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Tarot Hermeneutics

Exploring How We Create Meaning with Tarot

Autobiography as Tarot Practice

When a reader consults tarot cards they are usually seeking commentary upon issues or themes in someone's life story. It does not matter whether it is for the self or another, the way the cards are read and perhaps the spread selected is situated in the stream of a self-telling story.

The narrative stream of the tarot reading is usually maintained by the reader. The card meanings offer recurrent eddies that might not otherwise emerge as topical to the self-engendering story.

Here I list styles of autobiography with commentary on how each may be reflected in Spreads and Card meaning applications. I derive this list from the first Appendix in Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. (University of Minnesota Press)

Autobiographical writing is redefining the meaning of narrative, as the recent explosion of memoirs by writers such as Frank McCourt, Mary Karr, Dave Eggers, and Kathryn Harrison suggests. But what's involved in bringing these narratives into the classroom-in creative writing, cultural studies, women's and ethnic studies, and social science and literature courses? How may instructors engage the philosophical, historical, social, and theoretical contexts of the emerging field of autobiography studies?

Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, two authorities in the field, distill their diverse forays into life writing in a concise yet far-reaching overview of key terms, issues, histories, and texts in autobiography studies. Reading Autobiography is a step-by-step introduction to the differences of autobiography from fiction and biography; the components of autobiographical acts; such core concepts as memory, experience, identity, agency, and the body; the textual and critical history of the field; and prospects for future research. Organized as a user-friendly handbook, it includes a glossary of keywords, suggestions for teaching, and extensive primary and secondary bibliographies.

I adapt some of Smith and Watson's distinctions but here with the focus upon how tarot may shape and reshape the self-telling and living subject consulting the cards.

Perhaps in the near future some tarotists will publish explicit memoirs and autobiographical stories based on sustained regular tarot consultation as in journaling and self-exploration and self-remapping.  Here I offer a term of this general practice: autotarography.

Typography of Self-Narrative: a List of Terms

Adapted from the first Appendix in Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. (University of Minnesota Press)

As self narrators tell or write their stories, they assign meaning to events, behaviors, and psychological processes that differ widely over time, place, belief system, and social position. Likewise tarot readings vary tremendously from reader to reader as they are applied to self life stories. As subjects of historically and culturally specific understandings of memory, experience, identity, embodiment, and agency, they both reproduce the various ways in which they have been culturally read and critique the limits of those cultural modes of self-narrating. Tarot cards [as defined traditionally as a set of 22 trumps, (21 numbered, 1 unnumbered),  4 sets (1, wands, 2, cups, 3, swords, 4, pentacles or coins) of pips of 10 each numbered ace through 10 and 4 sets of court cards of four persons each, usually of page, knight, queen and king usually totaling 78 cards in all] offer a complex  symbolic platform through which self and value are gauged. Through reading their lives within and against the terms of life narrative, they shift those terms and invite different ways of being read. That is, consciously and unconsciously, autobiographical subjects and tarot readings register their complicity with and resistance to the terms of cultural self-locating they inherit. In the contexts of those tensions they give shape to alternative modes of address and interpretation, each with its own defining characteristics. Established generic modes mutate and new generic possibilities emerge.

Here I offer a glossary of selected genres of life narrative, with brief definitions of their features as they may be applied to tarot reading. Some of these genres may discussed more extensively in other parts of this web.

Apology. A form of self-presentation as self-defense against the allegations or attacks of others, an apology justifies one's own deeds, beliefs, and way of life. Typically, the formal genre of the apology admits wrongdoing or expresses regret primarily to excuse its speaker. The mode is famously employed by Socrates in Plato's Apology and by Montaigne in the "Apology for Raimond Sebond." Apology is both a genre in itself and, as Francis Hart notes, a major stance of self-presentation in personal narratives, and often in the autobiographical writings of statesmen. Former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, for instance, writes a justification of his positions and role during the Vietnam War in his 1995 In Retrospect. Women writing in the mode of apology often mount a defense of women's intellectual and moral equality, as do Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Women and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in The Response.
With tarot the apology is set forth as attack and defense as narrative but mediating motifs are suggested by interogating random draws of cards as well as presentations of alternative views. Other approaches are possible

Autobiographies. Leigh Gilmore proposed the term autobiographies to suggest how many women's life narratives transgress received genre norms. She defines autobiographies as "those changing elements of the contradictory discourses and practices of truth and identity" and explores how the autobiographical is constituted in a wide range of women's personal narratives (Autobiographies, 13).

Tarot: Self story as reformed by time and contexts. I am not I but the I am is by the roles I assume because of the people I serve and am intimate with. Tarot card readingss over time offer the weft by which difference and conditionality represent unfoldings selves as plurality in unity.

Auto/biography, or a/b. This acronym signals the interrelatedness of autobiographical narrative and biography. Although the slash marks their fluid boundary, they are in several senses different, even opposed, forms. The term also designates a mode of the autobiographical that inserts biography/ies within an autobiography, or the converse, a personal narrative within a biography. Older instances of this form include Margaret Cavendish's biography of her husband to which she appended her own brief autobiographical narrative. More recent instances include John Edgar Wideman's Brothers and Keepers, in which Wideman's biographical narrative of his imprisoned brother is entwined with his own memory of growing up in the harsh urban environment of Pittsburgh. While earlier forms tended to distinguish biography from autobiography, contemporary writers often intermix biographical and autobiographical narrating into a "relational" story. (See Relational autobiography.)


