SOME PRINCIPLES OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY Krishna Barua Professor Dept.of Humanities & Social Sciences Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati. We begin here at a unique literary form -- the most personal branch of literature– autobiography offers its close readers a complex set of interpretive problems written in the first person singular “I”, who is both subject and object of the narrative. Autobiography articulates itself in a variety of forms , not only in diaries, testimonies, journals, letters, and memoirs but also in poetry, painting, film, and more recently in the personal webpage, chat rooms and emails. Autobiography is most commonly defined as “the biography of a person narrated by that person”, or “the story of a person's life as told by him or herself .” Autobiography is not therefore just the story of a life; it is the recreation or the discovery of one. Often, of course, autobiography is merely a collection of well-rehearsed anecdotes; but, intelligently written, it is the revelation, to the reader and the writer, of the writer's conception of the life he or she has lived. Simply put, autobiography is a reckoning ! The difference between biography of course, is point of view: an autobiography is from the viewpoint of its subject. Biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints; an autobiography may be based entirely on the writer's memory. In a sense, there is a continuous relationship between writing about oneself and writing about another. There is therefore a play between literary fiction and autobiography on the one hand and historical fact and biography on the other. Let us see what the critics say about this genre an “ideal” autobiography, according to Buckley (1984), is one which takes a retrospective glance at the life and personality of a person, one in which the facts carry less importance than the veracity and profundity of the experience. Roy Pascal's analysis is that “ The ‘true’ autobiography, tells us not merely of remembered deeds and thoughts, but is for both author and reader "a spiritual experiment, a voyage of dis-covery." Issues: To what extent could the life of a human being be coherent and how much coherence could one expect from a genre which purports to report the life story of an individual? What is the borderline between fact and fiction in personal writings and how does the author project reality in his work? What criteria does the autobiographer use to select events in his personal life and how much documentary accuracy does the reader expect from an autobiographer? What are the roles of rhetoric, authenticity and imagery in the personal writings? How much freedom can an editor take when selecting, rearranging or editing an autobiography? We can trace the growth of autobiography from the Middle Ages, its mode of expression as a distinct history of the human mind and renewing of individuality .The origin of the genre goes back to post-Homeric Greece and works by Hesiod and Plato (Epistle 7) and Isocrates, developed in the Roman world in Ovid's autobiographical poems, Cicero's Brutus Marcus aurelis’s meditations(180 C) and Julius caesar’s commentaries It was around circa 43. That St Augustine's Confessions proved a “brilliantly successful landmark” (George Gusdrof ) as the first Western autobiography. In oriental and Byzantine literature, as well as records of Babylonian ,Egyptian and Assyrian kings there were personal narratives accounts of their own empires. Extended records of Accouoli’s (1364) with those of Chines ssu-ma Chien or Stephanos Sachlikis and Babar’s memoirs of the sixteenth century did follow some elements of the life narrative.But it remains a fact that autobiography is essentially European in origin. Scarce in the Middle Ages, the genre flourished in the Renaissance, inspired by antiquity (St. Augustine's Confessions and Julius Caesar's Commentaries) as well as by the humanist ambition of celebrating intelligence (Cellini and Geronimo Cardano) and of painting, through one's individual life, "the entire human condition" (Montaigne). Though early modern men and women could hold the Christian belief that the "self is despicable" (Pascal), they would set out to recount their life moved by spiritual reasons (Teresa of Avila )or the need to illustrate their intellectual trajectory (René Descartes). writing about the self was to be found in the essay form (Montaigne's enormously influential Essays [1580, 1588]); Following this historical landscape,Seventeenth century England witnessed an extraordinary outpouring of spiritual memoirs aristocratic memoirs— sometimes even written in the third person, in journals such as the Diary of Samuel Pepys, or in letters. John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666) which took its form from the experience of spiritual conversion, was both didactic and exemplary. In personal memoirs, widely popular among the seventeenth-century French aristocracy, writing about the self stemmed from the wish to bear witness to history because of the authors' high political rank (La Rochefoucauld, Cardinal de Richelieu), because of their proximity to power or, conversely, due to imprisonment that prompted selfexamination . presented the author as an intrinsically public, political being, and said little about his or her more intimate self. They had no literary pretensions and sought mainly to redress history. Some other aspects, however, were more characteristic of autobiography: a wish to relive one's past, to give sense to one's life, a pleasure felt in writing that often comes as a surprise to the author, finally the presence of the genre's defining feature, what Philippe Lejeune calls the "autobiographical pact" made with the reader in which the promise to tell the truth is sealed by the author's name and signature. In the eighteenth century, autobiography was one of the highest forms of literary art. The English word “autobiography”, however, was first coined when the genre began to flourish in the late eighteenth century in Europe and North America, with the birth of the Romantic fascination with the complex individual soul and the interaction of nature with social experiences. