A Series of Articles on Autobiography
ESSAYS ON AUTOBIOGRAPHY: NUMBER 1
Nearly seven years ago I wrote my first essay on the nature of autobiography. It was some two years after completing my initial draft, the first edition of my own autobiography. I am now working on the 5th edition of that autobiography some twenty years after the inception of this project. I trust this 5th edition will be the final one. I am overwhelmed with a sense of complexity, with feelings of indifference and with a vision of the magnitude of the task at hand. I think I could find the motivation to pursue this 5th edition if I could get a clear sense that the work I am doing in the field of autobiography. I certainly hope that this work will be of quite practical use to my fellow-man in the decades and even centuries ahead. This very notion seems presumptuous and this presumptuousness militates against the pursuit of the goals I began with when I set out to write this autobiography twenty years ago.
Since I find the study of autobiography more interesting that the writing of my own I continue writing these essays. Today I read an article on autobiography and what follows is based on that article. My intention is simply to write a summary of the relevant parts of that article with the long range aim of drawing these ideas together into some meaningful whole.
Even as a retired person with far less on my plate than during my thirty years of employment, life still takes me into corners of activity that keep me away from the kind of academic pursuits that this brief essay involves. My wife's illness, my class in creative writing at the Seniors School, family duties and obligations of home and hearth however minimal, a necessary amount of physical activity to keep a sound mind in a sound body, fatigue after ten or eleven in the evening and an endless assortment of odds and ends have kept me from continuing this simple task. So it is, a day later I approach this essay with continuing enthusiasm.
Errors, omissions, even lies, are part of the fiction or imposture that is autobiography. The creative writer turns to autobiography out of some creative longing that can not be satisfied through fiction. Such a writer finds some peculiar closeness and intensity of effect. It is difficult, in writing autobiography, to keep history and fiction distinct. Nabokov says that the tracing of images into intricate harmonies is what autobiography does. Writers also try to repossess the realities of the past from what appears to be a sterile and fictive world to which he has sacrificed himself. The historiographical transaction that is autobiography does not contain the total freedom or imaginative response of, say, poetry or fiction. Unreliability is an inescapable condition of autobiography. The reader can watch the writer wrestle with truth.
It is important for the critic to understand the organizing principle or purpose behind the work. For the conscious shaping of a life, an informing purpose, exists behind the work. A voyage of genuine self-discovery is an essential component of such a work. This voyage takes place in a narrative past juxtaposed with a dramatic present. Confession, apology and memoir exist side by side as various contradictory and often unstable selves battle it out.
I have been married for 37 years. My wife is a Tasmanian, aged 58. We've had 3 children: ages in 2005 are 39, 35, and 28. I am 60, a Canadian who moved to Australia in 1971, and have written 3 books--all available on the internet. I retired from part-time teaching in 2004 and full-time teaching in 1999 after 30 years in classrooms. In addition, I have been a member of the Baha'i Faith for 45 years. Bio-data: 6ft, 225 lbs, eyes/hair-brown, Caucasian. See my website for more details at: http://bahaipioneering.bahaisite.com/ and go to any search engine and type: 'Pioneering Over Four Epochs' for additional writings.
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