First-Year Studies: Autobiography in Literature: Self/Life/Writing 


How does a self—the most intimate and elusive of concepts—become a text? What is the relationship between living a life and writing about it? What assumptions might authors and readers not share about the ways experience is endowed with symbolic value? This course is intended to introduce students to the autobiographical mode in literature. For modernists and postmodernists particularly obsessed by problems of identity, self-expression, and social construction, the study of autobiography is a fascinating enterprise. We will examine a rich variety of “life stories,” emphasizing both philosophical inquiry and aesthetic innovation, that span from medieval times through the 21st century. Special attention will be paid to the following patterns and themes: the complex interplay between “truth” and “fiction,” sincerity and artifice, memory and representation; the nature of confessional writing; the use of autobiography as cultural document; the dialectic between word and image (photography, comix); and the role of gender in both the writing and reading of autobiographies. Among the authors to be included are St. Augustine, Kempe, Rousseau, Franklin, Douglass, Jacobs, Joyce,  Stein, Nabokov, Wright, Beauvoir, Sartre, Kingston, Spiegelman, and Bechdel. Students will write short, frequent papers on the readings throughout the year.