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions (1766–1770), which is considered the first autobiography in the modern sense, Benjamin Franklin's Autiobiography (1784), Fredrick Douglass' narrative, Casanova's Histoire de ma fuite des prisons de Venise (1788) and Gibbon's Memoirs (1796 ). Fiction was deemed unworthy, while narration of facts was aesthetically and philosophically pleasing. Rousseau's Confessions, a work marked by extensive use of emotional rhetoric ushering in a radical internalization of personal identity : “I have begun on a work which is without precedent, whose accomplishment will have no imitator. I propose to set before my fellow-mortals a man in all the truth of nature; and this man shall be myself..” The 19th century saw a gradual alignment of autobiography with the value accorded to author ship. In 1799, William Wordsworth began writing his long autobiographical poem The Prelude which was a poetic reflection on his own sense of his poetic journey. The poem, revised numerous times, marks the birth of a new genre of poetry preceding “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman, and autobiographical novels such as Dickens' David Copperfield. While John Henry Newman’s autobiography Apologia pro vita sua (1864) became the chief authority of literary confession , Montaigne's essays, the diaries of John Evelyn(1816) , Samuel Pepys’(1893-1899) and James Boswell were published in the same century. James Olney (1980) has noted the appeal of autobiography in the 19th century enabled an escape from the closed ground of “intertextual play” and the aesthetic dimensions of fiction towards the historical, socio -cultural and anthropological. But Mazlish thinks that autobiography is a literary genre “produced by romanticism, which offers us a portrait, from the point of view of the present, of the formation of an individual past, achieved through introspection and the memory, and in which the I appears as an entity in development ‘(1970, 28) “Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up Fostered alike by beauty and by fear:” William Wordsworth The Prelude What formal features are shared by works like St. Augustine's Confessions, John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe's Dichtung and Wahrheit, William Wordsworth's The Prelude, Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, Henry Adams's The Education of Henry Adams and Henry David Thoreau's Walden ? The literature of the self has a long tradition in America; the Emersonian "I," declaring the primacy of subjective consciousness, was a vigorous 19th-century theme, nowhere more pronounced than in Whitman's "Song of Myself." The hunger for authenticity found expression in stories that were realistic but fictional. Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson, Fitzgerald and Dos Passos worked close to the vein of autobiography, drawing on the material of their own lives. The history of American literature is a history of private experience enacted on a public stage. But the proliferation and multiple forms of the autobiographical act as well as its different functions provide further evidence of its essentially performative nature, with its blending of fact and fiction, memory and amnesia, the referential and the textual, the historical and the rhetorical. Autobiography, it appears, did not die even after the Author was famously deprived of his privileged status and given a ceremonial burial. In fact,the autobiographical impulse, or the urge to tell one's own story, seems to have proliferated, as has the urge to read other people's stories The last three decades of the Twentieth century saw the genre move from the peripheries to the center of the literary canon, for reasons which it may be helpful to inspect. This was a period when criticism was dominated by poststructuralist and postmodernist theorisation of the text as a purely textual object, a selfreferential weave of codes whose significance could only be explained by probing of memory,its persuasive, creative, interpretations of experience. I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; At all times the autobiographer means to express a personal truth, and it is this intention that produces results different from fiction. “Truth is the most valuable thing that we have. Let us economize it." Mark Twain Mahatma Gandhi’s An Autobiography :The Story of my Experiments with Truth. interpretation and reconstructions of truth as a series of negotiations of resistance, time and memory. What drove the transformation in Gandhi was his capacity for selfcreation or, as he termed it, his fascination with "experiments" in living. If