It is timely that the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to French author Annie Ernault.
For decades, Ernaud has written about her personal experiences, shaped aspects of her life into literature, and projected them into the public arena. Her work is part of a broader trend in world literature: autofiction.
You may have read more autofiction than you ever imagined. You may have met authors such as Karl Ove Knausgaard, Teju Cole, Ocean Vuong, Chris Kraus, Sheila Heti, Rachel Cusk, and Deborah Levy. Lesser-known writers in the English-speaking world include Fatima Daas, Yūko Tshushima, and Shahriar Mandanipour.
Autofiction has a broad and malleable definition, but although it may be understood as a literary work depicting real events in the author’s life, there are freedoms associated with fiction. It is a fusion of autobiography and fiction.
However, the genre is controversial. Some writers have abandoned the label, including Ernaud himself, who sees the first-person “I” as the collective self. Some disagree that it’s a genre at all. Instead, they see autofiction as a “mode” of writing, or a “strategy” or “lens.” Some even argue that all literary works necessarily derive from personal experience.
Origins of autofiction
Writers have long combined autobiographical and fictional elements. Famous writers such as Colette, Marcel Proust, and Jacques Kerouac have done this, but in works labeled simply as “novels.”
Equivalent traditions have emerged outside modern Western literature.
Something like autofiction was practiced, Avant La Letterthe term is derived from the French novel Fils (a title that translates to both “son” and “thread”), published in 1977 by author, literary critic and scholar Serge Dubrovsky.
At its most basic level, Dubrovsky defines autofiction as a literary work in which the author, narrator, and protagonist share the same name. However, this shared identity is not strictly “true”. Autofiction writers are plagued by what is known as the autobiographical pact between author and reader: a promise by the author of an autobiographical work to tell the true story of his or her own life.
Autofiction usually articulates its autobiographical aspects, but blurs the line between truth and fiction to question our assumptions about what these terms mean. The genre is therefore experimental. Rather than striving for a strictly factual representation of life, they tend to explore the complexities and contradictions of subjectivity.
Focusing on gender and intimacy
In recent decades, autofiction has tended to focus on the self in order to connect with broader groups and identities in society. is placed in
In the 1990s and early 2000s, a wave of French women writers used autofiction to write about intimate topics often related to gender, sexuality, and other experiences of the body, such as eating disorders and assault. started.
These works are greatly celebrated today for breaking taboos and speaking to a wide audience about relevant experiences. For example, Nina Braouy’s Garçon manqué / Tomboy (2000) is about the main character, Nina, who disrupts the duality between men and women and between French and Algerian cultures. Christine Angot’s Her L’Inceste/Incest (1999) is a story of confession that depicts the trauma and complexity of the narrator’s sexual relationships.
This tendency to emphasize the intimate and often unclassifiable aspects of women’s experience also manifests itself in English-speaking contexts. Expressed in a playful depiction. In it, “Chris Krause, 39, Experimental Filmmaker” relentlessly pursues a scholar named Dick. Her raucous philosophical letters to Dick question what society considers acceptable means of expressing desire and sexuality.
These practices of confession or testimony from women have been frequently criticized as “navel-staring” or “self-centered”. It claims to distort the autofiction format by concentrating on Such criticism is directed at specific autofiction authors, even if their writing style is innovative.Such criticism may arise because The author disturbs the status quo.
Autofiction allows you to enter other people’s inner worlds and encounter worldviews other than your own. In a discussion of her series of “living autobiographies,” British novelist Deborah Levy argued that writing about one’s personal experiences as a woman is itself a political act. Influenced by authors such as Simone de Beauvoir, Lévy’s writing centers around “the thoughts of women moving the world”.
From Self to Collective
Books about women’s lives are often seen as written just for women, but they also offer a perspective on the world at large. Class, race, and gender issues are personal, but seldom confined to one person’s personal experience. Autofiction can thus become a way of reflecting wider social fabrics.
Ernault, for example, rejects the autofiction label. That’s because she’s trying to shift her focus away from her self and into the collective. Her work depicts what she sees as the truth of her personal experience, but she sees her own ‘me’ not as a singular identity, but rather in a ‘hyperpersonal form’. I think. her) experiences, family signs, social or passionate realities”.
