This May I attended the IABA 2016 Conference on Excavating Lives (IABA being the International Auto/Biography Association) at the University of Cyprus.
It was a fantastic experience: writers and scholars from all over the world came to Nicosia to talk about the different ways we research, uncover, present and understand lives.
As well as listening to some fascination papers about digital lives and lives in translation, among others, I got to explore the historic city (including the border that runs through the middle and splits the Greek Cypriot south from the Turkish Cypriot north). I attended a poetry reading on a rooftop, and dined with newfound friends in traditional local tavernas (complete with Cypriot dancing).
My own paper was about how we write about grief. I argued that grief memoirs expose the fact that writing about the self means defining the narrator in terms of its relations. In other words, when we write about ourselves we’re always also thinking about how we are linked to other people: as a father, a son, a teacher, a boss, an employees, a Brit, a foreigner, a liberal, and so on. But how are we linked to the dead? I looked at Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking, and the ‘auto-fiction’ of Karl Ove Knausgård, as well as some of my own recent writing about grief, to examine what this means for our understanding of books about loss.
Essentially, I paper argued that often the dominant mode of autobiographical writing is that of constant positioning and comparison. So when we lose someone close to us, we actually lose something of ourselves.
More links to follow when the article I’m working on about this is published…