Autobiography in the second person. In this style of address the narrating "I" puts the narrated "I" in the second person as "you" and conflates or confounds that "you" with the reader, though it is also understood as the subject talking to her- or himself. For example, in Patterns of Childhood, Christa Wolf often uses the second person to address both her childhood memories and those of Germans during the Hitler years. In Wasted, Marya Hornbacher shifts into "you" to insist on her reader's identification with her descent into the dark night of the anorexic's self-erasure, personalizing the generalized pattern of the anorexic's struggle with her diminishing body and absorbing hungers.

Autobiography in the third person. Yet another style of address, here the narrating "I" refers to the narrated "I" in the third person as he or she. Philippe Lejeune characterizes this as a situation in which one narrator pretends to be two. Another way to describe this style is to understand the "I" as an implied narrator ventriloquating the "he" or "she." But why have recourse to autobiography in the third person? Jean Starobinski suggests that "though seemingly a modest form, autobiographical narrative in the third person accumulates and makes compatible events glorifying the hero who refuses to speak in his own name" (77). In this style, the narrator seems to take on "the impersonal role of historian" (77), presenting the protagonist in the third person. But the covert identification of the author and third-person pronoun belies this apparent objectivity. And, as the third-person self-presentation of Henry Adams in The Education of Henry Adams suggests, the role of an apparent self-historian may be ironic and self-deprecating, rather than heroic.

Autoethnography. In the autoethnographic mode of life narrative, according to Mary Louise Pratt, "colonized subjects undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the colonizer's own terms" (Imperial Eyes, 7). Pratt argues that indigenous or oppressed subjects, in taking up writing, may both collaborate with and appropriate a colonizer's (or dominant culture's) discursive models, thereby "transculturating" them into indigenous idioms and producing hybrid forms of collectivized life narrative. Autoethnography emphasizes "how subjects are constituted in and by their relations to each other" in "the contact zone" of cultural encounter (7), and how the identities of dominant and subordinated subjects interlock and interact despite histories of radically uneven power relations. The concept of autoethnography is related to such terms as "auto-anthropology," defined by Marilyn Strathern as "anthropology carried out in the social context which produced it" and "self ethnographic texts" as defined by David Hayano. These and other related concepts, such as the "native ethnography," the study of one's own group, and "ethnographic autobiography," a life narrative of ethnographic interest, are discussed in detail by Deborah Reed-Danahay (1-9).

Autofiction. This is the French term for autobiographical fiction, or fictional narrative in the first-person mode. Ultimately, the attempt to distinguish "autobiography" from "autobiographical fiction" may, as Paul Jay argues, be "pointless" (16) "for if by 'fictional' we mean 'made up,' `created,' or 'imagined'—something, that is, which is literary and not 'real'—then we have merely defined the ontological status of any text, autobiographical or not" (16). Despite the difficulty of fixing the boundary between fiction and autobiography, the reader comes to an autobiographical text with the expectation that the protagonist is a person living in the experiential world, not a fictional character, and that the narrative will be a transparent, truthful view of that world. But, as the autofiction of Roland Barthes in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (1975) and others in France in the 1970s suggests, no definitive truth about the past self may be available. The referential "real" assumed to be "outside" a text cannot be written; the subject is inescapably an unstable fiction; and the autobiography-fiction boundary remains illusory. While autobiographical storytelling employs fictional tactics and genres, however, autofiction uses textual markers that signal a deliberate, often ironic, interplay between the two modes.

Autography. Jeanne Perreault used this term to characterize the instability of both the "I" and the category "woman" in feminist narratives. "In autography" she suggests, "I find a writing whose affect is to bring into being a 'self' that the writer names 'I,' but whose parameters and boundaries resist the monadic" (2). That is, in autobiography the collective "we" of feminist communities is seen as constitutive of a written "I" in continuous interplay with that community. Autography is also used by H. Porter Abbott to characterize the ways in which Samuel Beckett interweaves first-person voices and issues of self-reference into his fictional narratives.

Autogynography. Domna C. Stanton's influential essay, "Autogynography: Is the Subject Different?," proposed this term to suggest the centrality of gendered subjectivity to the literary production of self-referential acts. Although Stanton offers a postmodern critique of the unexamined belief in referentiality, she argues that the textuality of the psychic splitting of woman's subjectivity must be located in her "different status in the symbolic order." And she concludes that women's "gendered narrative involved a different plotting and configuration of the split subject" (16). Stanton notes that, at the moment of second-wave feminism in which she was writing, "the gender of the author" "did make a difference" because the refusal of the referential status of the signature threatened to perpetuate "female anonymity" (18-19).

Autopathography. G. Thomas Couser first used this term to characterize personal narratives about illness or disability that contest cultural discourses stigmatizing the writer as abnormal, aberrant, or in some sense pathological. Couser has suggested that such narratives be seen, instead, as "antipathological" because "in my experience the impulse to write a first-person illness narrative is often the impulse to depathologize one's condition" (Couser, correspondence). The term autopathography, however, remains useful to distinguish first-person illness narratives from those told by another, in the third person. Its focus is typically not on the medical condition or details of treatment. Rather, it critiques social constructions of the disabled body and incorporates a counternarrative of survival and empowerment that reclaims the individual's or a loved one's body from the social stigmatization and the impersonalization of medical discourse. (See also Anne Hunsaker Hawkins on pathography.)

