Kim Schoof | Literature as “compearance-attestation”

Kim Schoof | Open Universiteit | Literature as “compearance-attestation”: conceptualizing and interpreting contemporary autobiographical literature as aesthetic attestation to the political self

In the last decades, the popularity of autobiographical literature has increased in such a way that today, ‘it qualifies as a cultural obsession’. (diBattista and Wittman, The Cambridge Companion to Autobiography 2014: 1) While postmodern philosophy criticized the idea that anyone can attest directly to their “true” experiences in written text, writers – feeling encouraged rather than disheartened – never stopped finding creative and aesthetic ways to do so. In fact, many contemporary autobiographical works of literature, such as Edouard Louis’ The End of Eddy (2014), Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015), and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (2015), have been widely embraced as exemplary testimonials to what it means to live as an individual in specific political circumstances in today’s world.

Life Writing Studies still lack a fitting conception of these contemporary works of autobiographical literature that at the same time accounts for 1) their rootedness in the true experiences of writers, 2) their literariness, and 3) their political implications. This project will develop such an approach by introducing the hermeneutic concept of self-attestation in Life Writing Studies, a concept that accounts for the first two of these characteristics. Furthermore, by incorporating the critique that postmodern philosophers have formulated on the concept of self-attestation, this project will develop a more up-to-date version of the concept, that elucidates the ways in which individuals in today’s world are defined by their political relations to others: “compearance-attestation”. Literary analyses of several important contemporary works of autobiographical literature will be the end goal of this project.