Chuck Close, Kiki

Theory, Fiction, and the Self: an Introduction to Autotheory

Instructor: Paige Sweet
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

“…theory can do more the closer it gets to the skin.” —Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life

Autotheory doesn’t have a motto, but if it did, it might be: live theory! A genre of writing popularized most recently by Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, autotheory expressly refuses the abstraction of traditional theory and its suppositions of impersonal neutrality. Rather, autotheory demands to be inhabited, to be lived, to be felt seeping into the pores of life. Often transgressing literary genres and blending psychoanalytic, feminist, queer, decolonial, anti-racist, and critical theory, autotheoretical writing reconceptualizes how the self and the body are situated socially, political, and ethically. Whether considered an art of self invention or a practice in self-dissolution, autotheory excels at experimentation, stitching “life” and “theory” together into new forms. With autotheory, readers are made to ask: what sort of writing is it that dissolves the boundaries of literature and theory? What does it do, what does it offer and express, that fiction (on the one hand) and theory (on the other) by themselves seemingly cannot?

In this course we will explore how autotheory makes theory from embodied experience. We will ask: What are the political dimensions and ethical imperatives of autotheory? In what ways does writing from lived experience make possible new ways of theorizing? What demands does autotheory make on the reader in terms of engaging with—or bearing witness to—a life unlike one’s own? How does autotheory metabolize theory, transform the literary, or dissolve distinctions among all genres of writing? How might autotheory—especially when it incorporates photographs, music, citations, or performances—provide an exercise in reading differently, or even inhabiting the world differently? Is there a praxis to autotheory? How does foundational work by Gloria Anzaldua, Audre Lorde, Cherríe Moraga, and bell hooks offer a way to historicize autotheory? Readings will be drawn from these writers, as well as work by Maggie Nelson, Paul Preciado, Saidiya Hartman, Sara Ahmed, Hilton Als, Brian Blanchfield, Christina Sharpe, John Keene, Frank Wilderson, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 14 — October 05, 2021
4 weeks


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