This is your life?
Deputy Editor, Neha Shaji discusses autobiographical literature and its often political nature.
Autobiographical pieces can tend to be people’s first foray into historiography, often exposing untruths in historical narratives pushed by ideologies or countries. The autobiographical form in itself is not necessarily political – everyone from an ex-President to say, someone who dropped out of Bake Off in the first round have pieces on the autobiography shelf in Waterstones.
Yet existence itself can be political, and even the most seemingly mundane works of autobiographical writing can be an act or explanation of resistance, depending on the writer. For instance, drag icon RuPaul’s autobiography Letting it all Hang Out is inundated with beauty tips, fashion advice and what is essentially a drag tutorial. However, even with his somewhat stifled portrayal of his home life and strict father followed by his expressive depiction of his life in the art and drama world and the cone, RuPaul articulates resistance minus necessarily academic meditating on the politics of defiance. Autobiography provides a discursive identifier without necessitating an in depth or inaccessible sermon on historiographical context.
“Autobiography provides a discursive identifier without necessitating an in depth or inaccessible sermon on historiographical context.”
Autobiography can certainly be political activism: this can come from several facets including the politics of existence, to the fictionalising of the self to create an idealised protagonist in a self-driven narrative. Autobiographies can also be a collective retrospective study of resistance. For instance, some take the narratives of dissenters in the Indian subcontinent. These autobiographical pieces span introspections as to the nature of a devotional truth, to a study of Indian landscape and history, hard-left Marxist discourse, as well as gritty recounting of reality by those considered by several of the aforementioned parties to be not worthy of mention. Thus, a colourful political fabric can be redrawn, depicting the differing kinds of resistance within this period of time, from politically far left to a religiously driven right.
This form of writing can definitely, to some, read as if it were a blog in hardback costing double of what you think something of that quality should, as it can be written in rather basic prose and seem monotonous. However, it is important to understand that those whose stories are worth telling cannot be decided by a certain class of readers, as well as that those who have the most pressing of life experiences, or those who have struggled or resisted politically – may not have the capability to write in high-brow prose or in old-fashioned diction. Hence, the writing of an autobiography itself is an act of resistance, and even this serves as a comparative tool; two figures may have a similar life story, but one is in an introspective, reflective style whilst the other may be in contemporary slang diction or translated.
People compare autobiographies to vlogs, or blog pieces. However, the latter are read or watched religiously. Hence, if the issue is with paying for autobiographical pieces rather than your personal taste, the question is why would you not pay for a life story if you would pay for a piece of fiction? Or honestly, you could probably pick up some very blatantly fictionalized pieces and pretend they’re novels.