one looks at how Gandhi structured his weekly reflections, and how he looks back upon his life as a child, his years in London and South Africa it is almost reminiscent of his past selves. Orhan Pamuk transforms the form of autobiography in Istanbul: Memories of a City mingling personal memoir with cultural history . Istanbul tells the story of the city of Istanbul through the memory of a fifty-year old Pamuk who seeks his cultural identity in the ruins of the city. Pamuk expresses the melancholy of Istanbul in the concept of hüzün that is central to Islamic culture and is cherished by the dwellers of his city. Hüzün is a Turkish word that denotes “a state of mind that is ultimately as life affirming as it is negating”. This paradox of celebration in mourning is explained by Jacques Derrida that mourning for a person leads to the interiorisation of the other in the self so that the other person resides within one’s body. Traditionally, an autobiography has been a book about the life of a person written by that person. However, in contemporary times, the book is no longer the sole source of dispensing information. The internet, which has given many people unprecedented access to information is rivalling what has been the traditional privilege of print Information is freely available, and opinions can be posted easily by anyone by various internetmeans-of-expression. Debates are openly held in forums and comment threads of articles. With the ease of access and publishing, many forms of expression which earlier had existed exclusively in print, entered the domain of the World Wide Web. Digital media has given new dimensions to existing forms of expression. There are a blogs, vlogs, podcasts, forums, chatrooms, messageboards, imageboards. philosophical speculation... basically, anything that can be possibly written, Yet some autobiographies do appear under the guise of fiction, nor by the fact that authors may design their works to be classifiable under both genres. These experimental texts which go counter to the rigid norms of the genre (Borderlands [La Frontera] by Gloria Anzaldua ,Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), show how it is possible to write autobiography using imagination as well as experience; Autobiography is thus hardly "factual," "unimaginative," or even "non-fictional," for it welcomes all the devices of skilled narration and observes few of the restrictionsaccuracy, impartiality, inclusiveness-imposed upon other forms of historical literature. We shall examine now how an autobiography is equally a work of art and life, analogous to a self-portrait in painting. Where vision and memory remain the essential controls, time and space the central problems, reduction and expansion the desired goals. It also suggests a double entity, expressed in a a series of reciprocal transactions. No longer distinctly separate, the artist-model must alternately pose and paint. So he works from memory as well as sight, in two levels of time, on two planes of space, while reaching for those other dimensions, depth and the future. We can begin with two Renaissance paintings, both details from larger frescoes: the self-portraits of Raphael and Michael Angelo. At first glance, these pictures seem quite dissimilar. Raphael is graceful and melancholy, his face blank except for two large and tranquil eyes. Michaelangelo appears as a flayed skin, grotesquely tortured, his face melting into virtual anonymity. Yet both artists portray an idealized self epitomizing a stage in their artistic careers: Raphael, dead at thirty-seven, paints the unblemished purity of Youth; while Michael-angelo, who reached eighty-nine, depicts the inevitable corruption of Age. In his lifetime Rembrandt painted over a hundred self-portraits, seventy of them full studies. Viewed as a whole, they form a serial image, like frames in a strip of movie film Van Gogh also painted numerous self-portraits, many as a form of therapy. a clue to his shifting, troubled investigation. With both artists the important element is uncertainty-they ask themselves no consistent questions, find no clear answers, and so continue to revise their self-portraits. Unable to take an overview, they create a series of tentative pictures, each more inconclusive than the last. The artists have neither preached nor performed; theirs is the poetic act of continuing self-study. Maya Angelou’s Know Why the Caged Bird Sings The autobiography becomes equally a work of art and life! Where vision and memory remain the essential controls, time and space the central problems, reduction and expansion the desired goals! Maya Angelou’s Know Why the Caged Bird Sings It is fitting that Angelou, should compare her "poetic adventure" to the act of painting: ". . . everything is part of a large canvas I am creating, I am living beneath.