This is part of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing.
The French author Annie Ernaux, “the grande dame of autofiction”, having received the 2022 Nobel Prize in literature, autofiction seems to have consolidated its status as an established literary genre. Yet, definitions of the genre are often cloudy: What exactly is at stake in autofiction? Is the genre, as Merve Emre has argued, nothing other than “the gimmick of metafiction, which, unwilling to part with its one-time trick of referring to itself, has recently been rebranded as autofiction” (New Yorker, November 9th 2020)? Or is it rather, as Sam Ferguson claimed, the preferred literary form of contemporary authors seeking to “respond to certain crises in their relation to writing, their self, and the world” (blogpost, March 26th 2020)? In this reading group, we will make a joint attempt at extracting a coherent perspective on the genre of autofiction from the work of the twentieth-century French philosopher and literary author Maurice Blanchot. Blanchot was arguably a practitioner of the genre. His major 1980
work, The Writing of the Disaster, contains autobiographical passages about childhood experiences of his that he framed as fiction: “(A primal scene?) You who live later, close to a heart that beats no more, suppose, suppose this: the child – is he seven years old, or eight perhaps? – standing by the window, drawing the curtain and, through the pane, looking.” (Blanchot 1980, 161, italics ours). Yet, Blanchot has also written extensively on the autobiographical writings of other authors, such as Kafka’s letters and diaries, Rousseau’s Confessions, and Proust’s Recherche, often with a keen eye for their fictional aspects. In Blanchot scholarship, his writings on literary fictions have been granted much attention, but his work on autobiographical texts less so. We will look into some of Blanchot’s texts on autobiographical writings, paying special attention to the passage of the writing “I” into the “impersonal” that Blanchot traces in these writings. We hypothesize that this focus may lead
us to a welcome perspective on the genre of autofiction, judging from the way Ernaux has described her writing “I”: “The I that I use seems to me an impersonal form, barely gendered, sometimes even a word belonging more to ‘the other’ than to ‘me’” (Ernaux 1993, 222).
Dates for the sessions:
In preparation for each meeting, we ask participants to carefully read one relatively concise text by Blanchot, hich we will go through in detail. The small lists of thematically related texts we added are optional readings we may loosely refer to during the meetings.
The reading for the meeting on the 6 March is: Blanchot, Maurice (1992 ). The Step Not Beyond. Albany: State University of New York Press, excerpt: pp. 1-13.
Optional additional readings:
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