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This chapter considers Helen Garners fiction, assessing the evolution of her work from the scandalous diary-like immediacy of the Monkey Grip (1977) through to her minimalist masterpiece The Children’s Bach (1984). Throughout, it considers the house as a core spatial configuration that changes across Garner’s work.
Memory book projects encourage parents living with HIV to write workbooks for their children about their family background and life experiences, to guide the child in the parent’s future absence. In Uganda, site of the first memory book projects in Africa, most writers have been widows with agrarian background and limited schooling. Oike conducts a close literary textual analysis of an exceptionally intensive memory book written by a schoolteacher, examines how the book helped the author to represent her traumatic experiences of living with and dying of HIV, and explores the possibilities of memory books as a tool for grassroots writing.
In 2011, lawyers for the Chevron Corporation filed a civil suit against an aqueous geochemist under federal racketeering and corruption laws. They claimed that the geochemist and her colleagues had ghostwritten significant portions of a report attributed to a court-appointed expert in Ecuador, although the accusation was subsequently withdrawn. The original case addressed the environmental impact of Chevron’s operations in lowland Ecuador, the subject of a $9 billion judgment against the oil company. This article treats legal transcripts and depositions as examples of life writing to examine the contribution of experts to environmental litigation. It adds to recent scholarship on the instability of scientific authorship by comparing different forms of ghostwriting. Whereas the pharmaceutical industry employs ghostwriters to conceal the potentially harmful consequences of its products, the scientists contributing to the case against Chevron sought to make the company’s environmental impacts visible. The company undermined confidence in the legal proceedings in Ecuador by criticizing the experts for the plaintiffs rather than their data, preventing people whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by oil contamination from collecting the judgment against Chevron. This corporate strategy may have a chilling effect on the willingness of environmental scientists and other expert witnesses to provide evidence against powerful corporations. There is a need for better accounting of scientific research undertaken in support of environmental litigation, especially given the high stakes of legal contests like this one, in which corporate fortunes, human lives, and the fate of the environment are contingent on their technical expertise.
This is the first question that Augustine asks about himself in the Confessions, and it begins with a stumbling into speech. He does not know where he comes from. This is the question which stalls Sophocles’ Oedipus in his domineering argument with Teiresias, starts his search for his parentage, and thus begins his downfall into knowledge and self-destruction. Oedipus does not know where he comes from, an ignorance displayed even and especially when, with multiply-layered ironies, he calls himself ‘the know-nothing Oedipus’. It is also the foundational question for Freud, reader of Oedipus, who insists that for all the productive work of analysis of the self we can never fully and properly know our own self, and certainly not the answer to where the self comes from. Augustine specifies huc ‘to here’, which he immediately glosses as ‘this life that dies or death that lives’. The horizon of expectation is defined – in a way that is alien to Sophocles or Freud – by this definition of a life-time as a hesitation between a journey towards death, or an already living death: a theologically defined time shaped between the already and the not yet.
Whether in biography, the biographical novel, the memoir or various other subgenres of life writing, the writer must be responsibly committed to both truth and imagination, to both fact and fiction. Jay Parini’s chapter considers a wide range of life writing and observes the various priorities afforded to truth and imagination in the work. Whatever access to archives, testimonies and evidence life writers need, they need above all, in Parini’s phrase, ‘access to the resources of language’.
This essay addresses developments in religious life writing in the Romantic period through examination of auto/biographies, journals, and letters in both print and manuscript. Particular interests include the genre of the spiritual conversion narrative, literary uses of confession and conversion, life writing and religious historiography, and women’s auto/biographical practices and place within this tradition.
Trish Salah contextualizes the broad post-2010 emergence of transgender fiction in a longer history of earlier trans and queer fiction and theory while arguing that “trans genre writing” has found recent prominence as a new minor literature. Particular challenges have led trans writers to innovate at the levels of language and aesthetics, perspective (collective, but not homogeneous), and genre, among others. Moreover, these works thematize and challenge norms and imperatives of empire, race, history, visibility, and geography.
In her chapter, Thomas reads pre-1800 legal writings about people of African descent as Black life writing. She expands autobiographical writing beyond an account of an individual’s growth and development in cases of people of African descent to narratives regarding Black people as active agents forming an embodied community racialized and marginalized by the dominant culture. Thomas argues that Black writers published autobiographical writings and also wove personal narratives into legal documents from fidavits to freedom petitions, as well as into traditional literary forms such as poems and letters. However, during the same colonial and early American eras, people of European descent inscribed details about Black peoples in a variety of historical records such as the census, bills of sale, antislavery pamphlets, court records, and runaway slave advertisements to accentuate their differences from and inability to assimilate into the majority culture.
