• A Living Archive of the Self: Or, the Autotheory of Saidiya Hartman

    Kevin Pyon (see profile)
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    MLA 2023
    Permanent URL:
    Following the publication and reception of Maggie Nelson’s 2015 The Argonauts, “autotheory” has emerged as a distinctly 21st century literary and critical genre. In blending the conventions of autobiography and critical theory, autotheoretical texts like The Argonauts or Claudia Rankine’s Citizen have been analyzed for their formal experiments with imagining the self as pluralistic and reappropriating critical theory outside of the walls of academia. In my paper today, I want to consider the role of autotheory within the field of Black studies. In particular, I look at how the autotheoretical work of Saidiya Hartman represents a distinctive break with the genre’s current focus on the plurality of the self or reappropriation of critical theory. In Lose Your Mother, Hartman reflects on her experiences abroad in Africa in order to express how her own family history is indelibly marked by the “afterlife” of slavery. Unsettling preconceived notions of “archive” and “history,” Hartman approaches her autobiographical self as a living archive of slavery. If autotheory has been aptly described as an “art of the present,” autotheory provides for Hartman a medium for creating a “history of the present.”
    Last Updated:
    5 months ago
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