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Tracing the Autobiographical

By Marlene Kadar, Susanna Egan
Edited by Jeanne Perreault, and Linda Warley
Subjects Literary Criticism, Life Writing, Biography & Autobiography
Series Life Writing Hide Details
Paperback : 9780889204768, 288 pages, May 2005
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554587162, 288 pages, October 2009
Ebook (PDF) : 9780889209077, 288 pages, January 2006

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Tracing the Autobiographical, edited by Marlene Kadar, Linda Warley, Jeanne Perreault, and Susanna Egan
Introduction: Tracing the Autobiographical: Unlikely Documents, Unexpected Places | Jeanne Perrreault and Marlene Kadar My Story: Memoir Writing, the Internet and Embodied Discursive Agency | Helen M. Buss
Reading the Autobiographical in Personal Home Pages | Linda Warley
Reality TV Has Spoken: Auto/biography Matters | Gabriele Helms
Performing the Auto/biographical Pact: Towards a Theory of Identity in Performance | Sherrill Grace
Domestic Space and the Idea of Home in Auto/biographical Practices | Kathy Mezei
The Shifting Grounds of Exile and Home in Daphne Marlatt’s Steveston | Susanna Egan
Law Stories as Life Stories: Jeanette Lavell, Yvonne Bédard and Halfbreed | Cheryl Suzack
Muriel Rukeyser: Egodocuments and the Ethics of Propaganda | Jeanne Perreault
Gender Nation and Self-Narration: Three Generations of Dayan Women in Palestine/Israel | Bina Toledo Freiwald
Giving Pain a Place in the World Aboriginal Women’s Bodies in Australian Stolen Generation Autobiographical Narratives | Christine Crowe
Circular Journeys and Glass Bridges: The Geography of Postmemory | Adrienne Kertzer
The Devouring: Traces of Roma in the Holocaust: No Tattoo, Sterilized Body, Gypsy Girl | Marlene Kadar
The Authors and Their Essays
Works Cited
The Authors and Their Essays
Helen Buss is Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at the University of Calgary and the author of numerous interdisciplinary studies of autobiography. Buss’s Mapping Our Selves (McGill-Queen’s, 1993) won the Gabrielle Roy Prize in 1994. Buss also edited (with Kadar) Working in Women’s Archives in 2001; as Margaret Clarke she has published novels, short stories, and poetry. Buss’s article, “ My Story: Memoir Writing, the Internet, and Embodied Discursive Agency”, analyzes the young adult “cyberself” of Katherine Tarbox as an autobiographical script that has consequences for her development as a young woman. Using a feminist autocritical method, Buss explores Katie’s growing agency—from victim to scapegoat to survivor. The stages of Katie’s growth are revealed in the form of the memoir and ultimately in her uses of the Internet.
Christine Crowe is Head of Credit Studies, Continuing Education, at the University of Regina. She teaches and researches in the area of Canadian and Australian Aboriginal autobiographical narratives and theories. She also works in the area of Aboriginal student retention and factors affecting first-year Aboriginal student success. Crowe’s paper, “Giving Pain a Place in the World: Australian Stolen Generations Autobiographical Narratives”, considers the body as a tool for opening political and dialogic space, and explores how maimed and tortured bodies have been represented in Australian Aboriginal women’s autobiographical narratives. Crowe also discusses Stolen Generation autobiographies as a way to achieve political change.
Susanna Egan is Professor in the Department of English at the University of British Columbia. She has published extensively on autobiography, her most recent monograph being Mirror Talk: Genres of Crisis in Contemporary Autobiography (University of North Carolina Press, 1999). She is currently working on problems of imposture in autobiography. Egan’s paper, “The Shifting Grounds of Exile and Home in Daphne Marlatt’s Steveston”, focuses on Daphne Marlatt’s long-poem cycle, Steveston, the fishing community at the mouth of the Fraser River just south of Vancouver. The poem gives rise to questions about Marlatt’s autobiographical narration of exile and home. As an immigrant to Canada from Australia and Malaysia, Marlatt situates herself in this fishing community to which Japanese immigrants came from the end of the nineteenth century, expecting to return home, but from which they were removed for internment during WWII. Egan illustrates how Marlatt’s attention to the constant movement of people and water and fish includes the movement of land and of horizons, so that the migrant situates herself in a shared impermanence that she defines in terms of particular place.
Bina Toledo Freiwald is Associate Professor of English at Concordia University. Her areas of teaching and research include critical theory, women’s writing, auto/biography and identity discourses, and Canadian literature. Recent publications include: “Nation and Self-Narration: A View from Québec/Quebec”, Canadian Literature 172 (Spring 2002); “Translational and Trans/national Crossings: French-American Feminist Mis/Dis/ Connections”, Works and Days 20.1&2 (Spring/Fall 2002). Approaching life-narratives as privileged sites for both the construction and interrogation of the nation, Freiwald’s essay, “Gender, Nation, and Self- Narration: Three Generations of Dayan Women in Palestine/Israel”, examines the auto/biographical writings of three women. These writings represent three generations of one of Israel’s most public families, and offer insights into the making of the imagined community that is present-day Israel.
Sherrill Grace is Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, where she holds the Brenda and David McLean Chair in Canadian Studies, 2003–05, and is a Distinguished University Scholar. She has published widely on twentieth-century literature and Canadian culture, with books on Expressionism, Margaret Atwood, and Malcolm Lowry. Her most recent books are Canada and the Idea of North (2001) and Performing National Identities: International Perspectives on Contemporary Canadian Theatre, coedited with A.R. Glaap. Grace’s paper, “Performing the Auto/Biographical Pact: Towards a Theory of Identity in Performance”, explores some of the challenges faced by playwrights who create autobiographical plays. Drawing on recent theories of autobiography, Grace develops a theory of autobiography-in-performance and suggests how theatre practice differs from other autobiographical practices.
