Created: 9. April Revised: Comprehensive and continuous retrospection, based on memory, makes up its governing structural and semantic principle. Oscillating between the struggle for truthfulness and creativity, between oblivion, concealment, hypocrisy, self-deception and self-conscious fictionalizing, autobiography renders a story of personality formation, a Bildungsgeschichte. Although 1st-person narrative continues to be the dominant form in autobiography, there are examples of autobiographical writing told in the 3rd person e.

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He goes on to define what a memoir is: We would never call the autobiography of a politician or other professional public figure a memoir. A memoir is more tightly focused, more daring in construction, and its author hopes more penetrating. This has the effect of rerouting the current popularity of memoir in North America through a specific discourse of literary quality. It has been treated as a minor form of autobiography by critics. These very things are what is making memoir so popular now and are part of the reason why scholars who want to study popu- lar forms of life writing are beginning to consider memoir in a serious way.

Memoir and Autobiography Studies For a long time, memoir has been treated by most critics of autobiography as a poor relative of autobiography discourse, a secondary form of life writing like diaries, confessions, letters or journals. Given its long history as a form of life writing and its current surge in popularity in the publishing industry, why has memoir been treated as so marginal to autobiography studies?

One way to explain this is to examine the critical stances that autobiography theorists have taken towards the meaning of autobiography as a literary discourse. Memoir, a form of life writing associated with what I term non-professional or non-literary textual production, has often stood in for problems that a wide variety of autobi- ography critics have had with popular writing, and with writing when it is con- sidered as a commodity.

However, there is some critical disagreement about what the term means. These critics accomplished this by doing what critics of the novel had done: they built a canon for autobiography studies that was based on literary value and on ideas about the primacy and uniqueness of the self and the creativity of the artist that originated in Romanticism. As Felicity Nuss- baum observes, Romantic subjectivity has been read backwards in time by literary critics to periods before the advent of Romanticism in order to build a sense of tra- dition that appears to be objective, timeless, and easily transferrable from the writ- ing of one era to that of another.

The Romantic self in this type of writing is unique, pre-cultural and pre-linguistic. It is communicated and preserved by feint in artistic language Lang 4.

Augustine, Rousseau and Beckett-and other authors like Michel de Montaigne, Benjamin Franklin or William Wordsworth—whether or not they endorsed the ideals of Romanticism—are believed to embody the Romantic autobiographical aesthetic pioneered by Rousseau.

Like fic- tion, it creates an individual in writing and in its aesthetics point to higher truths. Many critics have pointed out how this vision of autobiography excludes writing by those whose writing did not fit this pattern, including women Nussbaum 4 , Native Americans Wong 5 and people of color Gold- man ix.

It is less frequently pointed out that in the Romantic underpinnings of autobiography criticism, all writers who write about themselves are assumed to be autobiographers. They are not described as writing memoirs, letters, essays or confessions, even when the writers themselves said that they were doing just that.

The discourse of autobiography criticism pictured and sometimes still pictures autobiography as an aesthetic that transcends individual differences between texts, authors and historical periods. The thing that makes these texts autobio- graphical is the reflexivity of the authors, and the literariness of their texts. For autobiography critics influenced by the phenomenology of the New Model theo- rists or the humanism of James Olney,4 autobiography is not connected to the material conditions of its production.

The idea that autobiography might be something con- nected to commodification was not part of this formulation of autobiography as discourse. Memoirs, on the other hand, have been linked to less valued aspects of life writing in autobiography criticism.

Olney also sees the development of secular autobiography as part of an evolution in human self-consciousness Who the writers were meant that what they wrote about could not be autobiography, since it was assumed that public men could not and did not write about subjects commonly associated with interiority, per- sonality, creativity or uniqueness. For example, although many feminist critics have said that early autobiography critics were more concerned with the lives of public men than with the lives of women,5 the opposite proves true in the work of Georg Misch and Georges Gusdorf.

He proposes only to supply material for a literary work that may be compiled by a future his- torian, or serve for research in other ways. He adds that autobiography is about a person, whereas a memoir does not have a person as its subject. Its focus is memory, either its recording or its sketching. The memoir here is pictured as part of a material process, a kind of rehearsal for more polished writing.