Autothanatography. This term has recently been applied to autobiographical texts that confront illness and death by performing a life at a limit of its own, or another's, undoing. Nancy K. Miller suggests that "autobiography—identity through alterity—is also writing against death twice: the other's and one's own." For Miller, in a sense "every autobiography, we might say, is also an autothanatography," since the prospect of nonexistence looms inescapably ("Representing Others," 12). Susanna Egan, in an extended treatment of autothanatography, focuses on how the attention of recent life narrators to issues of terminal illness "intensifies the rendition of lived experience, the immediacy of crisis, and the revealing processes of self-understanding" in the process of dying (Mirror Talk, 200). AIDS-related autothanatography, Egan notes, confronts death head on: "Death writing becomes preeminently life writing, and a bid to take charge of how that life writing is read" (207). It is "part of a complex claiming of agency" that attempts to connect the organic to the symbolic (208). At the zero-degree of both life and autobiography, with the death of the writing, or visual, or filmic life narrator, "the subject becomes an object entirely exposed to being read, entirely dependent on its reader for constructions of meaning" (212). Indeed, the narrative may be completed by another after the subject's death, as was Tom Joslin's film Silverlake Life: The View from Here (214). Egan suggests that even in monologic autothanatographies, such as Audre Lorde's The Cancer Journals and a burst of light, the text is dialogic, the voice polyphonic, in integrating the anticipation of death into living (215). Making a record of living in a text that outlives the life, autothanatographies intensively "focus on illness, pain, and imminent death as crucial to the processes of that life" (224).

Autotopography. This term was coined by Jennifer A. Gonzales to define how a person's integral objects become, over time, so imprinted with the "psychic body" that they serve as autobiographical objects. The personal objects may be serviceable, such as clothing or furniture; but they may also be physical extensions of the mind—photographs, heirlooms, souvenirs, icons, and so forth: "These personal objects can be seen to form a syntagmatic array of physical signs in a spatial representation of identity" (133). Organized into collections, such material memory landscapes might be as elaborate as a home altar or as informal as a display of memorabilia. Autotopographies are invested with multiple and shifting associative meanings; they are idiosyncratic and flexible, although their materiality prevents free-floating signification (144). The autotopography may act either as a revelation or as a kind of screen memory to aid the forgetting of a traumatic moment. An autotopography can also be a space of utopian identification and mythic history, idealizing the subjectivity that is recreated through the material evidence of artifacts (145). Finally, an autotopography may be thought of as a "countersite" to both resist and converse with mass-media images. It draws from life events and cultural identity to build a self-representation as a material and tactical act of personal reflection (147).

Bildungsroman. Traditionally the Bildungsroman has been regarded as the novel of development and social formation of a young man, as in Dickens's Great Expectations. This "apprenticeship novel," argues C. Hugh Holman, "recounts the youth and young manhood of a sensitive protagonist who is attempting to learn the nature of the world, discover its meaning and pattern, and acquire a philosophy of life and 'the art of living' (31). The plot of development may involve escape from a repressive family, schooling, and a journey into the wide world of urban life where encounters with a series of mentors, romantic involvements, and entrepreneurial ventures lead the protagonist to reevaluate assumptions. The Bildungsroman culminates in the acceptance of one's constrained social role in the bourgeois social order, usually requiring the renunciation of some ideal or passion and the embrace of heteronormative social arrangements.

And yet the form of the Bildungsroman has been taken up more recently by women and other disenfranchised persons to consolidate a sense of emerging identity and an increased place in public life. The Bildungsroman can also be used negatively as a norm of assimilation into the dominant culture that is unattainable and must be relinquished, or that produces alienation from the home community. In much women's writing, its plot of development culminates not in integration but in an awakening to gender-based limitations (see Fuderer, 1-6).

Biomythography. This term was coined by Audre Lorde to signal how the re-creation of meaning in one's life is invested in writing that renegotiates cultural invisibility. Lorde redefines life writing as a biography of the mythic self (see Raynaud, "Nutmeg Nestled Inside Its Covering of Mace"), a self she discovers in imaginatively affiliating with a mythic community of other lesbian women. In Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Lorde uses the term to refer to an affiliation with her mother's place of origin and a sisterhood of lesbian friends. In The Cancer Journals, she exemplifies it by combining journal entries and analytical essays to reconstitute herself as an empowered Amazon, a one-breasted warrior/survivor of cancer.

Captivity narrative. An overarching term for any narrative told by someone who is, or has been, held captive by some capturing group. This category includes Indian captivity narratives, slave narratives, spiritual autobiographies, UFO stories, convent captivity stories, and narratives of seduction. Indian captivity narratives, the stories of non-Indians captured by indigenous peoples, have since the sixteenth century numbered in the thousands, many written by or about women. They were produced predominantly in what is now the United States, though some were produced in Canada and Australia and some published in languages other than English. According to Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola, "the Indian captivity narrative concerns the capture of an individual or several family members ... and its plot is most commonly resolved with the captive's escape, ransom, transculturation, or death" (xi).

Case study. This term designates a life narrative that is gathered into a dossier in order to make a diagnosis and identification of a disease or disorder.

This mode of life-reporting is often associated with Freud's extended analyses of the cases of various patients with symptoms such as hysteria and gender-identity disorder. The treatment begins with the patient's producing of a story of unhappiness and illness. The unsatisfactory nature of this first narrative usually lets the analyst "see his way about the case" (66) in gaps, hesitations, inconclusiveness, and changes in dates, times, and places. That is, the narrator/patient presents clues to another story she is unable to tell. Freud's emphasis is on making, with the patient, a new and coherent narrative that, in giving the patient possession of a past life, enables her to own her own story. Another sense of the case study is discussed in Landscape for a Good Woman by Carolyn Kay Steedman, who critiques its ability to embed gendered social history in the story of rural working-class British mothers (130-31).

Chronicle. A form used in classical, medieval, Renaissance, and modern times involving a first-hand account of the history of one's time, and often incorporating earlier histories. The chronicle is connected as a loosely linked series of encounters and exploits.