At the time of her death from cancer on December 31, 2004, in Vancouver, Gabrielle Helms was Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of British Columbia, where she taught courses and conducted research in the fields of Canadian literature and culture and auto/biography studies. She is the author of Challenging Canada: Dialogism and Narrative Techniques in Canadian Novels (McGill-Queen’s 2003), and co-editor (with Susanna Egan) of two special issues of the scholarly journals Canadian Literature (2002) and biography (2001). She has published several essays on life writing and Canadian literature and contributed to reference works such as the Encyclopedia of Life Writing and the Cambridge Companion to Life Writing. In “Reality TV Has Spoken: Auto/biography Matters” Helms demonstrates what critics of autobiography can bring to debates about the proliferation and popularity of reality television shows such as Survivor and Big Brother. She examines how these shows draw on familiar strategies and discourses of auto/biography—such as the autobiographical pact, the confession, the diary, and the crisis-resolution plotand she considers what these shows can reveal about contemporary modes of self-representation.
Marlene Kadar is Associate Professor in Humanities and Women’s Studies at York University, and the former director of the Graduate Programme in Interdisciplinary Studies. Her Essays on Life Writing: From Genre to Critical Practice (UTP 1992) won the Gabrielle Roy Prize in 1993. Kadar’s research interests include the politics of life writing, including survivor narratives; the construction of privilege and knowledge in women’s life writing; and Hungarian and Romani auto/biography in historical accounts, biographical traces, and fragments. Kadar’s essay, “The Devouring: Traces of Roma in the Holocaust: No Tattoo, Sterilized Body, Gypsy Girl”, examines three troubling images in order to more fully appreciate the power of autobiographical traces and fragments in historical memory, especially in relation to the experience of Roma in the Porrajmos.
Adrienne Kertzer is Professor of English at the University of Calgary. Her book, My Mother’s Voice: Children, Literature, and the Holocaust (Broadview Press, 2002), won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for scholarship on a Jewish subject. Her essay, “Fugitive Pieces: Listening as a Holocaust Survivor’s Child”, won the F.E.L. Priestley Prize. Forthcoming essays include “The Problem of Childhood, Children’s Literature, and Holocaust Representation”, in Teaching the Representation of the Holocaust, ed. Marianne Hirsch and Irene Kacandes, MLA series Options for Teaching, and the entry on “Holocaust Literature for Children” in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, ed. Jack Zipes, Oxford UP. The author of numerous essays on Holocaust literature and children’s literature, she is currently working on comedy and representations of trauma. Kertzer’s essay, “Circular Journeys and Glass Bridges: The Geography of Postmemory”, constructs a map of postmemory, one whose coordinates position it temporally within the second generation, and representationally within the discourse of adult texts. Asking numerous locational questions, it asserts that postmemory’s geography is a map that we rarely share with children, that the representation of memory in children's books is very different from the representation of postmemory in adult texts.
Kathy Mezei is Professor in the Humanities and English Departments at Simon Fraser University. Her research interests are Canadian literature, Quebec literature and translation, modern British fiction, Virginia Woolf, and feminist literary criticism. Recently she has guest-edited a special issue of BC Studies (winter 2003/04) and a special forum of Signs (Spring 2002). Mezei's essay, “Domestic Space and the Idea of Home in Auto/biographical Practices”, examines how domestic spaces—houses and gardens—and the detritus of domestic life, along with everyday objects and rituals, function as structural and thematic devices in visual and literary representations, from photography to memoirs by Mary Gordon and Dionne Brand.
Jeanne Perreault is Professor in the Department of English at the University of Calgary. She has published widely in the fields of American women’s writing, theories of subjectivity, race and gender, and Native Canadian and American literature.She is the author of Writing Selves: Contemporary Feminist Autography, and “Imagining Sisterhood, Again” for a special issue of Prose Studies, edited by Cynthia Huff. Perreault’s essay, “Muriel Rukeyser: Egodocuments and the Ethics of Propaganda”, examines the unpublished materials Muriel Rukeyser produced during her period as a propagandist in the Office of War Information. Perreault argues that these papers can be read as “egodocuments” or life-writings, asserting Rukeyser’s deeply held ethical and poetic sense of self.
Cheryl Suzack is Assistant Professor of Native literatures in the Department of English at the University of Alberta. She has edited the critical edition of In Search of April Raintree and is at work on a teaching edition of Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed. Her paper in this collection represents a longer project that explores the relationship between law and literature and the representation of Aboriginal/indigenous peoples as juridical subjects. Suzack’s essay, “Law Stories as Life Stories: Jeanette Lavell, Yvonne Bédard, and Halfbreed”, begins by discussing the problematics of representation for Aboriginal women who have sought access to legal intervention through the courts. It explores how court cases assert a raced subjectivity for Aboriginal peoples that informs the logic of the court’s decision-making process. Next, it analyzes how this legal context impinges on literary/critical debates about the politics of Aboriginal womens writing to illustrate how literature critiques state-imposed categories of race and gender subjectivity so as to assert cross-cultural community affiliations. The essay focuses on the reinstatement claims of Jeannette Lavell and Yvonne Bedard to offer an alternative social narrative of Aboriginal women's agency in relation to the politics of gender identity articulated through Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed.
Linda Warley is Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Waterloo. She has published widely on Canadian, Native, and postcolonial autobiographies and is currently writing a book about twentieth-century autobiographical works, in print and Internet genres, created by “ordinary” Canadians. In “Reading the Autobiographical in Personal Home Pages” Linda Warley brings the methods of literary studies and new media studies together in order to conduct a close analysis of one academic’s personal home page. She examines how particular design choices shape a “self” that at times conforms to familiar modes of self-representation and sometimes challenges them. The essay models one approach to analyzing multimodal autobiographical texts that are published online.


