An autobiography ( ancient Greek αὐτός autós 'self', βίος bíos 'life' and γράφειν gráphein 'write', 'describe') is the description of one's own life story or parts of it from the retrospective (in contrast to the diary, for example ). What is special about this literary form is the identity between author and narrator and protagonist. Despite its explicitly subjective perspective, the autobiography has a greater claim to objectivity than the autobiographical novel . Memoirs related to autobiography place particular emphasis on the representation of contemporary events. Its “border crossing between history and literature ” puts the autobiography in a literary “marginal position”. With their help, however, core areas of literary studies are fundamentally redefined (for example by Paul de Man ).
Autobiographies relate to historical reality in some way, this makes the autobiography a referential text. On the other hand, it is also obvious that it cannot meet this requirement, since objective reporting is opposed to the subjective author's position. It is obvious that no one is able to leave subjective perception behind. In contrast to the purely fictional genres, the autobiography is characterized by the structural openness towards the end: no autobiographer has yet described his own death. In literature, however, there are numerous examples where writers imagined and anticipated their own death, see the will of François Villon and Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis . Some autobiographical books that deal with the own, life-threatening and traumatic experiences over time in the concentration camps of the Nazis were, such as Imre Kertész , also include death experiences. The boundary between autobiographical and fictional texts becomes fluid when an author combines a fictional event with autobiographical elements so that an autofictional text is created.
History of the Autobiography
Autobiography in Classical Antiquity
Problems are encountered in establishing the Greek autobiography of the classical period. There are texts with autobiographical tendencies, but no autobiography per se. One example is the travel report of the Ion of Chios (FGrHist 392 F 4-7), which is only preserved in fragments. The next two points also make it clear that you have to use other genres in order to write autobiographical texts.
- Plato's 7th letter - if it is not forged - gives us information about the experiences in Sicily and related to his development that led there.
- Isocrates ' antidosis is a 355/354 BC Speech published in BC, which describes the life of Isocrates in encomiastic tones. The text should bear witness to his character and his disposition, since his good idiosyncrasies would often be misunderstood, as he himself admits.
- The genre of political autobiography, the hypomnemata , emerged in Hellenism . This is not to be confused with the ephemeris Hofjournalen mentioned who had more the character of a chronicle.
- Aratos of Sicyon (271–213 BC) writes around 215 BC. An autobiography in which he justifies his political actions. Aratos liberated large parts of Greece from Macedonian rule, but concluded an alliance with the Macedonians due to the strengthening of Sparta. His writing serves as a justification for this.
- Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II (approx. 182–116 BC) wrote a 24-volume autobiography, excerpts of which have been preserved in the Deipnosophistai (scholarly banquet) of Athenaios. Only the passages of the autobiography that relate to food and drink have survived.
The development of the literary genre autobiography is often associated with the development of the bourgeoisie in the free cities. However, there was previously, particularly as regards the German-speaking world, medieval experience reports of mystics and mystics , have the autobiographical references, such as in the writings of Mechthild of Magdeburg (1207-1290), Margareta Ebner (1291-1351) and Katharina Tucher († 1488). According to Bihlmeyer, the vita of the Dominican and mystic Heinrich Seuse (approx. 1295–1366) is considered to be “the first example of an autobiography in German that was written, or authorized and published, by the hero himself”.
The author of the first modern German-language autobiography was Burkard Zink (1396–1474). Other early modern autobiographies come from Johann Steinwert von Soest (1448–1506), Ludwig von Diesbach (1452–1527), Johannes Butzbach (1477–1516), Matthäus Schwarz (1497–1574), Thomas Platter (1499–1582) and Hermann von Weinsberg (1518-1597). These works are to be understood as true autobiographies and contain depictions of all life, including childhood and adolescence.
With the growing role of the individual from the Renaissance onwards , the potential for autobiographical literature grew (cf. for example Francesco Petrarca ). The Enlightenment in the 18th century represents a special threshold ( Jean-Jacques Rousseau's “Confessions” as a secularized counterpart to the Confessions of St. Augustine ).
The production of autobiographical literature has increased steadily since the 19th century and has now become part of the booming non-fiction market . Politicians, artists and other celebrities write autobiographies, often with the help of "ghostwriters", which often have the character of justifications. Paul Delaney coined the term ad hoc autobiography for autobiographies that are written out of a desire to use a passing celebrity commercially . But even the so-called “simple” and “little” people are increasingly being helped by professional ghostwriters when writing their life stories .
Since the 1970s, as part of the research focus on history from below and sociological biographical research, the popular autobiography has received increasing academic interest. As a rule, these are writings written privately for the family circle, which can serve as sources for past historical circumstances. The oral history of contemporary witnesses is also increasingly being recorded in writing in the form of interviews. The documentation of biographical records at the University of Vienna has a collection of around 3000 such autobiographical testimonies. Similar institutions can be found today in almost all European countries. A particularly prominent collector of autobiographical evidence was the German writer Walter Kempowski ( Das Echolot ).