One example is her book L’Événement / Happening (2001), recently made into a film by Audrey Diwan.
It tells the story of Ernaud’s illegal abortion in the early 1960s and the difficulty of accessing abortion services during this period. Her experience highlights an important aspect of French history shared by many women of the Ernault generation.
It also has global repercussions and remains a highly relevant topic today. Abortion is legal in Australia, but Happening is a strong reminder of the potentially dangerous consequences of current legal hurdles and unequal access to abortion services across the country.
A recent literary sensation, Édouard Louis explores the tension between his queer identity and his working-class background in his 2014 debut, En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule / The End of Eddy. I am writing about In his novel Combats etmétamorphoses d’une femme / A Woman’s Battles and Transformations (2021), the focus shifts to his mother’s life. They exist on the fringes of society, including the working class and women who suffer from domestic violence.
Erno and Louis are class defectors who have changed social status. Having moved from working-class origins to international acclaim, they now occupy a privileged position. This position allows their political ideas to move across the page and affect the entire public sphere. and used it to reveal the intersection of class and gender.
They are influenced by sociologists and philosophers such as Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault and Didier Eribon. But they go beyond the world of books and are actively engaged in public political discourse. From a progressive stance, Ernaud and Louis spoke in support of working-class movements such as the yellow vests. Both authors recently attended his October 16 demonstration in support of economic justice and climate action.
Identity category confusion
There are valid, and generally valid, reasons to write from lived experience. #OwnVoices, for example, is a movement that “prioritizes authors who share an alienated identity with their protagonists.” It emerged to combat harmful mainstream representation. Problems arise, however, when reductive understandings of identity frame public expectations and acceptance of authors.
The media coverage of French-Algerian author Fatima Das’ debut novel La Petite Dernière / The Last One (2020) is a good example. In this work of autofiction, the author and narrator share the same name, immigrant background, gender identity, and religious beliefs. However, the name “Fatima Dozen” is a pseudonym. The novel constructs multiple and seemingly contradictory identities through lyrical vignettes.
Questioning autobiographical pacts is how Darth anticipates and rejects the “real” identity readers might expect of her. She has been asked by interviewers to explain how she reconciles her sexuality with her faith.
This response from the press pigeonhole dozen. The commentator seeks to define the author through the very stereotypes of her work challenges.they make the last one 1 Women’s experiences rather than literary works that talk about universal themes such as love, home, belonging, and faith.
Western literary standards have historically positioned the voice of European male authors as normal or neutral. There is a possibility that it will be fetishized as a study.
As a charged label itself, “autofiction” is neither neutral nor inherently liberating. Their approach to writing has been a subject of controversy, but nonetheless some authors are able to gradually change the norms that try to contain them.Ocean, Vietnamese-American poet Von is a good example of this. Vuong describes writing his debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019), to attract or reject his autobiographical reading.He wanted to add depth to real life that the mainstream ignored When Maintain freedom and independence as an artist.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous consists of a series of intimate and poetic letters from “Little Dog” to his mother Rose. The work is labeled “Novel” and the characters are clearly fictional. Still, readers can immediately discern similarities between his Vuong and his first-person narrator. Both are Vietnamese-American, gay, and grew up in Connecticut to immigrant parents.
Vuong writes from his own lived experience to shatter stereotypes of American masculinity, queerness, and immigrant families. He also invites readers to question the stories we tell about ourselves. What language do you speak? Who do we speak to and for whom?
Autofiction thrives in fluidity, weirdness, and diversity. Writing and experimenting with the ‘self’ allows authors to disavow the notion of a single, authentic identity. A more diverse narrative “I” can reinvent dominant writing styles and change what mainstream society considers to be the universal experience.
Although autofiction is difficult to identify as a genre or style of writing, the merit of autofiction is that it helps us to better understand the relationship between ourselves and society. Humans are complicated, and so is autofiction. Placing oneself at the center of the literary work allows the author to explore many facets of experience and provide a nuanced and subjective “truth”.
Francis Egan is a Lecturer in Global Studies at Monash University. Beth Kearney is a PhD Candidate at the University of Queensland.
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