Forms of Autobiography in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Autumn 2018-2019

24526 / 34526

Christine Fouirnaies

This course examines the innovative, creative forms autobiography has taken in the last one hundred years in literature. We will study closely works written between 1933 and 2013 that are exceptional for the way they challenge, subvert and invigorate the autobiographical genre. From unpublished sketches to magazine essays and full-length books, we will see autobiography take many forms and engage with multiple genres and media. These include biography, memoir, fiction, literary criticism, travel literature, the graphic novel and photography. Producing various mutations of the autobiographical genre, these works address some of the same concerns: the self, truth, memory, authenticity, agency and testimony. We will complement discussions of these universal issues with material and historical considerations, examining how the works first appeared and were received. Autobiography will prove a privileged site for probing constructions of family narratives, identity politics and public personas. The main authors studied are Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, Vladimir Nabokov, Roland Barthes, Paul Auster, Doris Lessing, Marjane Satrapi and W.G. Sebald.