Are Autobiographies Literature?

Contemporary literature puts a lot of emphasis on the “inspired by true events.” The fictional, which by definition means invented, imagined into existence, sustained by the magic of the arts, no longer interests the modern day reader. Literature must have, at its foundations, a bit of the real world, an element from an author’s biography, as if better understanding reality can only be done when reading about “true events.”

But what is true? What is real? What happened? What didn’t?

The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini is considered to be the first autobiographic work in the history of literature, even though Saint Augustine’s Confessions predates it by quite a few centuries.

Even so, it’s not until the eighteenth century, with the works of Rousseau and Goethe, that the autobiography finds its way into mainstream literature.

But what does it mean?

The author is the same as the narrator, the autobiography having as main theme the man behind the curtains. It seems to me that one writes about oneself in an attempt to create his own identity for any reader who might pick up his book.

This is my story, this is who I am.

Now, remind me how’s that any different from fiction? From Science Fiction?

Maybe it’s different because an autobiography is all truth; it’s a medium of complete honesty, the road map of an unique and strange individual. It’s the expression of a brilliant destiny.

Suspension of disbelief is no longer needed, even though, in most cases, truth is stranger than fiction. I strenuously believe that the one argument we can make in favor of autobiographies being literature is that the person who writes such a book must have some extraordinary tales to tell.

Autobiographies reside at the frontier between reality and desire, combining self-delusion, pure fantasy, confessions, self-loathing, pride, an inflated sense of self, into something that, if we were to check and double check, would surely be farther from the truth than one might like it to be.

Psychologists claim that our memories change over time. Whenever we recall a certain event, the way we perceive it changes. According to our thoughts and feelings. We actually do change our past, giving everything that has happened to us new meaning every single time we remember it.

I believe that we all wish to live a life of epic proportions. Maybe one is not aware of this element unless one sits down at his desk and begins to write about himself as if he were another.

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One thought on “Are Autobiographies Literature?

  1. In my opinion, fiction novels always seem to be based on true events, unless they are futuristic or dystopian books like 1984 or Hunger Games, in which case they are based on what the author considers will be based on futuristic events.

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