Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

The Language of the Self: Autobiographies and Testimonies

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

The Language of the Self: Autobiographies and Testimonies

Article excerpt

Autobiography is a protean genre: it covers so many forms and styles. When narrating one's life, the narrator has to choose what he or she considers to be relevant and decisive. Aside from the differences on what is fundamental in a life, the notion of the Self is culturally defined and thus varies from one place to another. The author of an autobiographical text may express only a fragment of his or her life or follow a thread in the trajectory through reminiscences, memoirs, diaries, testimonies, interviews, letters, poems, etc. The author may declare openly that he or she are identical with the protagonist or may give the principal character a different name or no name. The author may depict private or public events, at times taking imaginative license or even including fantastic motifs.

Autobiographical discourse is not only culturally conditioned; it is also symptomatic of the cultural moment. Thus it is important to explore the varieties of self-presentation, and not assume a fixed paradigm. In this revisionist spirit that looks for different and alternative ways of recording one's life, Alif presents the autobiographical drive in multiple contexts: ancient and contemporary Egyptian, nineteenth-century and twentieth-century Arab, Moroccan and Iraqi, South African and West African, Canadian and American, Palestinian and Sudanese, English and Irish, and even that of a hybrid background-Chinese American and Algerian French. …

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