Autofiction as a form of life writing in the context of Czech literature

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Year of publication 2021
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description The paper focuses on the narrative and rhetorical strategies of autofiction. It will address the following questions: Can we read autofictions as life writing, or are they fictional novels dealing with the topic of life writing? How do autofictions signal fictionality and indicate to the reader, or confuse them about, which type of author-reader contract applies (autobiographical or fictional)? How can fictionality be employed in the service of communicating nonfictional contents and expressing meta-autobiographical messages? Can the use of fictionality enhance the perceived authenticity of the work? Using the rhetorical approach to fictionality as developed by contemporary narrative theorists Walsh, Phelan, and Simona and Henrik Zetterberg-Nielsen, I examine the use of invented elements and scenarios as means of conveying autobiographical content rather than turning the work into fiction. I argue that as opposed to inevitable construction and inaccuracy involved in any life narrative, autofiction employs fictionality consciously and deliberately towards a rhetorical end, while not fully cancelling autobiographical reference. Such deliberate transgressions of the border between factuality and fictionality may serve to highlight the constructed nature of all autobiographical narrative, to challenge conventional notions of “truth,” or to draw attention to the ongoing process of self-invention. I will introduce Czech writer Jan Němec’s autofictional work Possibilities of a Love Novel (2019), which in the Czech literary world was met with much interest but also interpretational uncertainty as the practice of autofiction is unusual in Czech literature. Inspired by works like A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Němec’s text signals both factual and fictional narration in order to stage an attempt at autobiographical utterance and simultaneously thematise the difficulties such attempts entail. I will demonstrate that the ambivalence of the referential frame, though ignored by some Czech critics, is vital to the work’s rhetorical strategy.
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