Writing Life Writing: Narrative, History, Autobiography, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Writing Life Writing

Narrative, History, Autobiography, 1st Edition

By Paul John Eakin


288 pages

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Hardback: 9780367439101
pub: 2020-05-01
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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.


Writing Life Writing: Narrative, History, Autobiography show 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

Table of Contents

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"

About the Author

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).

About the Series

Routledge Auto/Biography Studies

The Routledge Auto/Biography Studies book series publishes outstanding new work from preeminent scholars and emerging voices in autobiography, biography, life writing, life narrative, and identity studies. This series is an interdisciplinary project that maintains interest in all forms of auto/biographical narrative analysis related to understanding varied constructions of the self. While centered in literary studies and the larger field of the humanities, books in this series engage with scholars and theories from such disciplines as anthropology, biology, linguistics, pedagogy, psychology, and sociology, among others. The emphasis on exploring the innovative authors, genres, and methodologies of auto/biographical narratives appeals to scholars, students, and practitioners alike. Emerging from Routledge’s longstanding commitment to auto/biography studies, this series makes a substantial contribution to the burgeoning global study of lives and life stories. 

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