Nowadays autobiographies are more fiction than fact
We readily accept the presence of autobiographical elements in fiction and any reader with an interest in the life of an author takes pleasure in identifying them. But the existence of fiction in autobiography tends to make the reader uneasy. We instinctively feel that autobiography should be far from fiction.
Recollections are subject to distortions and falsifications. Telling of a life history is not simply recollecting experience as it was. The outcome is an imaginative – or even imaginary – story we tell. There is an endless debate about the definition of autobiography and the boundaries of fact and fiction. It reflects a fundamental uncertainty about the relation between autobiographical narrative and the life it is supposed to record.
It is sometimes impossible to separate the factual content of autobiography from its narrative matrix. Autobiographies are quite often indistinguishable from novels. The authors themselves perform as artists and historians at the same time mixing fact with fiction and reality with imagination. Their lapses from fidelity to autobiographical truth into the manipulations of fiction generate literary constructions of what they have been or are, conferring interpretations on experience that did not posses those meanings at the time of occurrence.
Therefore autobiographical texts, in so far as they aim toward an enlarged understanding of the past by ‘revising’ and ‘correcting’ it, cannot be judged by either precision of their detail or correspondence to what was. So it is no longer the basis in fact that separates autobiography from narrative fiction. The author’s intention has become a decisive criterion in the identification of a given text as an autobiography.
The decision of an author to adopt an autobiographical viewpoint corresponds to the reasons for the invention of autobiography. What motivates any individual to the work of self-construction is to affirm the existence of the self as the initiating cause, to take on the role of a creative maker. It is also most human to reflect comprehensively on the past, and impose order and coherence upon it. The act of existing meaningfully in time and making sense of ourselves and others is only possible through the fabric of narrative.
When considering autobiographical texts, texts for which the interpreter is at once reader and writer, subject and object, it becomes quite clear that the meanings we arrive at are in some sense as much made as found. The process of autobiographical reflection is fundamentally metaphorical one – a new relationship is being created between the past and present, a new creative configuration, designed to give greater form to one’s previous and present experience.
Nowadays the autobiographical act is a mode of self-invention always practiced first in living and only eventually, and occasionally, in writing. The modern art of self-construction inevitably leaves the self at the center of all autobiography to some extent fictive. Fictions and fiction-making process have become a central constituent of the truth of any life as it is lived and of any art devoted to the presentation of that life. Autobiography in our time is increasingly understood as both an art of memory and an art of imagination where the materials of the past are shaped by memory and imagination to serve the needs of present consciousness.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Thomas Catmark is experienced writer with many articles published on internet services.