The Afterlives of Those Who Write Themselves. Rethinking Autobiographical Archives
Keywords:textual afterlives, archives of feelings and impressions, remediation and/as afterlife, digital afterlives
As those who write themselves, life narrators are readers, interpreters, and curators of the archival material, both intimate and impersonal, accrued during their lifetimes. These materials form an archival pre-life that is extended and complemented by posthumous remediations of their narrated lives. Personal archives may include writing in journals and diaries, digital exchanges on social media and blogs, documents, and images in photographs and drawings, as well as the ephemera of recorded memories and impressions; as this archive is activated in life writing, its texts project an archival imaginary. Once a life narrative enters public circulation, the archive of self accrues future ‘afterlives’ as it is edited, reframed, and remediated in subsequent editions and by translation into other languages or media for different reading publics, both during and after a writer’s life.
The interactive relationship of self-archives and afterlives makes clear that the texts of self-life-writing, whether published or unpublished, complete or fragmentary, are objects of inquiry in movement – not transparent, stable phenomena that generate ‘truth,’ but dynamic sites open to interpretation in their textual afterlives. An autobiographical narrative is, thus, never just ‘the life’: supplements, remediations, and new versions are created in interactions with the practices and positions of new generations of readers. This essay takes up the iterative, interactive, and intersubjective dynamics of autobiographical archives and the temporalities of autobiographical afterlives in eight exemplary cases of life writing. Observing autobiographical archives in their histories of circulation, republication, and repurposing situates the question of afterlives as a mode of ‘beyond endings’ in larger debates about ethical reading, methodological constraint, and theoretical adequacy.
Copyright (c) 2020 Sidonie Smith, Julia Watson
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