The Rumpled Bed of Autobiography: Extravagant Lives, Extravagant Questions

By Smith, Sidonie; Watson, Julia | Biography, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

The Rumpled Bed of Autobiography: Extravagant Lives, Extravagant Questions


Smith, Sidonie, Watson, Julia, Biography


PREFACE

Our plenary presentation was a slide-lecture drawn from the introduction to our forthcoming edited collection, Interfaces: Women's Visual and Performance Autobiography. We began the Interfaces project several years ago, in response to the remarkable outpouring of self-portraiture in contemporary painting, photography, artists' books, and mixed visual forms such as installations, collage, and quilting that marked the last two decades of autobiographical inquiry in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, and elsewhere. And both of us began using slides of visual self-portraits in autobiography courses to enliven discussion and dramatize difficult conceptual issues of self-representation. Interfaces focuses on women's self-representation, in part because the explosion of innovative work in visual and performance fields often illuminates in new ways the studies we have already done, collectively and individually, of women's autobiographical narratives. Too, some aspects of gendered sel f-presentation, such as embodiment, are explored and resolved in strikingly different terms in visual and performance media than in written narratives.

Because of pre-publication restrictions on material for Interfaces and permissions costs for artwork, it is not possible to reprint our conference lecture here. Instead, we have expanded on the discussion of a British performance artist, Tracey Emin, whose recent installation at the Tate Gallery in London both flaunts and troubles the question of autobiographical acts, probing the boundaries of "life" and art. Emin's work exemplifies several controversies about autobiography at this cultural moment, and raises provocative questions for both visual and verbal autobiographical narratives. But those questions are not restricted to the space of the museum, gallery, or video screen, as our subsequent discussion of a recent American memoir, Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, will suggest. Through reading an installation and a memoir side by side as examples of experiments in autobiography at this cultural moment, we want to foreground the gendered politics and ethics of life writing at the edg e, a topic that elicited many stimulating and suggestive papers at the conference.

Works such as Emin's and Eggers's, in dramatizing and flaunting autobiographical conventions, may well be at the outer limits of the practice of memoir. But they are important for autobiography scholars who wish to interrogate, as Leigh Gilmore's essay in this issue probingly does, the limits of autobiography at a time when "the rule" is breaking the rule. Hence this essay's tide, with its suggestion that the procrustean bed of autobiography is now inescapably a rumpled one--much slept in; still warm, if soiled; and haunted by conspicuously absent bodies.

While Emin's performance piece evoked the metaphorics of the rumpled bed for us, the "bed" of autobiography has also been explored by Alison Donnell in a recent essay on women's contemporary autobiographical practices:

The explosion of criticism surrounding autobiography, and particularly women's autobiography, over the last twenty years, has demonstrated that as a genre autobiography can be likened to a restless and unmade bed; a site on which discursive, intellectual and political practices can be remade; a ruffled surface on which the traces of previous occupants can be uncovered and/or smoothed over; a place for secrets to be whispered and to be buried; a place for fun, desire and deep worry to be expressed. Many of the most influential women writers of the twentieth century have chosen to make this bed and some to lie in it too. (124)

Rumpled, unmade, at this contemporary moment the bed is a generative metaphor for approaching contemporary experiments in self-presentation that mix a grab-bag of autobiographical modes, tropes, and histories. Paradoxically, the autobiographical is a conspicuous staging arena for the public world, if one with a foot lingering in the intimate bed of the personal. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Rumpled Bed of Autobiography: Extravagant Lives, Extravagant Questions
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.