Recognition and Authenticity in Life Writing

By Marianne Egeland.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: September 21, 2015 $US5.00

Life writing involves a number of ethical questions, not least when fiction writers use real people to fulfill their literary needs, insisting on the truth of what they tell while at the same time hiding behind the “just fiction” banner if they are confronted with uncomfortable questions about facticity and how their models are portrayed. To explore some of the moral issues that have a tendency to be defined as secondary to aesthetic prerogatives on the one hand and to freedom of expression on the other, this essay applies the philosophy of Axel Honneth, who argues that a prerequisite for a healthy identity formation is that we are recognized and respected by others, and Charles Taylor, who argues that cultivation of self must be balanced with an ethic of authenticity. Life writing thus implies questions of shame and honour, of recognizing or disrespecting “the other,” of power and powerlessness, of practicing free speech within asymmetrical relationships and using other people as means to achieve fame and self-realization. The main focus being on autobiographical writing, illustrating examples are taken from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s "My Struggle."

Keywords: Authenticity, Ethics, Axel Honneth, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Lifewriting, Recognition, Charles Taylor

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 13, Issue 4, December 2015, pp.11-22. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: September 21, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 405.094KB)).

Marianne Egeland

Professor, Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

Marianne Egeland is a Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Oslo.


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