It has been nearly 2 years since I posted at this site on the subject of autobiography. I'll post an essay here on the subject that may be of interest and will continue the theme enunciated 2 years ago here:
In 1995 I wrote my first essay on the nature of autobiography. It was some two years after completing the first edition of my own autobiography. I am now working on the 5th edition of that autobiography more than twenty-one years after the inception of this project in 1984. I trust this 5th edition will be the final one. I was overwhelmed for many years by a sense of the complexity of the task, by feelings of indifference for the process of putting my life story on paper and by a vision of the magnitude of the task at hand if it was to be of any relevance. For ten years, from 1993 to 2003 I lost a sense of direction in writing my autobiography and was unable to move beyond that first edition which I had found very unsatisfactory. But after ten years of reading about autobiography, after reading studies of process and method, I was able to write a cohesive and, for me anyway, stimulating second edition. I certainly hope that this work will be of practical use to my fellow-man in the decades and even centuries ahead. This idea of the future relevance of my work seems presumptuous and this presumptuousness militates against the pursuit of the goals I began with when I set out to write this autobiography in 1984. But I pursue these goals anyway.
Since I found the study of autobiography more interesting that the writing of it in the years 1993 to 2003, I wrote a series of essays on the nature of autobiography. This is the first in the series. What follows in this first essay is a few general comments on autobiography with the long range aim of drawing these ideas together into some meaningful whole in future essays.
Even as a retired person with far less on my plate than during my forty years of employment and student life(1961-2001), my day-to-day life still took me into corners of activity that kept 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, a radio program I ran, my singing work, 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 in the evening after more than eight hours of reading and writing and an endless assortment of odds and ends have kept me from continuing this simple task. But by 2005 I was been able to free myself from virtually all of these encumbrances, except those necessary to maintain my physical existence in a home. The years 1999 to 2005 became, then, a second stage before an even fuller retirement at the age of 60 from the demands of social, employment and community life.
Errors, omissions, even lies, are part of the fiction or imposture that is autobiography, so went one of the main trains of thought in the literature on autobiography. The creative writer turns to autobiography out of some creative longing that can not be satisfied through fiction, but it is impossible to avoid such inaccuracies. The autobiographer finds some peculiar closeness and intensity of effect as he writes, but 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. In the process hard edges of facticity rub off. Writers try to repossess the realities of the past from what often appears to be a sterile and fictive world to which they have sacrificed themselves. 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 given the play of freedom and imagination that is involved. The reader can watch the writer wrestle with truth but only to a degree because, for the most part, the reader does not know what the truth is. Readers must rely on the autobiographers.
It is important for the critic to understand the organizing principle or purpose behind the work of the autobiographer. For the conscious shaping of a life, an informing purpose, principle, context, must exist behind the work. A voyage of genuine self-discovery is an essential component of such a work for the writer. 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.
These are just some of the ideas I’d like to put down as I open this series of essays on the autobiographical process. They are just some of an array of writing which has appeared in autobiographical literature especially since the decade 1950 to 1960.
May 5th 2005
I am a Canadian who has been living in Australia for 36 years(in 2008) I am married to a Tasmanian and have been for 33 years after 8 years in a first marriage. I have been associated with the Baha'i Faith for over 50 years.