Collaborative life narrative. A term that indicates the production of an autobiographical text by more than one person through one of the following processes: the as-told-to narrative in which an informant tells an interviewer the story of her life; the ghostwritten narrative of a celebrity recorded, edited, and perhaps even expanded by an interviewer; a coproduced or collectively produced narrative in which individual speakers are not specified or in which one speaker is identified as representative of the group. Collaborative narratives are multiply mediated by the interviewer and editor, and often two or more parties are included in the production of the published story, particularly when translation is required. In collaborations, despite assurances of coproduction, power relations between the teller and recorder/editor are often asymmetrical, with the literarily skilled editor controlling the disposition of the informant's narrative material.

Confession. An oral or written narrative, the confession is addressed to an interlocutor who listens, judges, and has the power to absolve. Confession was originally doubly addressed, to God and to a confessor. Since Augustine's narrative, the double address of the confession has been directed to God and the human reader who needs a narrative explanation of sinfulness and redemption. As Stephen Spender argues in "Confessions and Autobiography," the penitent's "purpose is to tell the exact truth about the person whom he knows most intimately ... himself. His only criterion is naked truth: and usually his truth is naked without being altogether true" (118). Further, he adds, "all confessions are from subject to object, from the individual to the community or creed. Even the most shamelessly revealed inner life pleads its cause before the moral system of an outer, objective life" (120). Confessional life narrative may be a record of some kind of error transformed; it may also be the narrator's attempt to reaffirm communal values or justify their absence (121). Foucault has written extensively on how confession in the West has served to discipline subjects by managing illegitimate desire and producing knowledge about sexuality (History of Sexuality, (58). His analysis has been productively applied to contemporary modes of the confessional such as talk shows, where people's obsessive confessing ritually enacts disorderly desires and behaviors, as well as their containment by the format of the talk show itself (see Peck).

Conversion narrative. This narrative mode is structured around a radical transformation from a faulty "before" self to an enlightened "after" self. The typical pattern involves a fall into a troubled and sensorily confused "dark night of the soul," followed by a moment of revelation, a life and death struggle, a process of reeducation, and a journey to a "new Jerusalem" or site of membership in an enlightened community of like believers. Conversion experiences as varied as those recounted in Frederick Douglass's Narrative, Malcolm X's Autobiography, John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, e. e. cummings' The Enormous Room, and Alcoholics Anonymous narratives share these paradigmatic features.

Diary. A form of periodic life writing, the diary records dailiness in accounts and observations of emotional responses. While diaries may seem incoherent or haphazard in their preoccupations, they "gather force by accretion of experience, always chronological" (Roorbach, 163). And through the force of that accretion, the diarist's voice takes on a recognizable narrative persona (Culley, A Day at a Time, 12). Culley also notes that unlike many oral forms of self-presentation, the self-constructions in the pages of a diary are fixed in time and space, available to the diarist for later viewing, and for comment or emendation (20). In effect, then, the diary is fragmented, revisionary, in process. The immediacy of the genre derives from the diarist's lack of foreknowledge about outcomes of the plot of his life which creates a "series of surprises to writer and reader alike" (21). Some critics distinguish diary from journal by noting that the journal tends to be more a public record and thus less intimate than the diary.

Philippe Lejeune, who does not make a distinction between the diary and the journal, regards diary writing as "an immense field, as yet largely unexplored" and "a social outcast, of no fixed theoretical address" ("Practice of the Private Journal," 202). Lejeune has devoted several books and essays to diaries in the last decade, particularly the French diaries of ordinary people, of girls in the nineteenth century, and of Anne Frank. He asserts that these studies have, in his eyes, "erased the dichotomy between journal and autobiography" (201). Lejeune observes that "the private diary is a practice ... a way of life, whose result is often obscure and does not reflect the life as an autobiographical narrative would do" (187). It has a wide range of functions and forms and may incorporate many kinds of writings, drawings, documents, and objects (191). Perhaps never truly "sincere" or secret, the diary is "motivated by a search for communication, by a will to persuasion" (192). Lejeune suggests several directions for future research: on who keeps diaries and attitudes about them; how one reads another's and one's own journal; and the rights and duties of the diarist. He also calls for the creation of a comprehensive list of journals that have been published or archived and exhibits of private diaries (198-200).

Ecobiography. We propose this term for narratives that interweave the story of a protagonist with the story of the fortunes, conditions, geography, and ecology of a region, and reflect on their connection (and perhaps its failure) as a significant feature of the writing. Terry Tempest Williams's Refuge is a case in point. (For explorations of ecology and narrative, see Dana Phillips on "ecocriticism, literary theory, and the truth of ecology," Lawrence Buell on "the environmental imagination," and The Ecocritism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm.)

Ethnic life narrative. A mode of autobiographical narrative, emergent in ethnic communities within or across nations, that negotiates ethnic identification around multiple pasts and "multiple, provisional axes of organization" (Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong, "Immigrant Autobiography," 160). Within this larger category critics have differentiated immigrant from exile narratives. William Boelhower, following Werner Sollors, presents a trans-ethnic schema of descent and consent through which to read immigrant narratives ("The Making of Ethnic Autobiography"). SauLing Cynthia Wong, critiquing Boelhower's universal ascription of these patterns across ethnic and generational lines, suggests that such a scheme telescopes the experience of different generations into one universal pattern of transindividual ethnic subjectivity and fails to account for generational differences in the mediations of memory and "the historical particularities of various ethnic groups" (160). Narratives of exile inscribe a nomadic subject, set in motion for a variety of reasons and now inhabiting cultural borderlands, who may or may not return "home," but who necessarily negotiates cultural spaces of the in-between where "hybrid, unstable identities" are rendered palpable through the negotiation "between conflicting traditions—linguistic, social, ideological" (Woodhull, 100).

