Postgraduate Course: Modern and Contemporary Memoir (ENLI11237)
|School||School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
||College||College of Humanities and Social Science
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||Memoir now occupies a prominent, even dominant, presence in contemporary literature - 'boom', 'flood' and 'juggernaut' are among the recurrent terms in journalistic accounts of the rise of the genre in recent decades. This course explores what may be at stake in the idea of an 'age of memoir' through engaging with some of the most aesthetically and ethically innovative and challenging examples of the genre, from modernist experiments with the form (Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov), through memoir as act of historical witness and testimony (Richard Wright, Primo Levi), through to wide-ranging contemporary reformulations of its parameters. Following a broadly chronological trajectory, each session spotlights a specific theme, issue or sub-genre of memoir (such as family history, nature memoir, elegy), inviting inquiry into the memoirist's navigation of self and other in relation to historical and cultural contexts.
The course will offer postgraduate students the opportunity to study a genre that has become a major presence in modern and especially contemporary literature. Memoir now occupies a prominent, even dominant, presence in contemporary literature - 'boom', 'flood', and 'juggernaut' are among the recurrent terms in journalistic accounts of the rise of the genre in recent decades. This course explores what may be at stake in the idea of an 'age of memoir' through engaging with some of the most aesthetically and ethically innovative and challenging examples of the genre, from modernist experiments with the form (Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov), through memoir as act of historical witness and testimony (Richard Wright, Primo Levi), through to wide-ranging contemporary reformulations of its parameters. The course follows a broadly chronological trajectory, and each session spotlights a specific theme, issue or sub-genre of memoir (such as family history, nature memoir, elegy), inviting inquiry into the memoirist's navigation of self and other in relation to historical and cultural contexts. The course explores an interdisciplinary range of perspectives on self, memory, and narrative - from literary studies and theory, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and cultural studies. Recurring questions and topics include:
Forms and theories of memory - psychological, cultural, collective - and their relationship to narrative and representation;
The aesthetics and politics of representation (who is represented, and how - within memoirs and within their reception);
The relations among the self, culture, and narrative (as inflected by gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality) and between individual experience and cultural scripts and generic formulae (origins, crises, turning points, etc.);
The changing cultural-historical contours of the boundaries between the public and the private, and the ethics of writing (and publishing) lives;
The relations between non-fiction and fiction, particularly in terms of genre, and controversies surrounding the boundaries between the ¿true¿ and the ¿fake¿;
The relation between genres (and their relative prominence) and cultural and historical contexts.
1 Introduction: Virginia Woolf, A Sketch of the Past (1939).
2 Modernist experiment: Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).
3 Émigré memoir: Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory (1951/1966).
4 Race and the politics of memoir: Richard Wright, Black Boy (1945).
5 Biomythography: Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982).
6 Witness and testimony: Primo Levi, If This Is A Man (1958).
7 Family history: Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family (1982). Alison Light will speak to the seminar (extracts of Common People: The History of an English Family, available on Learn).
8 Nature: Kathleen Jamie, Sightlines (2012).
9 'Misery memoir' and the ethics of elegy: Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (2005).
10 Travel / Memoir / History: W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn (1995/1998).
Student Learning Experience
The course is taught in weekly seminars, and students are asked to meet independently for weekly autonomous learning group discussions of questions/tasks set in advance, for which the group members take it in turns to write brief reports. The course materials (aside from purchase texts) will be available on Learn. In addition, students are also invited to participate in the recently re-launched Research Group in Life-Writing (of which the course organiser is a convenor), and encouraged to participate in the postgraduate initiative 'Connecting Memories'. Students will be given the opportunity to combine creative and critical writing in their weekly reports, and - subject to individual project approval by the course organiser and pertinent programme directors - may combine the creative and the critical in their assessed work.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| None
Information for Visiting Students
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Not being delivered|
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Demonstrate depth and breadth of knowledge of modern and contemporary memoir
- Show critical understanding of the genre in relation to critical, theoretical, and cultural contexts
- Undertake advanced research on memoir drawing on a range of disciplinary approaches
- Offer informed analysis and cogent argument on memoir in written and oral work
|A Resource List, using Talis Aspire, will be available for this course, offering extensive reading lists for each weekly session as well as for the course as a whole. |
Virginia Woolf, ¿A Sketch of the Past¿ (1939), in Woolf, Moments of Being: Autobiographical Writings, ed. Jeanne Schulkind. London: Pimlico, 2002.
Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). London: Penguin, 2001.
Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory (1951/1966). London: Penguin, 2000.
Richard Wright, Black Boy (1945). London: Vintage, 2000.
Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982). Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2001.
Primo Levi, If This Is A Man (1958), in Levi, If This Is A Man / The Truce, trans. Stuart Woolf. London: Abacus, 2001.
Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family (1982). London: Bloomsbury, 2009.
Kathleen Jamie, Sightlines (2012). London: Sort of Books, 2012.
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). London: Harper Perennial, 2006.
W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn (1995/1998), trans. Michael Hulse. London: Vintage, 2002.
Indicative Secondary Reading
Agamben, Giorgio. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (Homo Sacer III). Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. New York: Zone Books, 1999
Anderson, Linda. Autobiography. London: Routledge, 2010.
Aries, Philippe. A History of Private Life: Riddles of Identity in Modern Times (Vol V). Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1996.
Barthes, Roland. Roland Barthes. Trans. Richard Howard. London and Basingstoke: Papermac, 1995 (1975).
- - -. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010 (1980).
Birkerts, Sven. The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2007.
Cohen, Josh. The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark. London: Granta, 2014.
Couser, Thomas J. Memoir: An Introduction. New York: OUP, 2012.
- - -. Recovering Bodies: Illness, Disability, and Life Writing. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
De Mann, Paul. ¿Autobiography as De-facement¿ MLN, Vol. 94, No. 5, Comparative Literature (Dec. 1979): 919-930.
Dever, Maryanne, Sally Newman, and Ann Vickery. The Intimate Archive: Journeys Through Private Papers. National Library of Australia, 2009.
Eakin, Paul John. How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves. New York: Cornell University Press, 1999.
Felman, Shoshana, and Dori Laub. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. New York and London: Routledge, 1992.
Freud, Sigmund. ¿Screen Memories¿ (1899), ¿Family Romances¿ (1909), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press.
Gass, William. ¿The Art of Self: Autobiography in the Age of Narcissism.¿ Harper¿s Magazine (May 1994): 43-52.
Gornick, Vivian. The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
Hirsch, Marianne. Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1994.
- - -. The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
Kaplan, Cora and Jenny Bourne Taylor, eds. Reading Life Writing, special issue of new formations: A Journal of Literature/Theory/Politics, London: Lawrence and Wishart) No 67, Summer, 2009.
Leibowitz, Herbert A. Fabricating Lives: Explorations in American Autobiography. New York: Knopf, 1989.
Lejeune, Philippe. ¿The Autobiographical Pact¿, On Autobiography. Trans. Katherine Leary; ed. Paul John Eakin. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989: 3-30.
Marcus, Laura. Auto/biographical Discourses: Criticism, Theory, Practice. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994.
Miller, Nancy K. But Enough About Me: Why We Read Other People¿s Lives. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
Morrison, Toni. ¿The Site of Memory¿, Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. Ed. William Zinsser. Boston; New York: Houghton. Mifflin, 1995): 83-102.
Olney, James. Memory and Narrative: The Weave of Life-Writing. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1998.
Phillips, Adam. ¿Barthes by Himself¿ and ¿Against Biography¿, In Writing: Essays on Literature. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2016.
Radstone, Susannah and Bill Schwartz, eds. Memory: Histories, Theories, Debates. New York: Fordham University Press, 2010.
Rak, Julie. ¿Are Memoirs Autobiography? A Consideration of Genre and Public Identity.¿ Genre 36 (Fall / Winter 2004): 305-326.
Ricoeur, Paul. Memory, History, Forgetting. Trans. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellaur. London: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Saunders, Max. Self Impression: Life-Writing, Autobiografiction, and the Forms of Modern Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Yagoda, Ben. Memoir: A History. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.
Yates, Francis A. The Art of Memory. London: The Bodley Head, 2014.
Zinsser, William. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
Ability to analyse different kinds of text - creative, critical, theoretical - drawn from a range of disciplines
Group work skills
Oral presentation skills
Ability to organise complex arguments in written work, oral presentation, and small group work
|Keywords||Memoir / Auto/biography / Life-writing / Memory / Modern and Contemporary Literature
|Course organiser||Dr Simon Cooke
Tel: (0131 6)51 3996
|Course secretary||Miss Kara McCormack
Tel: (0131 6)50 3030