Autobiographical Writing

ENG 311: Autobiographical Writing: The Graphic Novel Autobiography

Focus: W, E

Objectives 

This class introduces you to autobiographical writing via the medium of the graphic novel. Many graphic novels use the first-person narrative voice, but in this course, we examine graphic narratives that are explicitly autobiographical: graphic-novel autobiographies. The graphical, visually sketched part of the narrative arguably gives these narratives something ordinary autobiographical writing lacks: the tensions between word and image make self-caricature and irony virtually intrinsic to the form. Moreover, the presentation of the self through sequential images evokes the fragmentariness of individual identity and experience, within a social totality that is always looming and yet never there in one place at once time. The graphic-novel autobiographical subject is always both subject and object.  A product of late capitalism, the graphic-novel autobiography is instinctively attuned to its lived reality.

This class also introduces key concepts and terms in the field of biography/ autobiography studies and comics/graphic-novel studies. Readings and class discussions will hone your critical vocabulary as you respond to classmates’ work and reflect upon your own.

Class sessions will alternate between lecture + discussion, and workshops in which you and your peers respond to each other’s writing. Each of the class discussions will focus on the conceptual and ethical questions raised by the graphic-novel autobiography:

When does a particular life merit an autobiography? Does your life have to be exceptional or can you write about the banal minutiae that consume your everyday life? If it is always about exceptional people, who counts as exceptional? If it is about ordinary people, what makes them ordinary? How is ordinariness or extraordinariness realized aesthetically, on the level of form? Is the genre of the graphic-novel autobiography especially drawn to violent or traumatic episodes? What occasions its irreverent and experimental tone? What are the literary and narrative strategies that strengthen or undermine its claim to truth and authenticity? Does the graphic-novel medium enable specific forms of oppositional, social critique?

Readings:

Art Speigelman (1980), Maus I

Joe Sacco (1993), Palestine

Terry Zwigoff (1994), Crumb (120 mins)

Marjane Satrapi (2000), Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Alison Bechdel (2006), Fun Home

Junji Ito (2008), Junji Ito’s Cat Diary

Julia Wertz (2012), The Infinite Wait