What is Autofiction? Narrative, Memoir, and Representation
The term “autofiction” is elusive yet compelling. Coined in the 1970s, it’s often used to refer to literary works that intentionally, and playfully, blur the boundaries between the genres of autobiography and prose fiction. In this course, we’ll read three contemporary “autofictional” writers—Rachel Cusk, Maggie Nelson, and Sheila Heti—as we seek to understand what’s distinctive, formally and aesthetically, about autofictional work. What does autofiction do, how does it work, and to what is it responding? Does it mark a new form of storytelling, one suitable to an age of sharing (or oversharing) on social media? Does autofiction offer mainly voyeuristic pleasure, or does it redefine the ties between individuals and their community?
Over four weeks, we will read Rachel Cusk’s Outline (2014) to explore what autofiction does to literary character; Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015) to encounter the limits of writing and reading about the body; and Sheila Heti’s Motherhood (2018) to see how autofiction can be at once self-serious and comic. We’ll consider the possible ties between autofiction and women’s writing (does autofiction offer unique tools for representing women’s lives and gender politics?) and will examine autofiction’s use of narrative (is autofictional writing linear or repetitive, referential or seemingly self-sufficient?). Finally, reading critical works by Virginia Woolf and Roland Barthes, we’ll locate autofiction in the context of writing about domestic or mundane matters for political and philosophical purposes. We’ll ask: what is worthy of literary fictionalization and documentation, and who gets to tell what story?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30PM BST
October 22 — November 12, 2020