Ethnocriticism. A term proposed by Arnold Krupat for studying Native American and other indigenous cultural productions, particularly life narratives, that methodologically fuse a mixture of anthropology, history, and critical theory. Its focus, Krupat argues, is properly on the frontier, understood as a "shifting space in which two cultures encounter one another," a kind of unmappable social setting in which peoples of different identities meet, though relations in this hemisphere are inevitably within a context of dominant imperialism (Ethnocriticism, 4-5). Ethnocriticism "seeks to traverse rather than occupy a great variety of 'middle grounds" in critical positions (25). Its focus on borders and boundary crossings, the "in-betweenness" of transcultural processes, is expressed in the rhetorical figure of the oxymoron as a process of meaning-making through apparent contradiction (28). Krupat argues that ethnocriticism is situated as a relativist mode of analytic discourse positioned at multiple "frontiers" of historical and cultural encounter. Unlike postmodernist theory, it pursues a form of strategic essentialism (6-8).

In a somewhat similar vein, Georges E. Sioui has proposed the term Amerindian autohistory as a method for enabling a process of what he terms "reverse assimilation." Scholars should study the correspondences of Amerindian and non-Amerindian sources to identify what is original in Native American culture and make Euroamerican immigrants aware of their potential "Americity" if they attend to the model offered by Native people (xxiii).

Genealogy. A method for charting family history, genealogy locates, charts, and authenticates identity by constructing a family tree of descent. Its key concept is the "pedigree" of ancestral evidence based on documents and generational history and verified through fixed protocols, such as trees and charts. Genealogical projects recover the recorded past, which they can verify as an official past. They are interested in the objective documentation of relationship, not in the subjective stories people remember. (See J. Watson, "Ordering the Family.")

Heterobiography.  A term coined by Philippe Lejeune to describe collaborative or as-told-to life narratives as the inverse of what occurs in autobiography in the third person. In third-person narrative there is a narrator who pretends to be another; in heterobiography there are "two who pretend to be only one" (Lejeune, "Autobiograph of Those Who Do Not Write," 264 n. 10). Lejeune also explores the concepts of "auto-ethnology" and the "ethnobiographer" in considering how they redirect the practice of life narrative away from the control of the ethnographer to informants, "those who do not write."

Journal. A form of life writing that records events and occurrences, as in Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year. Some critics distinguish diary from journal by characterizing the journal as a chronicle of public record that is less intimate than the diary. Lejeune, however, does not distinguish between diary and journal, but uses the terms interchangeably. (See the "Diary" entry and Lejeune, "Practice of the Private Journal.")

Journaling. This is the practice of regular, free life writing, emphasized in the journal-writing workshops Ira Progoff has organized and written about.

Letters. A mode of directed, and dated, correspondence with a specific addressee and signatory, letters seem to be private writings, but in the late eighteenth century they began to be understood as both private correspondence expressing the inner feelings of the writing subject and as public documents to be shared within a literary circle. Bernhard Siegert argues that, at that moment, "every self thus became the subject of its own discourse a priori," and the subject was presumed to precede its representation, circulating as its property in the mail (n.p.). Letters become vehicles through which information is circulated, social roles enacted, relationships secured, often in a paradoxical mix of intimacy and formality. And they are highly stylized in terms of conventions of politeness and modes of conveying information that are implicated in ideologies of gender, ethnicity, class, and nationality. Often letters remain unpublished. But some famous correspondences, such as those of Abelard and Héloise, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to friends, and Hester Lynch Piozzi (Thrale) and Samuel Johnson, have been published and critically studied for their interactional modes of self-presentation.

Life writing. An overarching term used for a variety of nonfictional modes of writing that claim to engage the shaping of someone's life. The writing of one's own life is autobiographical, the writing of another's biographical; but that boundary is sometimes permeable. (See Relational autobiography.)

Life narrative. A term distinguishing the writing of one's own life from that of another's. (See Relational autobiography.) Our understanding of the acts and practices of narrating one's life, which calls into question a narrowed definition associated with what we've termed canonical or traditional autobiography in chapter 5, encompasses this broader term life narrative for the writing of one's own life.

Meditation. A prominent form of self-reflexive writing during the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. According to Louis Lohr Martz, the "meditation" is a rigorous exercise in self-contemplation whose aim "is the state of devotion" (15). When the meditation is put into literary form, its emphasis is on "a process of the mind rather than a particular subject-matter" (324) as the narrator seeks "the work of special grace" (16). The history of self-reflexive meditation in nonfictional prose can be traced through Montaigne's Essays, Donne's sermons, Browne's "Religio Medici," Pascal's Pensés, Francis de Sales's An Introduction to a Devout Life, Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle, and, more recently, Thoreau's Walden and Yeats's A Vision. Poetry as well offers occasions for meditation, as in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Paul Valéry, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wallace Stevens, and T. S. Eliot. The meditative poem, writes Martz, "is a work that creates an interior drama of the mind; this dramatic action is usually (though not always) created by some form of self-address, in which the mind grasps firmly a problem or situation deliberately evoked by the memory, brings it forward toward the full light of consciousness, and concludes with a moment of illumination, where the speaker's self has, for a time, found an answer to its conflicts" (330). Meditative discourse is interwoven in many life narratives and is prominent in such texts as Thomas Merton's The Seven-Storey Mountain and Dorothy Day's The Long Loneliness.

