English R1B

Reading and Composition: Autobiography in Experimental Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Fall 2021 D'Silva, Eliot
MWF 10-11 61 Evans

Other Readings and Media


Readings  will include work by Chantal Akerman, Stan Brakhage, Sophie Calle, Michelle Citron, Lyn Hejinian, Bernadette Mayer, Marlon Riggs and Jeff Wall.




How and why might you choose to document your own life? What are our motives for putting our lives on the page – to understand ourselves better, to memorialize others, to leave something of ourselves to future generations? Taking up these questions, this writing and research course introduces students to literary and cinematic texts that challenge conventional understandings of autobiography. Our focus will be on 20th and 21st century experiments in autobiographical form – poetry collections, novels and films that dramatize the act of autobiographical writing and propose alternatives to received autobiographical modes in which the writer tells the story of their life. From Bernadette Mayer’s Memory (1971) to Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019), the texts included in the course all struggle with the autobiographical process, attempting to accommodate the stream of life from which they emerge rather than fitting it into a readymade narrative. 

      Over the semester, students will get to know a few works of autobiography and write small-scale responses to them. Examples of these mini-projects are: paper proposals, source analysis, annotated bibliographies. After break, students will choose a writing skill that they would like to improve for their final research paper, which they will continue to develop in small groups for the remainder of the semester. Meanwhile, in class, we will focus on thematic questions, with special consideration given to how our cultural obsession with personal identity coexists with the autobiographical imperative for a single, essential self. 


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