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Unorthodox Autobiographies
Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture (2015)
  • Matthew Ryan Smith, Ph.D.
The word autobiography is an amalgam taken from the Greek auto meaning self, bio meaning life, and graph meaning to write. Since the 1960s, research on literary autobiography exploded and scholars still argue over the categorical definitions of autobiographical discourse; however, one of the most cited theorizations of autobiography was proposed by French literary theorist Philippe Lejeune, who wrote in his essay “The Autobiographical Pact,” “What defines autobiography for the one who is reading is above all a contract of identity that is sealed by the proper name. And this is also true for the one who is writing the text” (19-20). Essentially Lejeune conceptualizes how readers interpret and respond to self-life-writing modes (and codes) of communication.[i] If Lejeune’s metaphorical “contract” between the writer and the reader is broken, then the autobiographical shifts to the category of literary fiction, which fundamentally changes the way the book is read and received. Ask James Frey, the author of A Little Million Pieces, who was compelled to apologize to Oprah Winfrey (and her viewers) after it was discovered that he fabricated portions of his “memoir.”

[i] For more on the communicative relationships between writers and their readers in literary and visual autobiographical discourse, see (Forthcoming) Matthew Ryan Smith, “Relational Maneouvres in Contemporary Autobiographical Video Art,” Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly (projected publication: 2015).
Publication Date
April, 2015
Citation Information
Matthew Ryan Smith, Ph.D.. "Unorthodox Autobiographies" Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture (2015)
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