Moody’s introduction observes that works of African American autobiography predate even the oft-cited 1760 Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, and the 1783 petition to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts filed by Belinda Royall (Sutton). Moody argues the genre of Black life writing has persistently appealed to African American authors telling life stories in promoting diverse causes from a range of African-descended ethnic backgrounds. She contends that the financial rewards of Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming — and the testimonies it has generated — reveal African American readers look to each other for life narratives of diverse Black experiences that enable the construction, constitution, and promulgation of a credible Black self. Moreover, Moody asserts, the persistent cultural shifts of African American life writing as literary and historical phenomena have been well documented. Joining a long trajectory of critical studies, the introduction establishes the prominence of Black life writing across US history.
This History explores innovations in African American autobiography since its inception, examining the literary and cultural history of Black self-representation amid life writing studies. By analyzing the different forms of autobiography, including pictorial and personal essays, editorials, oral histories, testimonials, diaries, personal and open letters, and even poetry performance media of autobiographies, this book extends the definition of African American autobiography, revealing how people of African descent have created and defined the Black self in diverse print cultures and literary genres since their arrival in the Americas. It illustrates ways African Americans use life writing and autobiography to address personal and collective Black experiences of identity, family, memory, fulfillment, racism and white supremacy. Individual chapters examine scrapbooks as a source of self-documentation, African American autobiography for children, readings of African American persona poems, mixed-race life writing after the Civil Rights Movement, and autobiographies by African American LGBTQ writers.
This chapter explores how feminist criticism’s valorization of agency has at times erased disabled women’s accounts of bodily and mental pain. While praised in feminist circles, the concept of recovery, in particular, exists in tension with disability studies’ refusal of narratives that privilege ability. In framing this interrogation of recovery as a crip feminist practice, I turn to disabled women’s life writing, which charts how recovery’s normalizing impulse threatens to either misrepresent or overlook women’s impairments. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” (1892), Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals (1980), Anne Finger’s “Helen and Frida,” and Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering (2018) redefine recovery as living with and alongside disability rather than in spite of it.
African American literature in the years between 1800 and 1830 emerged from significant transitions in the cultural, technological, and political circulation of ideas. Transformations included increased numbers of Black organizations, shifts in the physical mobility of Black peoples, expanded circulation of abolitionist and Black newsprint as well as greater production of Black authored texts and images. The perpetuation of slavery in the early American republic meant that many people of African descent conveyed experiences of bondage or promoted abolition in complex ways, relying on a diverse array of print and illustrative forms. Accordingly, this volume takes a thematic approach to African American literature from 1800 to 1830, exploring Black organizational life before 1830, movement and mobility in African American literature, and print culture in circulation, illustration, and the narrative form.
The consistent tendency in Caribbean literature towards generic transgression – blurring of generic boundaries – is particularly evident in the genre of life writing, which not only spans fiction, poetry, memoir, auto/biography, essay, and theoretical formulations but also often reimagines the nature of each of these forms of writing. A comparative examination of specific works within the genre reveals a varied terrain between narrations of the individual life and a variety of communities and affiliations. The range includes Miguel Barnet’s Biography of a Runaway Slave; different iterations of the autobiographical novel exemplified in Lamming’s In the Castle of my Skin; biomythographies such as Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, and poetic expressions such as Walcott’s ‘The Schooner Flight’, Kamau Brathwaite’s ‘Negus’, and Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. The possible yields of conversation between more traditional forms such as Austin Clarke’s Pigtails ’n Breadfruit and essays and genre-crossing essay collections such as Edward Baugh’s ‘Cuckoo and Culture’ and Samuel Selvon’s ‘Three into One Can’t Go’, further extend the lenses through which Caribbean autobiography may be filtered. This chapter examines multiple ways in which the autobiographical impulse appears in various traditional and crossover genres.
During 48 hours in October 2017, nearly one million women shared the words ‘MeToo’ on social media and brought a new level of visibility to the old problem of sexual violence in women’s lives. Words were central, but images quickly emerged to visualise a graphic witness that was testimonial rather than confessional. This chapter explores how the histories underlying the MeToo movement were revealed by the co-evolution of words and images in the early months of a resurgent public conversation about sexual violence and accountability. Taken together, they illustrate the testimonial trajectories of women’s accounts of harm in a public sphere primed to doubt and discredit them. In the absence of intersectional feminist analysis about the history of advocacy for survivors by women of colour and the harm of chronic and pervasive doubt, blame, and injustice in women’s lives, MeToo narratives fragment into confessional shards that are as likely to cut the victim as the victimiser. However, contextualising the MeToo movement within the testimonial tradition of race and gendered self-representation and the history of feminist advocacy for survivors explains the power of graphic witness.