But Misch also connects the hum- bleness of memoir practice with assumptions about the character of those who write it. In memoirs that relation is passive in so far as the writers of mem- oirs The autobiographer concerns himself with such things only in so far as is necessary for the understanding of his life-story.

Memoir is a passive form for pas- sive writers. Autobiography is active: the autobiographer shapes events, while the memoirist foregrounds events that may shape his her perspective. Although it is entirely possible that these distinctions can and do exist between memoir and autobiography, Misch assigns a moral value to them, and links the practice of memoir to an earlier, less sophisticated historical period.

Memoir is not only a passive form; it is understood to be less sophisticated than autobiography and therefore, is the province of less-skilled writers. In her study of memoirs by women, Helen Buss also argues that the mem- oir form has allowed women to be in public discourse in terms of their relation- ships to other people and to their communities.

This critique has been powerful because it has pointed out how women have been excluded from some kinds of self-reflexive discourse. This would link the move to adopt autobiography as a higher and more important form to a critique of capitalism in Romantic thought. This critique assumes that science, business and the social problems in cities that resulted from the Industrial Revolution were things to be avoided rather than things that could be changed.

In this atti- tude to autobiography, self-life-writing could be the means of avoiding the pub- lic sphere and the marketplace as men could turn inward and examine their innermost, private selves. The relationship to social life could be imagined on a metaphorical level as a meditation upon higher things and essential humanity. Public life, other than in the vaguest sense, was not thought to be worth writing about.

Although it is demonstrably true that middle-class women in the Victorian period did write memoirs about their famous husbands or families, the blend of the public and private in memoir, and the interest of the common reading public in this blend, shows that the divide between public and private was not absolute and that one of the most important features of memoir is its existence as a popular textual product in capitalism.

How and why women and non-literary men in the eigh- teenth and nineteenth centuries wrote memoirs of the prison, the workhouse, the battlefield, the whorehouse and why the public wanted to buy them could help us understand why memoir has supplanted autobiography in the twenty- first century literary marketplace.

This dismissal takes several forms. But then he makes a comic aside about memoirs. They supplement real autobiography, but they are not real writing in themselves.

They are the hallmark of personal vanity, not literary quality. Gusdorf supports this when he argues that autobiography is not just a genre, but an act that is only made possible by the existence of self-consciousness in a culture.

For autobiog- raphy to exist, the idea of the self has to evolve through various stages, beginning with the awareness of time, cultural mythology and individual consciousness Gusdorf feels that historical awareness emerges in Europe at the time of the Copernican Revolution, and the result is a proliferation of biographies of famous men.

After this, Gusdorf detours again into the area of memoir in order to dismiss it. He says that most public men who write autobiographically do so to set a public record straight: A great many autobiographies-no doubt the majority-are based on these ele- mentary motives: as soon as they have the leisure of retirement or exile, the minister of state, the politician, the military leader write in order to celebrate their deeds always more or less misunderstood , providing a sort of posthu- mous propaganda for posterity that otherwise is in danger of forgetting them or of failing to esteem them properly.

Memoirs admirably celebrate the pentrating insight and skill of famous men who, appearance to the contrary notwithstand- ing, were never wrong.

Public men write memoirs as pro- paganda, for egotistical reasons. He lists Cardinal Newman, Augustine, Rousseau, Goethe and John Stuart Mill as public men who are able to discuss the past in terms of the private as well as the public. There is artistry in this endeavour when interiority is present, and that is the hallmark of autobiography. For Gusdorf, memoirs in the end are merely a weaker kind of history, and their writers—old, doddering, deluded— believe that they can simply recount the facts of their lives and careers with a measure of creativity.

Gusdorf strongly suggests that in this desire memoir writ- ers are wrong-headed, vain, laughable and unprofessional. Their works are clear- ly not worth reading, much less studying. This attitude to memoir shows that Gusdorf is suspicious of populism, an atti- tude that reappears in much subsequent criticism about autobiography. Gusdorf implies that the popularity of memoirs is hard to understand because memoirs are of such low quality. The inference is that the reading public is perpetually incapable of knowing what good or real autobiography is, unlike a trained critic, who can tell the difference between good and bad writing.