Memoir. A mode of life narrative that historically situates the subject in a social environment, as either observer or participant; the memoir directs attention more toward the lives and actions of others than to the narrator. Memoirs have been published in many contexts. Domestic memoirs, written as private narratives, focus on accounts of family life. Secular memoirs, written by public figures such as diplomats and soldiers, emphasize life in the public sphere, chronicling professional careers and activities of historical import. In contemporary parlance autobiography and memoir are used interchangeably. But distinctions are relevant. As Lee Quinby notes, "[Whereas autobiography promotes an 'I' that shares with confessional discourse an assumed interiority and an ethical mandate to examine that interiority, memoirs promote an 'I' that is explicitly constituted in the reports of the utterances and proceedings of others. The 'I' or subjectivity produced in memoirs is externalized and ... dialogical" ("Subject of Memoirs," 299). For Nancy K. Miller "memoir is fashionably postmodern, since it hesitates to define the boundaries between private and public, subject and object." Central for Miller is the etymological root of the word in the double act of recalling and recording: "To record means literally to call to mind, to call up from the heart. At the same time, record means to set down in writing, to make official. What resides in the province of the heart is also what is exhibited in the public space of the world" (Bequest and Betrayal, 43).

Oral history. In this technique for gathering a story, an interviewer listens to, records, shapes, and edits the life story of another. In oral history the one who speaks is not the one who writes, and the one who writes is often an absent presence in the text who nonetheless controls its narrative. Oral history is, then, a mediated form of personal narrative that depends on an interviewer who intervenes to collect and assemble a version of the stories that are situated and changing. Sherna Berger Gluck and Daphne Patai, together and separately, have published oral histories and given suggestions on how to conduct them.

Otobiography. Jacques Derrida proposed this term in a lecture and discussion on Nietzsche and the politics of the proper name. In this lecture Derrida deconstructs the "problematic of the biographical within philosophy" by recuperating the signature in the discourse of Hegel, where it is apparently subordinated, and asserting its deferral in Nietzsche, where it seems writ large (56-57). Exploring "the difference in the ear," Derrida transforms auto into oto, asserting that "The ear of the other says me to me and constitutes the autos of my autobiography." That is, the autobiographical signature (the proper name) in a sense is activated on the addressee's side, in its hearing and apprehension; and further, "the structure of textuality" itself is testamentary, entrusted to the other (50-51). Nietzsche notes, of Derrida, "When he writes himself to himself, he writes himself to the other who is infinitely far away and who is supposed to send his signature back to him." His self-relation is inescapably deferred by "the necessity of this detour through the other in the form of the eternal return" (88). Finally, the autobiographical is the fort-da of self-relation, "the effect of a process of ex-appropriation which produces only perspectives, readings without truth, differences, intersections of affect, a whole 'history' whose very possibility has to be disinscribed and reinscribed" (74).

Oughtabiography. Coined by Chon Noriega, this term designates life narratives focused on all the things one should have done (personal communication). As a discourse of regret and remorse, oughtabiography is woven through many narratives—of, for example, Rousseau, Henry Adams, Robert Burton. A sustained study, however, has not yet been undertaken.

Periautography. This term is used by James Olney to mean "writing about or around the self" as one mode of life narrative he takes up in Memory and Narrative. He notes that the term was first used in the seventeenth century by Count Gian Artico di Porcia, who proposed that Italian scholars write their memoirs to benefit the young, a call to which Vico responded with a new mode of autobiography. Olney states, "What I like about the term `periautography' ... is precisely its indefinition and lack of generic rigor, its comfortably loose fit and generous adaptability" (xv).

Personal essay. A mode of writing that is literally a self-trying-out, the personal essay is a testing ("assay") of one's own intellectual, emotional, and physiological responses to a given topic. Since its development by Montaigne as a form of self-exploration engaging received wisdom, the essay has been a site of self-creation through giving one's perspective on the thoughts of others.

Poetic autobiography. A mode of the lyric distinguished, according to James Olney, not by content but by "the formal device of recapitulation and recall" ("Some Versions of Memory," 252). It may appear that all lyric poetry is life narrative in that the speaker of the lyric inscribes a subjective self as he or she explores emotions, vision, and intellectual states. We need, however, to distinguish certain kinds of lyrics that announce themselves as "autobiography" from lyric as an umbrella term for many forms of poetic self-inscription. Exploring texts he calls poetic autobiographies, such as T S. Eliot's Four Quartets and Paul Valéry's The Young Fate, Olney argues that what characterizes the lyric as autobiography includes extended engagement with the uses of memory, "the web of reverie," and internal states of consciousness. Since the early nineteenth century, he notes, autobiography in poetry has centered on a sustained exploration of "the consciousness of consciousness" and "the growth of a poet's mind," as in, for example, Wordsworth's The Prelude; or, Growth of a Poet's Mind. The broader question of lyrical life narrative needs further study, but is suggested in works such as Robert Lowell's Life Studies, Adrienne Rich's Diving into the Wreck, A. R. Ammons's Tape for the Turn of the Year, John Ashbery's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, and Anne Sexton's Live or Die.

Prison narratives. A mode of captivity narrative written during or after incarceration, writings from prison often become occasions for prisoners to inscribe themselves as fully human in the midst of a system designed to dehumanize them and to render them anonymous and passive. Additionally, H. Bruce Franklin suggests, "most current autobiographical writing from prison intends to show the readers that the author's individual experience is not unique or even extraordinary" (250). Barbara Harlow distinguishes two categories of prisoners—common law and political detainees—but insists that they cannot be sharply distinguished ("From a Women's Prison," 457). She also suggests that these narratives emerge from political and social repression in the contemporary Third World. In the case of prisoners identifying themselves as detainees, she notes, "their personal itineraries, which have taken them through struggle, interrogation, incarceration, and, in many cases, physical torture, are attested to in their own narratives as part of a historical agenda, a collective enterprise" (455). (See also Harlow's Barred.) Such life narratives as Ruth First's 117 Days, Jacobo Timerman's Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number, and Breyten Breytenbach's The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist are centrally concerned with narrating the shifts in consciousness occasioned by imprisonment.