This chapter considers the importance of life writing to the development of Decadent literary production and to the afterlives of the Decadent movement. Beginning with Walter Pater, we explore the creative approach Decadent writers took to biography and the imagined fictional life. If Wilde, Pater, and John Addington Symonds established the pattern of Decadent life writing, Charles Ricketts and Laurence Housman deployed its practices and politics as they recalled Wilde’s tragic downfall and early death. In the early years of the twentieth century the history of British literary Decadence was still very much contested, and alongside life writing emerged the memoir and the period study that framed the 1890s in relation to the literary innovations of modernism. The creative approach to Decadent life writing waned in the second half of the twentieth century as professional literary critics sought to develop authoritative versions of Decadent biography, a practice seemingly at odds with earlier Decadent practices.
Chapter 6 returns to look at ‘real-life’ experiences. On the surface, these life stories often conform to the ‘triumph over tragedy’ format familiarised by the Zhang Haidi narrative. Frequently highlighting the support of the state, these memoirs emphasise the superhuman qualities of their subjects, demanding similar achievement from their audience, disabled and non-disabled alike. Unsurprisingly, the state draws upon such writing to legitimise itself as custodian of a civilised society. Yet, we also see how autobiographies and memoirs hint at the beginnings of the de-collectivisation of subjectivity and the pluralisation of memory. This is significant as, with only a few exceptions, disabled people in China continue to be dealt with as a single homogeneous group with consonant problems and similar desires. Here, Showdown with Death (Duijue sishen, 2012) by Yin Shujun (b. 1977) reveals a unique and intimate history that offers us insight into the way subjective perspectives contribute new spaces for the emergence of new ideals of para-citizenship. Like Zhang Haidi before, we also see how the female disabled body remains a potent site of personal, cultural and political significance.
Sarah Dauncey offers the first comprehensive exploration of disability and citizenship in Chinese society and culture from 1949 to the present. Through the analysis of a wide variety of Chinese sources, from film and documentary to literature and life writing, media and state documents, she sheds important new light on the ways in which disability and disabled identities have been represented and negotiated over this time. She exposes the standards against which disabled people have been held as the Chinese state has grappled with expectations of what makes the 'ideal' Chinese citizen. From this, she proposes an exciting new theoretical framework for understanding disabled citizenship in different societies – 'para-citizenship'. A far more dynamic relationship of identity and belonging than previously imagined, her new reading synthesises the often troubling contradictions of citizenship for disabled people – the perils of bodily and mental difference and the potential for personal and group empowerment.
In the previous chapter, we looked at a greatly under-appreciated piece of Greek prose that was articulated between the Septuagint and its critical readers, between Greco-Egyptian culture and Jewish anxiety about assimilation, between authoritative Jewish scriptural texts and later Christian readers and writers. It is a text that, whatever its origins, makes evident an arena where Jews and Christians were struggling to form and assert a coherent social self-understanding in and against dominant Greco-Roman culture. The recognition that the Roman Empire included citizens who were Roman and spoke Greek as well as Latin, and citizens who called themselves Greek and who felt conflicted about speaking Latin,1 and citizens of many different ethnic groupings, who spoke not only their own languages but also one or more of the privileged languages of the centre – Greek or Latin – and whose social standing and cultural positioning were articulated through these multi-lingual and culturally diverse interactions, has become a standard understanding of the transformations, translations and cultural interactions of late antiquity, although what the implications are for the study of the literature of the period still needs a good deal of work.
Legal scholars rely heavily on vocabularies of ‘actors’, ‘agents’, and ‘experts’ to account for the fact that law does not develop by itself. However, the identities, idiosyncrasies, and individual professional contributions of law's people are rarely illuminated. This article suggests that the relative absence of people in transnational legal scholarship helps to explain some of its gaps. The task of bringing ‘human actors back on stage’ creates some new opportunities for transnational environmental law scholarship. It invites attention to both dominant and excluded voices. It offers a way of bridging the gap between the bureaucratic language of law and its lived reality. It also provides an understanding of why, despite ferocious attempts to roll back the advances of environmental law in some places, many scholars and practitioners find reason to be optimistic about the future of environmental law.
This chapter considers how forms of narrative literature, particularly life-writing, serve as technologies in the making of the modern personhood that in turn anchor contemporary human rights. Drawing from Benveniste’s work on the relationship between grammatical personhood and subjectivity, the chapter is structured into “gradations” of personhood, examining their implications on human rights discourse and its subjects. The first-person form common to life-writing, with its centering of the speakerly “I,” operates in the ethical domain of sentiment and empathy; whereas the second-person form of the testimony, with it’s construction of an “I-you,” depends more on a process of interpellation than empathizing. Meanwhile, the third-person form, which may seem less relevant to human rights discourse, provides insight into the ways in which collective bodies, such as corporations, lay claim to human rights. The chapter closes with a reflection on posthumanism and the zero-person or non-human as a potential departure point for probing the limits of the human subject that underlies human rights discourse.