Autobiography criticism after Gusdorf retains this connection between literary quality, self-reflexivity and an elite distrust of the masses and of mass culture. This opposition is still current, often correlated with class and cultural capital. For example, Sidonie Smith and Julia GENRE Watson in their recent book-length guide to autobiography theory and criticism Reading Autobiography discuss memoir as a minor genre, and autobiography as a major discourse or act.

For them, the major distinction is that memoirs deal with the exteriority of the subject, where- as traditional autobiographies deal with interiority This kind of characterization of autobiography as a discourse that surfaces in many kinds of writing about selfhood has enabled feminist critics to discuss autobiography in non-traditional formats.

It also has allowed them to argue for politically progressive readings of new and experimental texts by women, people of colour and oppressed peoples where the public and the private are combined. But the tendency to say that these texts contain autobiographical discourse or acts and were not another kind of text altogether has had its limits.

In the case of memoir, Helen Buss reminds us in Repossessing the World that Maxine Hong Kingston herself finally responded to critical puzzlement about the role of story-telling and characterization in The Woman Warrior by saying that she wrote a memoir, not an autobiography Buss Instead of inventing new terms like out- law genre or neologisms like autography or biomythography to describe these forms, it may make more sense to see these books as their authors described them: memoirs that are intended to combine public and private discourse as the stories of the writer entwine with the stories of others.

For example, Smith and Watson in Reading Autobiography say that memoirs, when they are confessional, are made to be marketed particularly when they are made for a mass audience. Here, Smith and Watson characterize public confession as compulsive and obsessive, packaged by talk shows, created by publishers to feed a public who want to consume hegemony in the form of life stories.

Memoirs, the texts that are most closely associated with this type of confession, go unnamed here but are mentioned implicitly as life narratives by celebrities. Memoirs and confessions with mass-market appeal are described in terms that make reading them seem like a satisfaction of base appetites.

This picture of popular memoir form is similar to that reception of scandal memoirs two hundred years ago in Europe and Britain, when they were GENRE characterized as unsavoury by literary reviewers, and eagerly read by lower class readers i, As a flashpoint of this critical anxiety about memoir in autobiography criticism, it is instructive to look at how the word itself has been used.

It is hard to tell. Memoirs blend private and public; they contain writing about the self and about others; they are written by the most powerful public men and the least known, most private women. This multiplicity refers simultaneously to the process of writing memoirs and to the process of selling them as a finished product. In Spanish, French and Portugese, the word memoria is feminine for this reason. In English, there are two ways to pronounce memoir, probably because of its unstable gendering in French, and the multiple senses of the word are pre- served too.

According to Georg Misch, it may have been in use as early as the fifth century B. Memoir, therefore, is a complex word for interesting reasons. Memoir refers to writing as a process of note-taking, and to a piece of writing as a finished product at the same time. It is both finished and unfinished, unofficial and offi- cial, a collection of reminiscences of an occasional character, but also a record of historic events where the events, not the person who records them, is empha- sized.

It is something that precedes autobiography and yet must be made to proceed from it. It is everywhere. Then, like writing, memoir offers itself as a substitute, or sublimation to what should be complete without it.

He does this by incorporating aspects of the memoir into what would become the template for autobiography discourse. Memoir, until then a widely read guilty plea- sure for readers in France, became legitimized at the moment of its erasure. As we have seen, many early critics of autobiography credited Rousseau as the founder of modern autobiography. Therefore, the moment when Rousseau incorporates scandal memoir style into The Confessions and insists that he did so for moral reasons is also the moment when memoir becomes part of autobiogra- phy, and autobiography itself becomes fashionable.

In just one example from The Confes- sions, Rousseau discusses how as a child he secretly enjoyed the punishments of his foster-mother Mlle Lambercier. Rousseau credits these sadomasochistic fan- tasies of punishment with his later inability to consummate erotic relationships.



He goes on to define what a memoir is: We would never call the autobiography of a politician or other professional public figure a memoir. A memoir is more tightly focused, more daring in construction, and its author hopes more penetrating. This has the effect of rerouting the current popularity of memoir in North America through a specific discourse of literary quality. It has been treated as a minor form of autobiography by critics.



Yor Autobiography Readings Contents Autobiography and the cultural moment: Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. What are reading intentions? Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves. Setting a reading intention helps you organise your reading. Project MUSE Mission Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. The Style of Autobiography Jean Starobinski pp.




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