Relational autobiography. This term was proposed by Susan Stanford Friedman in 1985 to characterize the model of selfhood in women's autobiographical writing, against the autonomous individual posited by Gusdorf, as interdependent and identified with a community. Drawing on Sheila Rowbotham's historical model (in Woman's Consciousness, Man's World) and Carol Gilligan's psychoanalytic model (in In a Different Voice), Friedman argued that women's narratives assert a "sense of shared identity with other women, an aspect of identification that exists in tension with a sense of their own uniqueness" (44). And they do so across "fluid boundaries" between self and an Other or others. More recently, both Nancy K. Miller and Paul John Eakin have challenged the notion that only women's life narratives are relational by turning to Jessica Benjamin's theory that in childhood development both relational and autonomous tendencies occur and are intertwined in processes of individuation. For example, Eakin argues that "because the assertion of autonomy is dependent on this dynamic of recognition [of the intersubjectivity of identity], identity is necessarily relational" (How Our Lives Become Stories, 52). That is, an integrated gender identity would express what are conventionally viewed as both masculine and feminine aspects of selfhood. Smith and Watson, in Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader, discuss further ramifications of this relationality.

Scriptotherapy. A term proposed by Suzette Henke to signal the ways in which autobiographical writing functions as a mode of self-healing, scriptotherapy includes the processes of both "writing out and writing through traumatic experience in the mode of therapeutic re-enactment" (n.p.). Henke attends to several twentieth-century women's life narratives that focus on such childhood trauma as incest and abuse, which adult narrators—for example, Anaïs Nin and Sylvia Fraser—record in order to both heal themselves and reconfigure selves deformed by earlier abuse.

Self-help narrative. This genre of everyday narrative requires people to publicly tell stories of some form of addiction or dependency from which they are seeking recovery. The formulaic pattern of the self-help narrative involves a fall into dissolution and self-indulgence, alienation from a community, "hitting bottom," recognition of the need for help, renunciation of the substance or behavior, and, with trust in a higher power, recovery of a truer postaddiction self. Charlotte Linde describes how this formula reflects a "coherence system" involving "systems of assumptions about the world that speakers use to make events and evaluations coherent" (11). For instance, in Alcoholics Anonymous narratives, as Robyn R. Warhol and Helena Michie argue, "a powerful master narrative shapes the life story of each recovering alcoholic, an autobiography-in-common that comes to constitute a collective identity for sober persons" (328).

Self-portrait (in French, autoportrait). Primarily this term is used for an artist's painted, photographed, drawn, or printed portrait of him- or herself. But in literary studies, self-portrait has been used to distinguish the present-oriented from the retrospectively oriented autobiographical narrative. William L. Howarth argued that "an autobiography is a self-portrait" (85), and explored analogies between Renaissance self-portraits and autobiographies throughout Western history. But later theorists challenged this analogy between visual and written self-portraiture.

Michel Beaujour, insisting that the literary self-portrait as an act of "painting" oneself is inescapably metaphorical, not literal, defines verbal self-portraiture as "focused on the present of writing rather than the remembrance of the past and referring all things to the speaking subject and his perceptions" (340). In the self-portrait, according to Beaujour, the intent is not so much to reconstitute the subject of history in a remembered past, as to meditate upon the processes of self-writing itself. Here the narrating "I" as agent of discourse is concentrated in a present in which the self can never be fixed. Montaigne, Nietzsche, Leiris, and, for Françoise Lionnet, Zora Neale Hurston as well, could be considered self-portraitists.

In contemporary French studies, Candace Lang has argued that the literary self-portrait is not a memoir but a genre of postmodern autobiography, with Roland Barthes its best known practitioner. Lang characterizes Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes as a text of fragments from Barthes's previous writings, combined with fragmentary comments on those fragments (Irony/Humor, 165-72). Eakin notes that Barthes "explicitly disavows any connection between the 'I' of his text and any self anchored in an extratextual realm of biographical reference" (How Our Lives Become Stories, 137), but also insists that Barthes's seeming refusal of reference is anchored in an interpersonal discourse with his mother that "fosters the emergence of the extended self and its store of autobiographical memories" (139).

Serial autobiography. Designates an autobiographical work often published in multiple volumes (or films, videos, artworks). Although some writers may consider these as "chapters" in an ongoing life story, many significantly revise their narratives from the perspectives of different times of writing.

In such autobiographical writers as Mary McCarthy and Frederick Douglass, for example, the emphasis falls on dramatically different moments and interpretations of their significance as they publish their life narratives during youth and middle age. Seriality in relation to memory and the terms of various autobiographical genres calls for more sustained study.

Slave narrative. A mode of life narrative written by a fugitive or freed ex-slave about captivity, oppression—physical, economic, and emotional—and escape from bondage into some form of "freedom." In the United States slave narratives were usually antebellum (published before the Civil War), though the dates of enslavement differ in different nations, and some narratives are published well into the twentieth century (e.g., The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave, the life narrative of Esteban Montejo, enslaved in Cuba, as told to Miguel Barnet, was first published in Spanish in 1966). Frances Smith Foster notes that U.S. slave narratives were a popular form; hundreds were published, and some went through many editions and sold thousands of copies. The form has also generated a rich critical literature and been influential for the development of later African American narrative forms, as Robert B. Stepto notes in describing four modes of slave narratives—eclectic, integrated, generic, and authenticating.

