How We Create Identity in Narrative
Autobiography is naturally regarded as an art of retrospect, but making autobiography is equally part of the fabric of our ongoing experience. We tell the stories of our lives piecemeal, and these stories are not merely about our selves but also an integral part of them. In this way we "live autobiographically"; we have narrative identities. In this book, noted life-writing scholar Paul John Eakin explores the intimate, dynamic connection between our selves and our stories, between narrative and identity in everyday life.
Eakin draws on a wide range of autobiographical writings, from work by Jonathan Franzen, Mary Karr, and André Aciman to the New York Times series "Portraits of Grief" memorializing the victims of 9/11, as well as the latest insights into identity formation from the fields of developmental psychology, cultural anthropology, and neurobiology. In his account, the self-fashioning in which we routinely, even automatically, engage is largely conditioned by social norms and biological necessities. We are taught by others how to say who we are, while at the same time our sense of self is shaped decisively by our lives in and as bodies. For Eakin, autobiography is always an act of self-determination, no matter what the circumstances, and he stresses its adaptive value as an art that helps to anchor our shifting selves in time.