Självbiografi, autofiktion, testimony, life writing

Lisbeth Larsson


Working on autobiography in the last decades has been to be in a constant turmoil of changing definitions. This article is an autobiographical description of the theoretical development within the field with a focus on women’s autobiographies. It starts with the feministic privileging of the autobiographical genre in the 70’s, following the keyword ”experience” and its changing status. Celebrated during the 70’s it lost its relevance in the linguistic turn during the 80’s when language was defined as solidly patriarchal in feminist theory and of no use to women in telling their experiences. In the beginning of the twenty-first century the concept however returned in the theorizing of testimonies, which became a new term for autobiography, often used about non-literary texts written by marginalized groups. Another line in the article is the changing terms for autobiographical texts, from autobiography to autofiction, testimony and life-writing, and the discussion of the theoretical assumptions implicated in these changes. One of the consequences of the split between language and life, opened up by deconstructive theory in the 80’s, was a redefinition of the autobiographical genre from factual to fictional. In the 90’s a new kind of autobiographical text, mixing fact and fiction and defined as autofiction, took form. What in the 80’s seemed to be the death of a genre turned into a proliferation and the term life-writing has become the overarching term for a lot of different autobiographical texts during the last decades. A returning problem in this history of a constantly growing text and research field is however the lacking authorizing of women’s life narratives in their multitude, specificities and differences. The article sums up by defining life-writing as relational texts and dependent on a respectful and sympathetic reading.

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