“ Like an unfinished painting, the autobiographical series is an ongoing creation, in a form that rejects the finality of a restricting frame. As the world of experience widens, so does the canvas. What distinguishes, then, Angelou's “autobiographical method from more conventional autobiographical forms is her very denial of closure” DESIGN AND TRUTH IN AUTOBIOGRAPHY offers its close readers a complex set of interpretive problems. The "true" autobiography tells us not merely of remembered deeds and thoughts, but is for both author and reader "a spiritual experiment, a voyage of discovery.” Pascal follows the conventional route of typing by profession, or calling: science (Darwin, Freud), politics (Hitler, Trotsky, Gandhi), while admitting that each story differs according to its author's "specific achievement." Of paramount importance to most critics is the autobiographer's ideology or profession, which supposedly influenced the events and values of his book. So the critics customarily divide authors into separate categories and-working like so many vocational counselors-grade them according to religious denomination or social class. As a result, we learn that a "simple" faith produces a simple narrative, that a soldier writes as a soldier, a poet always as a poet. STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS Coleridge tells us most writing begins with a prime decision, an "initiative" that affects the author's entire process of composition, telling him what to write, when to edit, and how to unify the remainder. The decision to write one's autobiography is at least a strategic beginning, whether part of a master plan or born of frustration and personal anxiety. Northrop Frye, working back from Coleridge to Aristotle, identifies three elements that subsequently guide a writer's progress: mythos, ethos, and dianoia, or action, character, and theme. character and theme replace ethos and dianoia, while technique represents mythos, the author's action. In the case of autobiography, how he acts upon the narrative often overshadows how he acts in it. THE FIRST FACTOR IN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL STRATEGY Character, the image or Self-Portrait. Various factors determine that character: sense of self, of place, of history, of motives for writing. We must carefully distinguish this character from the author himself, since it performs as a double persona: telling the story as a narrator, enacting it as a protagonist. Although these two figures are the same person, artist and model, we may still distinguish their essential points of separation. They share the same name, but not the same time and space. A narrator always knows more than his protagonist, yet he remains faithful to the latter's ignorance for the sake of credible suspense. Eventually the reverse images have to merge; as past approaches present, the protagonist's deeds should begin to match his narrator's thoughts. A SECOND FACTOR IN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL STRATEGY IS THE ELEMENT OF TECHNIQUE which embraces those plastic devices-style, imagery, structure-that build a self-portrait from its inside out." Style, then, is not subservient to content, but is a formal device significant in its own right. Even the simplest stylistic choices, of tense or person, are directly meaningful, since they lead to larger effects, like those of metaphor and tone. THE FINAL STRATEGIC ELEMENT IS THEME Theme may arise from the author's general philosophy, religious faith, or political and cultural attitudes. His theme is personal but also representative of an era, just as other literary works may illustrate the history of ideas. In fact, autobiography has an especially inclusive thematic base, since its writers constantly grapple with issues-love, memory, death-that appeal to a broad reading public. In its broadest sense, the theme of autobiography is life. thematic conclusions are the clearest indication of differences in autobiographical strategy. These three elements-character, technique, themeoperate as continuous complements in autobiography. Each of them relates to an isolated aspect of composition : the writer (character), the work (technique), and the reader (theme); Autobiography as Oratory: positive sense of character arises from a common motive: to carve public monuments out of their private lives. He is a master rhetorician, thoroughly versed in the arts of persuasion or argument . St. Augustine is the primary exemplar of this type of autobiography. And Augustine has many followers through the centuries: John Bunyan, Edward Gibbon, Henry Adams, and Malcolm X-all men who share a common devotion to doctrine, whether in religion, history, or politics Autobiography as Oratory: Since its purpose is didactic, his story is allegorical, seeking to represent in a single life an idealized pattern of human behavior where theologian and historian dominate the narrative voice. Such a strong,. Each man writes for his own sake, to confirm the validity of his thesis, and also for the conversion of others. Gibbon excludes his childhood, Bunyan and Adams omit their marriages .The details are not literal history but figural narration. They give us selected aspects of a larger allegory . and capable of any logical maneuver that serves his purpose. Autobiography as Drama As an author he is unpretentious and impertinent, viewing life as a staged performance that he may attend, applaud, or attack, just as he pleases. Benvenuto Cellini exemplifies this strategy, in the company of James Boswell, Benjamin Franklin, Sean O'Casey, and William Carlos Williams, Montaigne, Pepys, Casanova, and Mark Twain would also qualify. histrionics over dialectics, for acting instead of exhorting. As in drama, the function of this narrative mode is to stress spectacle, the visible and pictorial aspects of life. Action, not exposition, becomes the author's principal tool, so his persona usually blurs its narrator and protagonist roles into one. Autobiography as Poetry They are a moody, unpredictable lot, strongly critical of themselves and others, committed only to the right to change their ideas. