Although studies of new media, such as the texts I referenced by Bolter and Grusin, Manovich, and Hayles, help to contextualize digital experiments with memory, so do studies of personal narratives, such as the book Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives, by literary theorists Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson (University of Minnesota Press, 2001). Life narrative, the term Smith and Watson recommend, signifies self-referential practices that challenge norms associated with traditional, Western, canonical autobiography as a master narrative that celebrates “the autonomous individual and the universalizing life story” (3). Smith and Watson identify fifty-two genres of life narrative, including auto/biography (a/b), autoethnography, autofiction, case study, collaborative life narrative, confession, diary, letters, meditation, memoir, oral history, relational autobiography, self-portrait, survivor narrative, testimonio, trauma narrative, travel narrative, and witnessing (183–207). Media used for telling autobiographical stories also cover a broad range: “short feature and documentary films; theater pieces; installations; performance art in music, dance, and monologue; the painted or sculpted self-portrait; quilts, collages, and mosaics; body art; murals; comics; and cyber art” (74).
I support Smith and Watson’s notion of life narrative, but in my work I want to recognize biographical modes, too, especially memorials, shrines, and portraits of others. “Life writing,” the broader term, which does recognize biographical modes (3), emphasizes writing at the expense of other media and is therefore usually too restrictive for my purposes. I tend to use “personal narrative” as a general term and vary my terminology according to context. So far most of my work has addressed autobiographical texts, a tendency that probably will continue. In my studies of video, some of the most interesting work I’ve seen has blended autobiographical and biographical modes (a/b), thus blurring generic distinctions and producing creative hybrids.
My research continues, so please feel free to recommend projects and Web sites.
Technorati tags: oral history, autobiography, biography, new media, life narratives