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ENGLISH LITERATURE & CULTURE. ‘I’ IS ANOTHER: AUTOBIOGRAPHY ACROSS GENRES Camel i a El i as. Hoffman, Codrescu, Simic, Federman. Eva Hoffman. Born in Cracow, born in 1945 in Poland studied music Emigrated to Canada 1959 and then to the US (1979)

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english literature culture




Camelia Elias

eva hoffman
Eva Hoffman
  • Born in Cracow, born in 1945 in Poland
  • studied music
  • Emigrated to Canada 1959 and then to the US (1979)
  • studied English literature at Rice and Harvard
  • becomes editor and literary critic for New York Times


  • Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language. London: Vintage, 1989.
  • Exit Into History : A Journey Through the New Eastern Europe. New York. N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1994.
  • Shtetl : The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
  • The Secret. London: Vintage, 2001
andrei codrescu
Andrei Codrescu
  • Born in Romania, Sibiu 1946
  • studied mathematics and philosophy at Univ. of Bucharest
  • came to the US in 1966, after a transit period in both France and Italy
  • professor of English and Comparative Studies at Louisiana State University


  • Poetry:
    • Alien Candor (1996);
    • Thus Spake the Corpse (2 vol) 1999-2000
  • Novels:
    • Casanova in Bohemia (2002);
    • The Blood Countess (1995); National best-seller;
    • Wakefield, 2004
  • Essays:
    • Zombification: Essays from NPR (1995);
    • The Muse Is Always Half-Dressed in New Orleans (1995);
    • Hail Babylon! Looking for the American City at the End of the Millenium (1998)
charles simic
Charles Simic
  • born in Yugoslavia, Belgrade 1938
  • came to the US through France in 1953
  • studied at NYU
  • professor of English at the U of New Hampshire


  • Poetry:
    • The World Doesn’t End (Pulitzer Prize) 1990;
    • Walking the Black Cat (1996)
  • Essays:
    • The Metaphysician in the Dark (2003);
    • The Unemployed Fortune Teller (1994)
raymond federman
Raymond Federman
  • born in France, 1928
  • came to the US in 1947
  • studied at Columbia University (first PhD on Beckett)
  • professor of French, English, and Comparative literature SUNY


  • Criticism:
    • Critifiction (1993);
    • Surfiction (1975)
  • Novels:
    • Double or Nothing (1971);
    • Take It or Leave It (1976);
    • The Twofold Vibration (1982)
common concerns
common concerns
  • the experience of the immigrant
  • double emigration
  • double perspective
    • feel double
    • be double
    • produce double visions
  • double expectation
impossibility and presence
impossibility and presence
  • “In spite of the fact that autobiography is impossible, this in no way prevents it from existing”

(Lejeune, The Autobiographical Pact)

i against the grain
“I” against the grain
  • “Autobiography now has the potential to be the text of the oppressed and the culturally displaced, forging a right to speak both for and beyond the individual. People in a position of powerlessness – women, black people, working-class people have more then begun to insert themselves into the culture via autobiography, via the assertion of a ‘personal voice’ which speaks beyond itself.” (Julia Sweindells, The Uses of Autobiography, 1995)
trans auto bio graphy characteristics
Trans-auto-bio-graphy: characteristics
  • detachment
  • transit relates to both place and mindset
  • literal and metaphoric connotations
  • uprooting
  • autobiography based on transit experience poses paradoxes:
    • EX: In what language does one express the confused awareness of the paradox of being somewhere while not yet arriving, or being somewhere physically while being somewhere else mentally?
  • emphasizes mobility
  • specific and universal
narratives of translated experience the legitimation of the auto in the bio
Narratives of translated experience: the legitimation of the ‘auto’ in the ‘bio’

Deal with particular questions:

  • How can one tell a story about true events?
  • How can one translate one's existence into a story?
  • Can the story told constitute one's life as such?
  • Is memory itself a story?
  • Can lying in writing constitute a true story?
  • Can humor reconcile the difference between invented stories and remembered stories?
coherence and closure
coherence and closure
  • does the narrator explicitly assert the coherence of his/her story?
  • are there moments when the impression of narrative coherence breaks down in the text?
    • digressions
    • omissions
    • contradictions
    • gaps
    • silences
autobiography memoir
(Bios: life in history; Autos: the self developed out of that history

Deals with facts

Claims to be objective

Deals with an earlier period of time from the perspective of a relatively fixed later point

Seeks to find coherence in the past

Requires more knowledge of craft

Employs the literary devices of the novel: structure, point of view, voice, character and story

(Memoria (Lat.): memory; a note written in order to remember

Subjective, reflective and philosophical

Deals with moods and feeling

Deals with any period of time and it does not necessarily follow a sequence of events

More concerned with the present

Requires skill if literary intended, but is does not rely on knowledge of structure

Fragmented and experimental

Autobiography Memoir
lost in translation
Lost in Translation
  • Genre
    • Memoir or autobiography?
  • in medias res
  • 1st person narrative
  • present tense
  • flashback
  • interludes


  • prologue
  • Greek tragedy
    • chorus: the main commentators on the characters and events
  • departure/detachment
  • anticipation vs fear
  • excitement vs nostalgia and sadness
  • clarity vs confusion
  • representation of place
  • geography of emotions vs geography of places
  • conventional geographies
  • Canada
    • an abstract
  • Poland
    • idealized
  • Vancouver
    • artificial
  • Nostalgia for the past
  • Rejection of the new place
  • Dichotomies
    • Nature vs culture
    • Catholicism vs Jewishness
    • Russia’s communism vs Canada’s liberalism
    • Communism vs conformism
    • Articulation vs silence
    • Language vs artificial language
    • Public language vs inner language
  • Observant
  • Assumes the p.o.v. of the anthropologist and psychoanalyst
  • Writing exhibits self-awareness
  • Reflects on the interrelation between the narrator, writer, and reader
  • Impressionistic, especially in ref to Vancouver
conversation with history
Conversation with History
  • A Writer’s Voice
  • Identity Theory