Autobiographical Writing

In 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

Such 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. But the emphasis will be on
writing autobiography or memoir, and there will be a significant (8-10) number
of assignments of varying lengths—some huge—leading toward a very substantial
revised piece at the end of the semester. You can assume that you’ll be writing
and/or revising over 100 pages.

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.

the emphasis is on writing, there will be reading. G. Thomas Couser’s brief
overview of memoir will be the main critical text, and we will also read a
number of autobiographical texts as well, including at least two full memoirs:
Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family
will be one of them.

finally, a few governing principles.  One
of our major concerns will the issue 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.