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Telling the self


Module description

How do we ‘tell’ ourselves - and how true are the tales we tell? Exploring the many different genres and technologies in which stories of the self are written, in this module we explore official and unofficial selves.

We begin with a discussion of what goes into biography, autobiography and fiction, and then we explore contemporary self-revelation alongside key historical periods in the ways the self - and which self - was told or silenced. The material covered will include some of history's silenced and forbidden selves and how they were recovered, as well as celebratory stories; we also look at contemporary and early modern material.

Beginning with Lemn Sissay’s extraordinary My Name is Why (1985) we will move backwards to look at women’s writing of the early modern period and forward to Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015).

Indicative syllabus

  • Sources of the self: official and unofficial selves
  • Sources of the self: self and family
  • Past lives: sources of the self - the beginning of the self? Descartes and diaries
  • Past lives: told to God? Spiritual autobiography
  • Past lives: crime and confession - gallows confession
  • Confessions: Augustine
  • Confessions: Wordsworth
  • Confessions: De Quincey
  • Art: Patti Smith
  • Art: Susanna Clark

Learning objectives

By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • demonstrate knowledge of examples of biography and autobiography from the Middle Ages to the contemporary period
  • demonstrate knowledge of theoretical, literary and generic issues of life writing
  • consider the specific sources, changes and developments in English of key texts of life writing
  • reflect on the relations between social and cultural contexts, theoretical discourses, cultural forms and texts
  • utilise critical discourses in the critical, detailed analysis of primary materials in your reading of texts.