One name for such a work in ancient times was apologia . It was more of a justification than introspection. John Henry Newman's autobiography is an apologia pro vita sua. Augustine used the title Confessiones for his autobiographical work and Jean-Jacques Rousseau adopted this title in French: Confessions. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin , the first secular biography published in the United States, served as a model for later American autobiographies. Otto von Bismarck wrote thoughts and memories as an apology. The best-known German-language autobiographies include Goethe's Poetry and Truth and Johann Gottfried Seumes Mein Leben .
- List of autobiographical works
- German autobiographies 1690-1930 , Ed .: Oliver Simons, electronic resource, digital library volume 102, Directmedia Publishing Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-89853-502-9
- Anna Babka: Interrupted. Gender and the Tropics of Autobiography. Passagen, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-85165-430-7 (dissertation Uni Vienna 1998). With Gerald Posselt: Deconstruction and Gender Studies (= UTB S [Small Format] 2701). Facultas, Vienna 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2701-4 .
- Jacques Derrida , Friedrich Kittler: Nietzsche - politics of the proper name: how to abolish what one speaks of (= international Merve discourse. Volume 225), Merve, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88396-157-4 .
- Dietrich Erben / Tobias Zervosen (ed.), Your own life as aesthetic fiction. Autobiography and professional history, Bielefeld 2018, ISBN 978-3-8376-3763-2 .
- Ralph Frenken: Childhood and autobiography from the 14th to 17th centuries: Psychohistorical reconstructions. 2 volumes. Oetker-Voges, Kiel 1999. ISBN 3-9804322-5-4 (Dissertation Uni Frankfurt (Main) 1998).
- Kerstin Gebauer: To be human, to be woman: autobiographical self-designs by Russian women from the time of social upheaval around 1917 (= comparative studies on Slavic languages and literatures. Volume 10). Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 2004, ISBN 3-631-53120-6 (Dissertation Uni Magdeburg 2003).
- Michaela Holdenried: autobiography. Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-15-017624-7 .
- Nicole Kloth: The (auto) biographical inscriptions of the Egyptian Old Kingdom: Investigations on phraseology and development (= studies on ancient Egyptian culture. Supplements, Volume 8), Buske, Hamburg 2002, ISBN 3-87548-310-3 (dissertation University of Hamburg 2001).
- Philippe Lejeune : The autobiographical pact (= Edition Suhrkamp 1896 = N. F. Volume 896: Aesthetica ). Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 1994 (original title: Le pacte autobiographique, translated by Wolfram Bayer and Dieter Hornig), ISBN 3-518-11896-X .
- Werner Mahrholz: German self- confessions . A contribution to the history of autobiography from mysticism to pietism. Berlin 1919, online at archive.org .
- Paul de Man : Autobiography as a mask play. In: Christoph Menke (ed.): The ideology of the aesthetic. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 1993, ISBN 3-518-11682-7 , pp. 131-146.
- Eva Meyer: The Autobiography of Scripture. Stroemfeld / Roter Stern, Frankfurt am Main 1989, ISBN 3-87877-312-9 .
- Georg Misch : History of the autobiography. 4 volumes (in 8 sub-volumes), Bern / Frankfurt am Main 1949–1969, 4th edition, Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 1976, ISBN 3-87730-024-3 (volume 1.1 of a total of 8 sub-volumes).
- Günter Niggl (ed.): The autobiography. On the form and history of a literary genre. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1989, ISBN 3-534-08131-5 .
- Wolfgang Paulsen: The I in the mirror of language. Autobiographical Writing in 20th Century German Literature. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1991, ISBN 3-484-32058-3 .
- Michael Reichel (Ed.): Ancient autobiographies: works - epochs - genres. Böhlau, Cologne (among others) 2005, ISBN 3-412-10505-8 .
- Anne Rüggemeier: The relational autobiography. WVT, Trier 2014, ISBN 3-86821-524-7 Description .
- Manfred Schneider : The cold heart writing. The autobiographical text in the 20th century. Hanser, Munich / Vienna 1986, ISBN 3-446-14656-3 .
- Heinrich Seuse : German writings. Published by Karl Bihlmeyer. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1907, unaltered reprint Minverva, Frankfurt am Main 1961.
- Oliver Sill: Broken Mirrors. Studies on the theory and practice of modern autobiographical storytelling (= sources and research on the linguistic and cultural history of the Germanic peoples. N. F., Volume 98 = 222). de Gruyter, Berlin / New York, NY 1991, ISBN 3-11-012697-4 (Dissertation University of Münster [Westphalia] 1989, XIV, 537 pages, 23 cm).
- Robert Smith : Derrida and Autobiography (= Literature, Culture, Theory. Volume 16), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New York, NY 1995, ISBN 0-521-46005-0 .
- Johnnie M Stover: Rhetoric and resistance in black women's autobiography. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL [et al. a.] 2003, ISBN 0-8130-3119-2 .
- Martina Wagner-Egelhaaf: Autobiography. 2nd Edition. Metzler, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-476-12323-5 .
- Martina Wagner-Egelhaaf: Autobiography . 2nd edition Stuttgart a. Weimar, Metzler, 2005, p. 1.
- See Misch (1967), p. 582 ff.
- On this, see Frenken (1999), p. 138 ff.
- Bihlmeyer in: Seuse (1907), p. 135