Beyond Endings: Past Tenses and Future Imaginaries

‘Which I Presume is Permitted, Since We Are Talking About A Writer.’ Lateness, Memory, and Imagination in Literary Autobiography


  • Melissa Schuh Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel



late style, memory, literary autobiography, fictionality


In Summertime, a fictional biographer, Mr Vincent, conducts interviews with contemporaries of the novelist J.M. Coetzee for a biography of the late author. However, every claim made about the late Coetzee by the characters in Summertime is composed by the author himself, so the hidden, yet obvious presence of the novelist gives the book’s supposedly biographical outlook an autobiographical twist. Summertime’s Coetzee is distinctly both alive and dead. I propose to analyse works such as Summertime as literary autobiographies that employ narrative strategies otherwise found in fiction in order to creatively explore lateness, belatedness, and a sense of ending with regard to their writing life. Performative contradiction, as a deliberate stylistic manifestation of paradoxical contradictions, is a result of such narrative strategies. This enables a portrayal of memory and sincerity in autobiography that acknowledges the fraught nature of these notions. Drawing on autobiographical writing by novelists, such as Coetzee, Philip Roth, and Günter Grass, this article analyses the use of tense and fictionality to create performative contradiction. It shows how the novelist’s memory and imagination engage with the ever-present possibility of death to subvert traditional ideas of lateness as well as perceived limitations to the temporality of autobiographical writing.

Author Biography

Melissa Schuh, Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel

Dr Melissa Schuh completed her PhD titled The (Un-)Making of the Novelist’s Identity in the English department at Queen Mary University of London in 2019 and is a lecturer in English Literature at Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel. Her research interests include English and German contemporary fiction, specifically the works of Philip Roth, J.M. Coetzee and Günter Grass, autobiography and life writing, as well as seriality and Modernism. Recent publications include an article on Günter de Bruyn in German Life and Letters, titled ‘Das “richtige Leben im falschen” – Autoritäre Systeme und die Einheit von Widerstand und Anpassung in Günter de Bruyn’s Zwischenbilanz und Vierzig Jahre’ (2018).





Beyond Endings: Past Tenses and Future Imaginaries