Yasumasa Morimura, Magritte/Triple Personality

What is Autofiction? Beyond Truth and Fiction

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

On the face of it, autofiction appears self-explanatory—a simple combination of two familiar genres, autobiography and fiction. But the simple combination is also an uneasy one. Part of what makes autofiction so thrilling—and so controversial—is the challenge it poses to the readerly expectations that are established in no small part by generic convention. How does the process of fictionalizing the self, or stylizing the truth, affect what we expect from autobiographical writing? How does, or can, fiction satisfy our desire for veracity? From Rachel Cusk to Teju Cole, Karl Ove Knausgård, and recent Nobel laureate Annie Ernaux, contemporary writers working under the banner of autofiction deploy literary devices traditionally associated with fiction to render truthful stories about the self, inviting readers to reconsider how we think about the self and others, the true and the fictitious, the authentic and the fabricated. What do we make of the proposition, implicit in autofiction, that the self is fashioned just as much through language as it is found in “reality”? What about this particular moment has generated such interest in exploring, and receiving, modes of writing that aim to distill experience into emotional truths rather than represent something that “really” happened?

In this course, we will undertake an exploration of the provocations put to us by contemporary practitioners of the autofiction genre—including, among others, Cusk, Cole, Knausgård, Ernaux, Margo Jefferson, Tao Lin, Sheila Heti, Chris Kraus, Charu Nivedita, and Patricia Lockwood. We will ask, despite its apparent newness, what the subject matter of autofiction has in common with classic autobiography, memoir, life-writing, or the roman à clef, as well as how its form recalls older literary styles like the confession, the fragment, the personal essay, and other kinds of literary experimentation. What is the status of first-person narration? How does the use of “I” make—or undo—our sense of a text’s truthfulness? What effect is achieved when the writer’s name is the same as that of the main character or narrator? Further, and more broadly, to what end does autofiction blur the boundaries, congealed in generic conventions, between attestation and invention?

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
February 02 — February 23, 2023
4 weeks


Registration Closed

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