English R1A

Reading & Composition: Autobiography

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Spring 2012 Ketz, Charity Corine
MWF 12-1 222 Wheeler

Book List

Augustine: Confessions; De Quincey, Thomas: Confessions of an English Opium-Eater; Equiano: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written By Himself; Proust, Marcel: Swann's Way

Other Readings and Media

a course reader


“I have become a question to myself”

                                           —Augustine, Confessions

“I know that [my accusers] almost made me forget who I was—so persuasively did they speak.”

“But suppose I ask you a question”

                                           —Socrates, Apology

Facing a five hundred-man jury and a death sentence, Socrates is recorded to have defended himself autobiographically: by recollecting his life’s work and mission for an audience and by engaging his accusers in his habitual method of questioning. Roughly 800 years later, Augustine described grieving the death of a beloved friend in his autobiography, saying, “I made myself into my own great question.” In this course we will consider the question of autobiography—what it is formally, how it situates itself with respect to an audience and with respect to time—and we will consider the question posed by autobiography—what autobiography seeks in its presentation of mortality, consciousness, and memory. Sometimes this second question will appear to run after an enigma or to mourn violently. Sometimes it will demand something far more pragmatic (the reevaluation of social practice) or will show itself to be a purely negative (theatrical) power to unsettle conventional feeling. We will read a variety of autobiographies in prose and verse (selections from Plato, Montaigne, Descartes, Rousseau, Benjamin, Wordsworth, and Woolf, along with our major texts), and, beginning about the middle of the semester, will vary our critical with some autobiographical writing.


Back to Semester List