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Writing Selves: Understanding Autobiography ~2,500-3,000 Word Essay [70%, 2007]

An image of the feedback sheet critiquing Chris Larham's essay on the interplay between 'autobiography' and 'fiction' [70%, 2007].

In this essay I will ultimately confirm Thomas Wolfe’s statement, concluding that all serious work in literature is a product of ‘fictional’ and ‘autobiographical’ elements. In order to arrive at this conclusion, I will firstly establish a provisional opposition in the form ‘autobiography’/’fiction’ that corresponds to the distinction between the ‘truth’/’untruth’ of the textual substance of serious literary works. Having thus distinguished the terms ‘autobiography’ and ‘fiction’, I will show that aspects of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ‘Confessions’ are undeniably rooted in reality, and highlight components of the narrative related in Philip K. Dick’s ‘Valis’ that are founded purely on imagination – thus offering evidence that apparently refutes Wolfe’s statement. From a post-structuralist perspective, I will deconstruct the argument that these two texts are uncorrupted representatives of ‘two’ literary genres by highlighting the ‘fictional’ elements of the Confessions with reference to Paul de Man, and shedding light on the ‘autobiographical’ basis of ‘Valis’. A further deconstruction of the terms ‘fiction’ and ‘autobiography’ will demonstrate that these terms cannot guarantee the (un-/)truthfulness of a literary text, as they are contaminated by one another at the etymological level. I will illustrate the ‘fictional’ technique of verisimilitude that further blurs the boundaries between ‘truth’/’untruth’, before using a scene from the film ‘V For Vendetta’ to exemplify Paul de Man’s belief that ‘autobiography’ is not a distinct literary genre, but, rather, a figure of reading or understanding literary texts, and that, therefore, all texts are at once both ‘autobiographical’ and ‘fictional’.

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Posted in English Degree [Bachelor of Arts]