Passport to Oblivion: Writing Self into History - EN683

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Spring
View Timetable
6 30 (15) MR D Todorovic




Not available as wild



Memory is the point in which time, place and the Self intersect. Since all three elements are in constant movement, memories are neither permanent nor reliable. Why, then, write down our memories? Is it an effort to turn them into accurate points that should mark the locus of a certain plateau in our consciousness? Is it an attempt to write the (private) Self into (collective) history? By writing memory, and adding personal perspective—are we creating another layer of distortion, or are we peeling the onion? When we delegate our memory to paper, do we reinforce it or do we abdicate our responsibilities? Is memoir just another name for passport to oblivion?

During the first half of the term students will delve into several major works, which should give them historical perspective and show them some of the possible approaches to writing private history.

They will be introduced to different kinds of autobiographical writing: from works written by the protagonists of major historical events, to recollections of the non-famous people; from texts rich in political connotations and critique of the regime, to celebrity memoirs and the escapism they offer; from traditional forms of memoirs to fragmentary writing, writing in instalments, and graphic narratives. Students will learn about memoirs as political weapons and how they have been used through history. They will also be encouraged to critically evaluate and examine the most recent forms of life writing, such as blogging and micro-blogging, and social media.

In the second half of the term, students will work on a major piece of life writing. They will be expected to produce a manuscript dealing with a specific experience or part of their lives.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Total contact hours: 30
Private study hours: 270
Total study hours: 300

Method of assessment

100% coursework:
Interim essay 1,500 words (25%)
Manuscript 6,000 words (65%)
Seminar and Workshop contribution (10%)

Indicative reading

St Augustine: 2008. The Confessions; Oxford Paperbacks
Mandelstam, Nadezhda: 1999. Hope Against Hope; Harvill Press
David B.: Epileptic; 2006. Jonathan Cape
Ugrešic, Dubravka: 1998. The Museum of Unconditional Surrender; Phoenix
Auster, Paul: 2005. The Invention of Solitude; Faber and Faber
McCourt, Frank: 2005. Angela's Ashes; Harper Perennial

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Read and analyse some of the most innovative contemporary works of life writing, and get a historical perspective of the genre.
2 Demonstrate their capacity for close reading and critical analysis, and apply these skills in their approach to life writing.
3 Recognise and evaluate specific methodology and creative choices in writing self-representational text.
4 Make connections between contemporary critical analysis and creative writing practice.
5 Understand how innovative techniques can be applied in life writing practice.
6 Confidently choose and apply advanced writing techniques within their work.
7 Plan and execute a sustained piece of life writing.
8 Be equipped with theoretical and practical knowledge that will allow them to explore various aspects of writing self-representational non-fiction

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Develop their capacity for close reading and critical analysis and make comparisons across a range of their reading.
2 Learn how to choose among methods and styles in order to better approach their own writing.
3 Develop their writing skills to an advanced level.
4 Extend their range of critical and creative vocabulary and broaden their conceptual framework.
5 Develop their communication skills, particularly in responding to others' work in the context of the workshop.

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