On Unreliability of Memories: J.M. Coetzee’s Autofictional Trilogy
J.M. Coetzee’s loose, reminiscent trilogy Boyhood (1997), Youth (2002) and Summertime (2009) constitutes an ingenious experiment in autobiographical writing. Using the example of his own life, Coetzee thematizes a wide range of questions concerning the possibilities of memoir writing and blurs the traditionally defined boundary between factual and fictional narrative. In my paper, I will attempt to place Coetzee’s autobiographical trilogy in the broader context of autofictional literature or fictionalized autobiography, and I will point out a few parallels with Czech literature. To begin with, let me briefly discuss the concept of autofiction.
According to Frank Zipfel, the term autofiction can be understood in three different ways (2008: 36–37). He states that the term was first used by the French writer and critic Serge Doubrovsky in the preface to his autobiography Fils (1977). In Fils, Doubrovsky employed techniques that were not common in the genre of autobiography (fictionalized passages, jumbled chronology, unusual narrative strategies), but without inventing things, still aiming to tell the truth about his life. The term became more widely known mainly thanks to Gérard Genette, who used it to denote a fictional homodiegetic narrative in which the narrator has the same name as the author. The third conception of autofiction relates it to a contradictory, double author-reader contract: “the autobiographical contract demanding the author to tell the truth about his life, and the fictional contract allowing fabulation and invention” (Zipfel 2008: 36). Autofiction thus supplies contradictory reading instructions: on the one...
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