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is the premier example of this strategy; his later followers include Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman, William Butler Yeats, James Agee, Wordsworth, and Henry James could also be added. All are post-Romantic writers, tacitly sharing in that era's symbolist definition of "poetry" (the expression of fleeting, ineffable sensations), given to intellectual brooding and sharp critical dissent, searching always for private discoveries, uncertain of the proper course to follow. Yet for each man, "truth" is a major preoccupation: Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is not just the story of a life but is the recreation and revelation of the discovery of life. What is it that makes Maya Angelou America's most visible black woman autobiographer ? Most readers feel that the poetic strategy is autobiography's finest effort, the "voyage of discovery" that Pascal values so highly. For no matter how closely we peer into their self-portraits, we can never see beyond the autobiographers' mirrored reflections. The process is alternately reductive and expansive; it imparts to a single picture the force of universal implications. Autobiography is a literary version of this curious artifact. Is it that in constructing the autobiographical self Maya’s approach of collective memory, entangles lives and psyche with a mandalic representation ? Symbolizes Life,, as an interaction of cooperating opposites, the continuous process of creation, everyday polar play of a dynamism in the eternal procreative marriage’ represented in an abstract diagram—a key to the secret of the phenomenal mirage of the world(Zimmer,1990:147) MEMOIR IS! Angelou made a deliberate attempt while writing Caged Bird to challenge the usual structure of the autobiography by “critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre” Angelou recognizes that there are fictional aspects in her life narrative when she tends to "diverge” from the conventional notion of autobiography as truth. and focuses on figurative and symbolic language, voice, points of view, flashbacks and other time sequences. Verily , her extensive use of fiction-writing techniques such as dialogue, and characterization, makes one forget that it is non fiction, often leading one to categorize the book as autobiographical fiction. I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS Angelou has created a unique interpretation of the autobiographical form as a public gesture that speaks for an entire group of people. In doing so, she has found relief in following the pioneers of self-exposure in "telling the truth .” Angelou biographer Joanne M. Braxton has insisted that Caged Bird was "perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing" autobiography written by an African-American woman in its era (Braxton 4) . Fiction isn't delivering the news. Memoir is. At its best, in the hands of a writer able to command the tools of the novelist -character, scene, plot -- the memoir can achieve unmatchable depth and resonance. Fiction demands that the writer invent; memoir exploits as material the gift of lived experience. Georges Gusdorf, the great purist, summarized his vision of autobiography in this sentence : “No one can know better than I what I have thought, what I have wished; I alone have the privilege of discovering myself from the other side of the mirror” (Gusdorf 1980, 35) There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; Thus the "first person singular" has become "one of the distinguishing marks of current academic writing." The unstable authorial "I" that came under assault in English departments across the land during the 70's and 80's now occupies center stage. Why this pull toward the anatomy of self? it reflects a phenomenon pervasive in our culture -- people confessing in public to an audience of voyeurs. Christopher Lasch famously labeled "the culture of narcissism" has been replaced by the culture of confession. It's a phenomenon that transcends high and low. Joyce Carol Oates memorably called "pathography" -biographies that dwell on the sordid excesses of their subjects -- has yielded to "autopathography," dwelling on the excesses of oneself. somebody else “If I was not myself, I would be somebody else. But actually I am somebody else. I have been somebody else all my life. It’s no laughing matter going about the place all the time being somebody else: people mistake you; you mistake yourself.” Jackie Kay APJ. Abdul Kalam Wings of Fire: An Autobiography of APJ. Abdul Kalam, Orient Longman, 1999. 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Vincent Van Gogh .Dear Theo. 1937 Albert Schweitzer Out of My Life and Thought. 1933 Louis Sheaffer. O'Neill: Son and Playwright.1968 Maynard Solomon. Beethoven. 1977 Gertrude Stein. The Autobiography of Alice B. Tokas. 1933 Simone de Beauvoir. All Said and Done. 1974 (Beauvoir) Thomas De Quincey. Confessions of an English Opium Eater. 1822 Leon Edel. Henry James. 5 vols. 1953-72 Anne Frank .Diary of a Young Girl. 1952 Henry David Thoreau. Walden. 1854 John Henry Newman. Apologia pro Vita Sua. 1864 Malcolm X.The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 1964 John Stewart Mill. Autobiography. 1873 Henry Adams. The Education of Henry Adams. 1905 Thanks for Listening!