this course, we will be reading and discussing, but primarily writing,
autobiographical texts. Philippe Lejeune
has famously defined the autobiographical pact as an agreement between reader
and writer that the “I” of the text is in important ways also the
narrator of the text, and the individual identified on the cover or title page
as the author as well. This formulation
has been challenged, and we will challenge it as well, but this course will
definitely focus upon representing in words, and perhaps images, the
a commitment will lead us into encounters with memoirs, personal essays,
confessions, testimony, “creative non-fiction,” new journalism, and a
host of other rhetorical and literary genres.
It will also lead us to graphic memoirs.
We will read some texts as points of departure for decisions about form
and rhetorical strategy—Alison Bechdel’s Fun
Home, Michael Ondaatje’s Running in
the Family and Dave Eggers’ A
Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius will definitely be texts, and I
expect there will be two or three more, in addition to a number of shorter
pieces. But the emphasis will be on
writing autobiography, and there will be a significant (8-10) number of
assignments of varying lengths, leading toward a very substantial revised piece
at the end of the semester.
will be mandatory conferences with the instructor for all writing
assignments. You will also be sharing
drafts of your work with other members of the class.
finally, a few governing principles. One
of our major concerns will the question of disclosure—in short, what you decide
to present in your writing as a representation of your life, and what you
choose to withhold. This course is not
group therapy, nor will the grade be tied to your bravery—or rashness—in
presenting traumatic, or outrageous, or intimate secrets about your life, and
the lives of others in your life. One of
the finest Honors theses ever written in our department was an autobiographical
work entitled “I Don’t Remember,” which can be a choice as well as a
statement of fact. We will talk frequently
about the ethics of life writing.