Friday, September 11, 2009

Autobiografiction: Experimental Life-Writing from the Turn of the Century to Modernism.(Report).

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This essay approaches the large but surprisingly under-theorized topic of the relation between autobiography and fiction, concentrating on the period between 1880 and 1930, arguing for a new account of the relation between Modernism and life-writing. It introduces and analyses a key essay from 1906 by Stephen Reynolds, author of A Poor Man's House, which, strikingly, coins the post-modern-sounding term 'autobiografiction'. It argues that Reynolds' central concept sheds light on the vexed theoretical question of the relation between autobiography and fiction, and in ways that reach further than either Reynolds or the essay's few commentators have appreciated; in short, that 'autobiografiction' is potentially a much vaster topic than his essay countenances. The second section discusses the significance of the concept of 'autobiografiction' from the points of view of literary history and literary theory. It argues that Reynolds' essay not only offers a powerful analysis of the literature of the previous quarter-century, but also suggests how the literature of the following decades - of Modernism - can be reconsidered in its light. Such attention enables a re-description of Modernism: instead of the conventional account of its quest for the impersonal, the movement can be seen as developing these fin-de-siecle experiments in fusing life-writing and fiction. Reynolds' essay appears at a pivotal moment as Edwardian authors such as Edmund Gosse evince an anxious awareness of the radical potential of autobiografiction; and when Modernists such as Joyce and Proust embark on their most profound engagements with it: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and A la recherche du temps perdu. The essay goes on to argue that the issues raised by Reynolds enable a more sophisticated theoretical approach to the relation between autobiography and fiction, and explores the ambiguities which inhere in the term 'autobiographical' when applied to fictional works. Where Reynolds outlines the rationale for autobiografiction in fairly defensive terms, I argue for an appreciation of its radical potentialities. The study concludes by considering the trope, identified by Philippe Lejeune in Modernism, but here traced back to Aestheticism, that fiction constitutes a writer's true autobiography. This is placed in a broader philosophical and aesthetic context of reading fiction as autobiography, and autobiography as fiction.

Author Affiliation:

(1)King's College London

Article note:

(*) Department of English, The Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK. Email:

Source Citation:Saunders, Max. "Autobiografiction: Experimental Life-Writing from the Turn of the Century to Modernism.(Report)." Literature Compass 6.5 (Sept 2009): 1041(19). Academic OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 11 Sept. 2009

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