1st Edition

Writing Life Writing Narrative, History, Autobiography

By Paul Eakin Copyright 2020
    174 Pages
    by Routledge

    174 Pages
    by Routledge

    Why do we endlessly tell the stories of our lives? And why do others pay attention when we do? The essays collected here address these questions, focusing on three different but interrelated dimensions of life writing. The first section, "Narrative," argues that narrative is not only a literary form but also a social and cultural practice, and finally a mode of cognition and an expression of our most basic physiology. The next section, "Life Writing: Historical Forms," makes the case for the historical value of the subjectivity recorded in ego-documents. The essays in the final section, "Autobiography Now," identify primary motives for engaging in self-narration in an age characterized by digital media and quantum cosmology.

    Foreword by Craig Howes

    I. Narrative

    "What Are We Reading When We Read Autobiography?"

    "Selfhood, Autobiography, and Interdisciplinary Inquiry: A Reply to George Butte"

    "Narrative Identity and Narrative Imperialism: A Response to Galen Strawson and James Phelan"

    "Travelling with Narrative: From Text to Body"

    II. Life Writing: Historical Forms

    "Writing Biography: A Perspective from Autobiography"

    "Eye and I: Negotiating Distance in Eyewitness Narrative"

    "Living in History: Autobiography, Memoir(s), and Mémoires"

    "History and Life Writing: The Value of Subjectivity"

    III. Autobiography Now

    "Autobiography as Cosmogram"

    "Self and Self-Representation Online and Off"

    "Autobiography and the Big Picture"

    IV. Epilogue: One Man's Story

    "My Father . . ."

    "James Olney and the Study of Autobiography"


    Paul John Eakin is Ruth N. Halls Professor Emeritus of English at Indiana University. He is the author of Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of Self-Invention (1985); Touching the World: Reference in Autobiography (1992); How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves (1999); and Living Autobiographically: How We Create Identity in Narrative (2008). He is the editor of On Autobiography, by Philippe Lejeune 1989); American Autobiography: Retrospect and Prospect (1991); and The Ethics of Life Writing (2004).

    "Writing Life Writing: Narrative, History, Autobiography shows how autobiographical narrative works as an essential aspect of humanity. In fresh, exciting ways, it melds literature with psychology, neurobiology, ethics and cultural anthropology, to argue that telling stories about ourselves is psychically and even biologically motivated. Eakin guides us through the fact-fiction tease of the form, its relevance to historians and its future in an age of social media. Eakin’s own experiment with writing autobiographically, which closes this beautifully written collection, will intrigue those who wonder what it is to find a vocation in writing about life writing, distilling with it a life time of thinking about this ever-interesting form and practice."

    -- Margaretta Jolly, Professor of Cultural Studies, University of Sussex

    "What a pleasure--and convenience--to have these trenchant and timely essays of the last two decades gathered in one accessible volume! John Eakin is a distinguished American critic of autobiography studies with international reach and resonance, as well as an elegant, witty, and insightful writer. His work has long blazed a trail in theorizing the relationship of the autobiographical to diverse fields: the narrative identity system, where his probing interventions inform debates on it as cultural practice, cognitive process, and embodied representation; the history of autobiography as an evolving mode of representing subjectivity in dialogue with, but distinct from, related literary genres; and the stakes of life writing in emergent digital media and as a model of quantum cosmology. In two additional personal essays on his biological and intellectual fathers, Eakin traces how a lifelong engagement with the discipline has motivated and shaped his own processes of memory and reflection. These essays reward rereading and will enrich current debates."

    -- Julia Watson, Professor Emerita of Comparative Studies, The Ohio State University, Co-author with Sidonie Smith of Reading Autobiography: A Guide to Interpreting Life Narrative and Life Writing in the Long Run: A Smith & Watson Autobiography Studies Reader

    "Written with his characteristic lucidity, this selection of key pieces is a reminder, if we needed one, of why Eakin has been so indispensable to the study of life writing for so long: seeing autobiography as not only a textual product but a fundamental human activity, Eakin can appreciate it all its forms and dimensions. Understanding self-narrative as pre-textual, rooted in somatic homeostasis, Eakin is well equipped to surf the waves of change in the way humans produce it in post-print media. Tracing his critical trajectory, this book reveals a mind probing beyond the traditional boundaries of disciplines to illuminate his subject in new and fruitful ways."

    -- G Thomas Couser, Professor of English Emeritus, Hofstra University

    "For those interested in exploring the connection between somatic manifestations and autobiographical narratives, or the importance of self-narration to self and personal or narrative identity, then reading more of Paul John Eakin’s work is essential."

    -- Sergio da Silva Barcellos, Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly