A Short Review of the Book “Literature of I”

A Way to Comprehend Autobiographies and Personal Narratives

Fereydoon Molk-Mian Heidari
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Seemingly simple lines between the two main and sub-titles of the book turn into an eloquent design on the cover in which the three excerpts on the back of the cover express the same content in a clear and explicit way. The shortest and of course the most general description is in the first two or three lines:

Literature of I (Adabiat-e Man) is a comprehensive book about the genres of ‘life’ narrative that address the effective factors in narration and representation of personal life; from the moment of memory formation and recording the experience in the mind to the end of writing, presenting and criticizing the work.”

And then in a more complete description taken from the translator's preface, we read:

"With examples from numerous films, books, and works of art, Literature of I suggests ways to alertly criticizing and interpreting personal narratives, reminds us of the necessary doubts in reading these works, and explains the criteria for validating and verifying autobiographies. By reading this book, researchers and those interested in humanities, social sciences, art, cultural studies, media studies, history, literature, criticism, and all those interested in writing, reading, and watching first-person documentary narratives, in addition to reviewing literature of personal narratives, can be familiar with terms, critical topics, and new theories of this field as well as sixty genres of autobiography.

It is also stated in the foreword of the authors:

Literature of I provides a suitable context for theoretical and historical explorations; it is also a useful guide for educators and professors of literature, history, ethnic and cultural studies, women's studies, African-American studies, American studies, and other disciplines that review autobiography in texts, discourses, and examples or visual and online applications. This book introduces comprehensively the genre of autobiography to those graduate students who deal with reference texts or are engaged in a large research about this genre. At the undergraduate level, this book is a supplementary guide for courses that deal with autobiography, memoir, and in general, literature history of historical periods or different cultures.”

 The table of contents starts with the translator's preface and continues with the preface of the authors. Then the book text is presented, which is arranged in 9 chapters and each chapter consists has several sections.

However, in order to get more familiar with the book “Literature of I”, a brief review of the nine chapters and also the sections of each chapter is necessary.

1) Life Narrative: Definitions and Distinctions

In this chapter, after dealing with types of autobiography, the topic of truth in autobiography is discussed, and after that is conclusion.

2) Autobiographical Subjects

Memory, experience, identity, space, embodiment and agency, all form separate sections, and finally after summarizing them the second chapter is ended.

3) Autobiographical Acts

In the third chapter, applicants, educators, and encouragers are mentioned first. Next, the centers of storytelling are explained. The producer of autobiographical "I" is another topic that is followed by the voice in the autobiographical text, and then communication-oriented and otherness of the autobiographical “I” is raised. In addition to these, the audience, structure of self-study styles, plotting patterns, media, consumer and para-textual factors are other topics that all end up together in the final conclusion.

4) Life Narrative in Historical Perspective

The fourth chapter refers to the subjects; in each section, one or more of them will be discussed to the final conclusion. First, autobiographical subjects in ancient and medieval times are mentioned. Next, the humanist, spiritualist, and secular subjects are taken into consideration; after that, it talks of immigrant subjects and travel narratives in the early modern era. Enlightenment era, dissident, and bourgeois are the next subjects. Then, the exceptional subject of modern life narrative and new subjects of life narrative in the 18th century are discussed. In continuance of the chapter, disillusioned romantic subject, subject of novel of character development, and bourgeois subject are raised; and finally, this chapter also comes to the conclusion stage with American subjects in the 19th century.

5) the Memoir Boom

The novel of character development in our era forms the first section of this chapter. The next topic is citizenship and life narrative. Then, three narratives are presented: the first is the narrative of rights and accusation of falsifying reality; the second is the narrative of suffering, mourning, and healing; and the third is the narrative of mental disorder and overcoming obstacles (illness, disability, deficiency and acceptance of injury, addiction, and recovery). Then the models are discussed: new models of embodiment narratives (food writing, age awareness, gender-oriented approach) and new models of forced migration, migration, and exile narratives (family stories and post-ethnic lives). Topics of autoethnography and auto-eco-mapping (life in dialogue with place) are then discussed. Finally, after discussing lives of famous figures (self-promotion of movie stars, sports heroes, military leaders, and other social figures), the fifth chapter is summarized.

6) The Visual-Verbal-Virtual Contexts of Life Narrative

This chapter begins with the topic of visual memoir and continues with the discussion of creating autobiographical works in performance and visual arts. It also talks about autobiographical film and video, online lives, and finally, the digital archive of life narrative, and it comes to the final conclusion.

7) A History of Autobiography Criticism (Theorizing)

The seventh chapter begins with historicizing roots and cultural contexts of autobiography. Then, formation of standard works is mentioned. After that two parts of influential theories are addressed; part one: Gasdorf, Hart and creative self-representation, and influential theories; part two: actions, aliances, and stories. The final discussion is the influential research, which is followed by the conlcusion.

8) A History of Autobiography Criticism (Expanding Autobiography Studies)

 This chapter starts with useful theoretical concepts, in order to come to theorize about the emerging genres of life narrative and geographical critiques. New arenas such as neuroscience, cognitive studies and genomics, as well as identities and digital forms are the next topics. Then it talks about theorizing everyday lives, and the chapter ends with applications of self-criticism and of autobiography: self-study and pedagogy.

9) A Tool Kit: Twenty-four Strategies for Reading Life Narratives

The last chapter of the book consists of only two appendices; Appendix One: Sixty Genres of Life Narrative, and Appendix Two: Publications and Supplementary Resources. After these appendices, according to the procedure and order of the contents, there are Notes, List of proper names, List of specialized terms (Persian to English), and list of specialized terms (English to Persian).

The book “Literature of I (in English: Reading Autobiography)” written jointly by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson and translated into Farsi by Roya Pourazar; it was published by Atraf Publication in 2022, in 480 pages and 1000 copies in a soft cover of octavo size which cost 193,000 Tomans.  

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