The essays in Tracing the Autobiographical work with the literatures of several nations to reveal the intersections of broad agendas (for example, national ones) with the personal, the private, and the individual. Attending to ethics, exile, tyranny, and hope, the contributors listen for echoes and murmurs as well as authoritative declarations. They also watch for the appearance of auto/biography in unexpected places, tracing patterns from materials that have been left behind. Many of the essays return to the question of text or traces of text, demonstrating that the language of autobiography, as well as the textualized identities of individual persons, can be traced in multiple media and sometimes unlikely documents, each of which requires close textual examination. These “unlikely documents” include a deportation list, an art exhibit, reality TV, Web sites and chat rooms, architectural spaces, and government memos, as well as the more familiar literary genres—a play, the long poem, or the short story.
Interdisciplinary in scope and contemporary in outlook, Tracing the Autobiographical is a welcome addition to autobiography scholarship, focusing on non-traditional genres and on the importance of location and place in life writing.
Read the chapter “Gender, Nation, and Self-Narration: Three Generations of Dayan Women in Palestine/Israel” by Bina Freiwald on the Concordia University Library Spectrum Research Repository website.


Since 1995, the Life Writing series has established itself as a major forum for showcasing primary sources and theoretical work in the field of autobiography studies in Canada.... International in scope Tracing the Autobiographical unsettles the generic boundaries of auto/biography (the slash consisten witha programmatic effort to blur the lines) and offers a variety of innovative reading strategies and interdisciplinary approaches.... Reading these contributions is not only an intellectual feast, but also an ethical encounter with lives lived by people who have left only fragments or traces of themselves.... Resonating with the themes of `ethics, tyranny, and hope' several of the essays present a testimony of pain and erasure that leaves the reader profoundly moved.

- Eva C. Karpinski, University of Toronto Quarterly, Letters in Canada 2005, Volume 76, number 1, Winter 2007, 2008 January

This is a fascinating collection, full of innovative reading practices and `egodocuments.'... All of these critics are attuned to the more performative notions of selfhood, the contingent, and historical projections of the self in texts.... Autobiography writing and critism is now sharp and exciting, and as it happens much of the best is also Canadian.... Tracing the Autobiographical ...

- Gillian Whitlock, Canadian Literature, 196, Spring 2008, 2008 August