Olney describes ten conventions characteristic of slave narratives, including, among others, the narrative's engraved, signed portrait; a title page asserting the narrative was written by the ex-slave; testimonials and prefatory material by white abolitionists; a beginning, "I was born"; accounts of whippings by cruel masters and mistresses and a slave's resistance to them; an account of the slave's difficulties in learning to read and write; denunciations of Christian slaveholders as the cruelest; accounts of successful effort(s) to escape; and the choice of a new last name ("I Was Born," 152-53). Because the ability of ex-slaves to become literate was often contested, several narratives were denounced as inauthentic, for example, Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl later shown by Jean Fagan Yellin to have been authored by Jacobs under the pseudonym Linda Brent). The narratives of ex-slaves importantly challenge myths of the slave system promulgated in the plantation culture of Southern literature and history and, according to William L. Andrews, "create a composite portrait of the slave experience by blending the life story of many former slaves into a single overarching narrative pattern" (Andrews paraphrasing Nichols). Recently Samira Kawash has called for rethinking concepts of the slave narrative because the "freedom" promised in emancipation from slavery as a negation of the slave as property is interrogated in many of these narratives as incomplete, since ex-slaves were unable to claim the property rights of liberal citizen subjects (50).

Spiritual life narrative. This mode of writing traces the narrator's emerging consciousness back to "the acquisition of some sort of saving knowledge and to an awakening of an awareness within" regarding a transcendental power (Andrews, Sisters of the Spirit, 1). Spiritual life narrative typically unfolds as a journey through sin and damnation to a sense of spiritual fulfillment and arrival in a place of sustaining belief. Sometimes the journey motivates rededication, intensification, or clarification of spiritual beliefs and values. The pattern of conversion and its aftermath is a traditional feature of spiritual life narratives. (See Conversion narrative.)

Survivor narrative. This term designates narratives by survivors of traumatic, abusive, or genocidal experience. Linda Martin Alcoff and Laura Gray-Rosendale propose this term to distinguish the political utility of self-referential discourse from the more limited discourse of confession. They note that, while "survivor discourse and the tactic of speaking out may often involve a confessional mode of speech, including personal disclosure, autobiographical narrative, and the expression of feelings and emotions" (213), effective voicing of certain kinds of trauma must go beyond the confessional to acts of witnessing. The confessional mode, they suggest, focuses attention on a victim's psychological state rather than the perpetrator's act and invests power in a confessor as interpreter and judge, stripping the survivor of authority and agency (213).

Victims must be remade as survivors through acts of speaking out, telling their stories in ways that move beyond a concentration on personal feelings to testimony that critiques larger cultural forces. "What we need is not to confess, but to witness" (220).

Testimonio. The term in Spanish literally means "testimony" and connotes an act of testifying or bearing witness legally or religiously. John Beverley defines testimonio as "a novel or novella-length narrative in book or pamphlet ... form, told in the first person by a narrator who is also the real protagonist or witness of the events he or she recounts, and whose unit of narration is usually a 'life' or a significant life experience" ("Margin at the Center," 92-93). In testimonio, the narrator intends to communicate the situation of a group's oppression, struggle, or imprisonment, to claim some agency in the act of narrating, and to call upon readers to respond actively in judging the crisis. Its primary concern is sincerity of intention, not the text's literariness (94). And its ideological thrust is the "affirmation of the individual self in a collective mode" (97).

Trauma narrative. A mode of writing the unspeakable. Nancy Ziegenmeyer and Larkin Warren define what it means to witness in the following terms: "to speak out, to name the unnameable, to turn and face it down" (218). But speaking the unspeakable involves the narrator in a struggle with memory and its belatedness, for, as Cathy Caruth notes, "the experience of trauma ... would thus seem to consist ... in an inherent latency within the experience itself" (7-8). This latency of traumatic memory, and the way in which "to be traumatized is precisely to be possessed by an image or event," manifests itself in the psychic delay of memory's temporality and the crisis of its truth (4-5). As Caruth asserts, "the fundamental dislocation implied by all traumatic experience" lies in "both its testimony to the event and to the impossibility of its direct access" (9). Leigh Gilmore, discussing recent studies on trauma by Caruth and Felman and Laub, notes that "the subject of trauma refers to both a person struggling to make sense of an overwhelming experience in a particular context and the unspeakability of trauma itself, its resistance to representation" (Limits of Autobiography, (46). Observing that the Greek root of trauma is "wound," Gilmore stresses in the experience of trauma its self-altering or self-shattering character and the centrality of difficulties in attempting to articulate it (6).

Travel narrative. This broad term encompasses multiple forms: travelogue, travel journal, (pseudo)ethnography, adventure narrative, quest, letter home, narrative of exotic escape. Travel narratives have a long history, extending in the West back to the Greeks and Romans. Travel narratives are usually written in the first person and focus, in progress or retrospectively, on a journey. Subordinating other aspects of the writer's life, they typically chronicle or reconstruct the narrator's experience of displacement, encounter, and travail and his or her observations of the unknown, the foreign, the uncanny. In this way they become occasions for both the reimagining and the misrecognizing of identity (Bartkowski, xix), and for resituating the mobile subject in relation to home and its ideological norms.

Witnessing. As an act of being present to observe or to give testimony on something, witnessing is relevant to issues of how subjects respond to trauma. Kelly Oliver notes, "'Witnessing has the double sense of testifying to something that you have seen with your own eyes and bearing witness to something that you cannot see" (18). Thus an eyewitness is judged by the accuracy of her testimony based on first-hand knowledge, while bearing witness implies a stance toward "something beyond recognition that can't be seen" (16). Oliver emphasizes that witnessing is an act addressed to another, real or imagined, with the possibility of response. The two senses of witnessing are inevitably in a tension that Oliver argues may be productive for getting beyond the repetition of trauma to a more humane, ethically informed future (17-18).