Autographologies: Reflections On Writing A Memoir

Autographologies (text)

This essay draws on the experience of writing  a memoir- ‘Reading Room Only’- to reflect on current trends, models and motivations within the genre. Philippe Lejeune’s notion of the ‘autobiographical pact’ is used to look at how different approaches to memoir-writing stake their claims to be an ‘authentic’ discourse of the self. In addition it is argued that life-story scripts, conveyed primarily through family and schooling, play an important role in the process of authentification, albeit one that is shifting as a result of changes in the culture, economy and society. The discourse of aspirationalism with its meritocratic insistence that everyone is an author of their own life is seen as symptomatic of this shift, as evidenced by the current popularity of the ‘triumph over adversity’ life story. The essay then turns to look at the influence of identity politics and the growth of the ‘victimology’ narrative; this is followed by a discussion of life stories that focus on the ‘dislocated subject’ and the various uses of the memoir to settle accounts with past and present. The essay concludes by considering the ‘anxiety of influence’ in contemporary memoir-writing and just how unsettling and revisionary the whole project can turn out to be.

A version of this article appears in History Workshop Journal 74 : The original version of the memoir can be accessed at