autobiography

autobiography
   While critiques of intentionalism and representationalism may have pointed to the impossibility of unmediated self-expression, autobiography has proved a resilient genre in recent years, even emerging on the cutting edge of critical theory. These theoretical developments have been mirrored in fiction, where autobiography has been used both to question the nature and status of fiction and to show how the self is created rather than merely represented in narrative. Examples of this self-conscious blurring of the distinction between autobiography and fiction can be found, for example, in the novels of Jeanette Winterson, Julian Barnes and Martin Amis (see novel). In nonfiction writing, there has been a similar questioning of the self-containedness of autobiography as a genre, which is itself part of the general slipperiness of the boundaries between different genres and disciplines in recent years. Works published in the 1980s such as Ronald Fraser’s In Search of a Past, Carolyn Steedman’s Landscape for a Good Woman and Ann Oakley’s Taking it Like a Woman seek to link sociological and psychoanaly-tical theory with personal experience, in order to both restore subjectivity to theoretical writing and to show how identity is culturally constructed.
   The last two of these works also demonstrate the ways in which autobiography has been used to draw attention to unwritten histories marginalized by official discourses. A series of multi-authored collections, intersecting with the burgeoning field of oral history and life studies, similarly show how the normally individualistic genre of autobiography can be transformed into a collective process of resistance to dominant narratives. Examples include Liz Heron’s Virago anthology, Truth, Dare or Promise: Girls Growing up in the Fifties, and Between the Acts, a series of moving testimonies edited by Kevin Porter and Jeffrey Weeks telling the story of British gay men in the period of the criminalization of homosexuality between 1885 and 1967.
   Working-class autobiographies produced by collaborative projects like the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers since the 1970s have fulfilled a similar purpose. Whereas the traditional notion of autobiography might show the subject triumphantly transcending his or her immediate environment, these autobiographies reveal the subject as inextricably embedded in society and history.
   See also: biography
   Further reading
    Marcus, L. (1994) Auto/biographical Discourse: Theory, Criticism, Practice, Manchester: Manchester University Press (the second half of this book examines autobiographical theory and writing of the last few decades, using predominantly British examples; an excellent synthesis of recent scholarship).
   JOE MORAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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