Beyond the Subject – towards the Object? Nancy K. Miller’s What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past (2011) and the Materiality of Life Writing
In contrast to a long scholarly tradition that “separated subject from object, mind from matter” (Hodder 2012, p. 15), current writers of autobiography do no longer ignore the fact that “the content of our so-called inner lives comes heavily freighted with material from outer sources” (Eakin 2009, p. 102). The focus on things runs counter to internal and essential concepts of selfhood as they are rooted in Western thinking and rather make visible the material world, the body and the environment as formative factors of selfhood. It thereby contrasts the Cartesian concept of self founded on thought and reflection with a concept of self based on materiality. Drawing on Nancy K. Miller’s autobiography What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past (2011) this paper will demonstrate that autobiographical objects foster a relational concept of self that is situated in the in-betweenness of subject and object, ego and autre as well as between the biographical and the autobiographical. Thus, the integration of objects highlights the fact that existence is not an individual affair, but that an autobiographical self emerges through and as part of his/her entangledness. Connected to this is the observation that objects function as a form of resistance against the processes of mind based epistemology and make a plea for “situated knowledges” (Haraway 1988).Finally, the essay takes a glimpse at some contemporary autobiographies from Britain, Sweden and Germany to illustrate that object-based life writing and the specific epistemology connected to it are worthy of further investigation.
This article was submitted to the European Journal of Life Writing on May 6th 2015 and published on March 5th 2016.
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