‘Which I Presume is Permitted, Since We Are Talking About A Writer.’ Lateness, Memory, and Imagination in Literary Autobiography
Keywords: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.
Copyright (c) 2020 Melissa Schuh
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