The Critical "I" (Roundtable)


Global Anglophone / Comparative Literature

David Bahr (Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY)

This roundtable examines the explored and unexplored possibilities of the autobiographical “I” in academic scholarship and literary criticism. Although it can be argued that much academic criticism has an autobiographical basis, in terms of what animates an author’s passion and interest, the inclusion of the self is often discouraged because of its perceived lack of objectivity and/or rigueur. Furthermore, effective use of autobiography in scholarly writing can be difficult to employ, as autobiographical and scholarly concerns should, ideally, complement each other, with the personal advancing the scholarly project; on the other hand, its exclusion may hamper or falsify the critical work being done.

Justification: Scholars of life writing, such as Nancy K. Miller (Enough About Me), have often included the personal in their scholarly projects. Yet, what might those traditionally marginalized by race, class, gender, sexuality, culture, and religion, add to various academic disciplines because of their personal experience. The social science forum Artic anthropology, addressing the combined disciplines of ethnography and biography, queried: “If, as [anthropologist] Michael Herzfeld has argued, the combination of these two genres as ‘ethnographic biography’ promises to overcome the vexing and ultimately specious divide between individual, socio-cultural and historical domains of experience, how might scholars across diverse fields take advantage of this potential?” Furthermore, creative scholars, such Wayne Koestenbaum (The Queen’s Throat) and, more recently, Louis Bury (Exercises in Criticism), have employed poetic, autobiographical aspects in their critical work, while encouraging scholars to look at the critical work done by autobiographical creative writers such as Geoff Dyer (Out of Sheer Rage). My interest in this issue derives from my struggle to write creatively and theoretically about my experience as a former foster child with no extant family or personal records. My project critically examines embodied memories and trauma that have escaped conventional narrative structures and language. This roundtable will provide creative scholars with an opportunity to discuss the challenges and potential of the critical "I."

This roundtable examines the explored and unexplored possibilities (and challenges) of the autobiographical “I” in academic scholarship and literary criticism, both inside and outside the academy. Although it can be argued that much academic criticism has an autobiographical basis, in terms of what animates an author’s passion and interest, the inclusion of the self is often discouraged because of its perceived lack of objectivity and/or rigueur. Furthermore, effective use of autobiography in scholarly writing can be difficult to employ, as autobiographical and scholarly concerns should, ideally, complement each other, with the personal advancing the critical project; on the other hand, its exclusion may hamper or falsify the critical work being done. Proposals representing a variety of disciplinary perspectives, historical eras, and methodological approaches are all welcome.