Chapter 12 of this publication is open access, available under the terms of a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, offered as a free PDF download from OUP and selected open access locations.
'Life-writing' is a generic term meant to encompass a range of writings about lives or parts of lives, or which provide materials out of which lives or parts of lives are composed. These writings include not only memoir, autobiography, biography, diaries, autobiographical fiction, and biographical fiction, but letters, writs, wills, written anecdotes, depositions, marginalia, lyric poems, scientific and historical writings, and digital forms (including blogs, tweets, Facebook entries). On
Life-Writing offers a sampling of approaches to the study of life-writing, introducing readers to something of the range of forms the term encompasses, their changing fortunes and features, the notions of 'life,' 'self' and 'story' which help to explain these changing fortunes and features, recent
attempts to group forms, the permeability of the boundaries between forms, the moral problems raised by life-writing in all forms, but particularly in fictional forms, and the relations between life-writing and history, life-writing and psychoanalysis, life-writing and philosophy. The essays mostly focus on individual instances rather than fields, whether historical, theoretical or generic. Generalizations are grounded in particulars. For example, the role of the 'life-changing encounter,' a
frequent trope in literary life-writing, is pondered by Hermione Lee through an account of a much-storied first meeting between the philosopher Isaiah Berlin and the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova; James Shapiro examines the history of the 'cradle to grave' life-narrative, as well as the potential
distortions it breeds, by focusing on Shakespeare biography, in particular attempts to explain Shakespeare's so-called 'lost years'.
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Number of pages: 336
Weight: 538 g
Dimensions: 221 x 148 x 25 mm
Leader astutely leaves the most radical essay until last: in 'The Unstoried Life', analytic philosopher, Galen Strawson restates his objection to the view of 'narrativists' (as he terms them) that all human life is life-writing, and that life-writing is not only a necessary task for any self-respecting human being, but also, at least in the best case, an exercise of autonomy - self-determination'. His engagingly tendentious piece makes the case for 'non-narratives' -
people like him - who do not fundamentally experience life or the self as narrative unities, whether (ostensibly) scripted from without or within. Still, the 'sampling' offered in On Life- Writing makes a nuanced and welcome ... contribution to life-writing studies. * Richard Freadman, Australian Book Review *
The quality of the essays ... are impressively rich, notably those of James Shapiro on Shakespeare, Hermione Lee on the meetings of famous writers, and Galen Strawson on whether lives may be said ever to have a coherent story or narrative. (He suggests there is no carpet in which to find a figure, leaving all of us in the condition of shag rugs.) Other essays in the book are covered with that magical dust only academic writers possess, which allows them to render
unreadable even the most splendid of subjects. * Joseph Epstein, Wall Street Journal *
a timely examination of the past, present and future of storied lives ... The contributors to On Life-Writing-many of whom are practitioners themselves - theorize throughout about the authority, authenticity and objectivity of their craft, as well as the relations between life-writing and history, psychoanalysis and philosophy * Frances Wilson, The Times Literary Supplement *
... a timely examination of past, present and future of storied lives * Frances Wilson, Times Literary Supplement *