in how reception theories shape what we understand of autobiography – if we shouldn’t read them in relationship to the self and ideas of the self, Freudian self-analysis and whatnot, and instead read them as texts written to be read by an audience. Written to interact with a specific literary field. Autobiography is a public act, and I think some interactions between writer and audience can be described by using Marcel Mauss and the gift. And now I have been thinking – and I’m sure this is not true for every autobiography. Say, Robert Lowell, a tall, white, straight man. But, say, you look at Mary McCarthy (because that’s my topic) and the situation turns. Or the tradition of Jewish autobiography. This is two steps. One, looking at the outside effect of autobiography and entirely excluding the self-exploratory aspect of it. Two, see in what way this works to construct a sense of (a) community, or a pole within a literary field. So that’s where I am. Any comments?

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One thought on “Autobiography and Community

  1. My comment is: very interesting! I’m pretty attached to the idea of the self (card-carrying psychoanalyst, etc), but your comments make me think about Holocaust memoirs, a genre I teach a lot and sometimes write about. Probably somebody has already written about this, and I should investigate, but Holocaust memoirs are often strikingly similar. Partly that reflects shared experiences, but it must also reflect ideas about what a Holocaust memoir should be. Which in turn has generated ideas of what the Holocaust was.

    Is this the sort of thing you were thinking about?

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