What is it about?

This introduction to a guest-edited special focus issue on Autofiction and Autotheory of American Book Review traces some of the origins of the contemporary debates around autofiction and its newer counterpart, autotheory, bringing the voices of foundational figures like Serge Doubrovsky, Philippe Vilain, or Marie Darrieussecq in dialogue with more recent approaches by theorists of autofiction, like Arnaud Schmitt, and by practitioners like Tope Folarin. The central question the introductory text asks is whether autofiction and autotheory, which both started out as subversive genres, designed to challenge the status-quo, are sometimes used as generic labels which enhance the visibility of some writers (predominantly white) while excluding others. The contributions in the special issue pick up this reflection theme, analyzing autofictions and autotheory works at both ends of the spectrum (refugee autofictions, autotheory books by BIPOC and queer writers, etc. as well as ambivalent, slippery works that flirt with neoliberal complicity while attempting to maintain an aesthetic claim) and engaging with the genre's advocates as well as its detractors.

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Why is it important?

This text appears at the time of a shift from a conceptual focus on autofiction to a focus on its social implications. Reflecting on this turn in the approaches to autofiction, the introduction also looks back on the theories of previous decades and traces a logical link that connects the ways in which the genre was established to the responsibilities it is assuming in the present. Furthermore, the introduction challenges critics and literary reviewers to think carefully about the effects of apparently neutral conceptual labels. Finally, by bringing in the very recent evolution within the field of autotheory, the text (and the entire special issue) programmatically calls for a reconsideration of theoretical discourses' capacity for inclusiveness and also warns against the paradoxical complicities with dominant ideologies that might stem from pursuing a theoretical direction to its last consequences. In a context where labels can easily create polarization, this special issue tries to foster a return to nuance in the study of autofiction and autotheory.


For me, as a scholar of biofiction, exploring autofiction and autotheory in this special issue was a welcome change of setting and a useful supplement to my understanding of hybrid literary genres. As the two traditions (biofiction and autofiction) are increasingly interconnected in current literary production, I feel that scholars of each genre have every reason to acquire a background in the other. Revisiting autofiction has certainly brought me back to biofiction with a fresh perspective. I am extremely grateful to my collaborators, many of them experts in autofiction, for their very inspiring contributions and for all I have learned from their work.

Laura Cernat
Associatie KU Leuven

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Introduction: Autofiction, Autotheory, and Regimes of Visibility, American Book Review, June 2022, Project Muse,
DOI: 10.1353/abr.2022.0036.
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