Telling lives inscribe human subjectivity and individuals write about their lives in order to share their unique experiences for future generations as valuable social documents. At the same time, on a personal level, there is an inherent urge to satisfy one’s ego and life narratives become a medium to celebrate individualism. Identities may be broadly divided into the following categories: gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, class, generation, family, genealogy, and religious and political ideologies (Smith 33). Language becomes the discourse through which identity is scripted. In the past, life writings had a hegemonic angle as it focussed only on powerful, mainstream subjects who were so-called ‘great’ and important but a transition took place in the approach, particularly after 1990 when subaltern voices got space for representation. The life stories of such ‘invisible’ subjects began to be read and appreciated in the Indian context and dalit life writings are good examples. The inscription of a subject’s identity generally follows a, sequence – it begins with the genealogy, birth, parentage, childhood, adulthood etc. In rare cases, we find certain subjects coming up and forcefully asserting their identity by rewriting their already written life histories. The ideological dimension of writing lives (both by the subject and writer) is the reason behind this development. We have the example of Nalini Jameela, a self-proclaimed sex-worker disowning her autobiography written in Malayalam and assigning the work of writing her life to a group of writers. Perhaps, the same feeling might have forced Killen Pokkudan to revise his life story.1
Narratives of disability have become one of the most pervasive forms of life writing in contemporary period. For instance, G. Thomas Couser in his work Recovering Bodies: Illness, Disability, and Life Writing, analyses four such conditions – breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, deafness, and paralysis and adds: “I could easily have added three more: blindness, depression, and autism – four, if you consider addiction a medical condition or disability” (4). He adds: “there have been so many recent first-person narratives by people with autism that they have been granted, or have claimed, their own generic term: ‘autie-biography’ (Couser 5). It may be observed that disability narratives are not “a spontaneous self-expression but as a response indeed a retort to the traditional misrepresentation of disability in Western culture generally (Couser 7). Autobiography is a major form employed by writers and Couser comments on this aspect in the following manner: “. . . in disability autobiography . . ., disabled people counter their historical objectification (or even abjection) by occupying the subject position. The representation of disability in such narratives is thus a political as well as a mimetic act-a matter of speaking for as well as speaking about (7). Though the embodiment of problematic or odd bodies, such narratives ultimately throw light on our own embodiment, fundamental human condition.
Like other various fields, the advent of technology profoundly influenced the way we depict lives. However, this early transition dawned with the invention of photography and almost simultaneously, cinema. Photos are used to capture the unique moments in a person’s live and such visual texts have come to be regarded as powerful narratives; as a matter of fact, photo essays and photobiographies are variant forms of life story. It may be observed that photographs and illustrations have played crucial roles in bringing up hagiographical tradition, particularly in India.2 We know that such visual texts have profoundly influenced the popular psyche in bringing up an iconographic tradition, which contributed a lot to foster nationalism.
Life writing has entered into a new stage, an era of digital revolution where technology exerts even more powerful impact on recording lives. Social networking sites like facebook and twitter offer care ethics and facilitate human interaction. Online autobiographies like blogs have changed the dimension of inscribing human subjectivity and markers of identity like gender, race, class and nationality. Self came to be read as hybrid, a fluid entity, an assemblage of multiplicities a rhizomatic assemblage (Deleuze and Guattari).3 Digital humanities is concerned with online reference sources and recording of voices, videography and other methods of documenting lives. However, with the arrival of digital technology,’ digital ‘distortion’ of reality is taking place. Facebook timelines, use of images in networking sites, video sharing and broadcasting platforms like YouTube may be exploited as massive repositories of personal biographies, histories, demographical details and cultural memories.
The first section focuses on the theme of “Identity” in life writing by introducing three research papers of different dimensions. The opening article “A Repairable/ Perfectible Body-Self-Image: Reading Cancer and Its Cosmetic Concerns in Select Narratives” by Bini B. S. analyses the representations of disfigurement in select cancer narratives of females. In “Counter Histories on Modernity in Kerala: Reading ‘Not so Good’ Women’s Autobiographies,” Sherin B.S tries to explore how the life narratives by Nalini Jameela and C. K. Janu defy the intellectual elitism of Kerala and reject its modernity by acting as counter histories. In the paper “Life Written on Walls: Graffiti Subculture as Life Writing,” Philip Jose and Ibrahim, undertake a study of graffiti subculture and convincingly drive home the idea that graffiti may also be approached as a kind of life writing.
1. Kallen Pokkudan: Kallen Pokkudan alias Kandal Pokkudan is a famous environmental activist in Kerala and over the years, he has been working for the protection of mangrove forest. Ente Jeevitham and Kandalkkadukalkkidayil Ente Jeevitham are his autobiographies.
2. In his work Photos of the Gods: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India (2004), Christopher Pinney argues that with the introduction of printed images, particularly photography, we got one more way of narrating the history of a nation, ie., through visuals. He observes: “What, … if pictures have a different story to tell, what if – in their luxuriant proliferation – they were able to narrate to us a different story, one told, in part, on their own terms? (8)
3. Deleuze and Guattari: They abandoned any idea of coordinated selfhood. To them, the self is merely the collection point of infinite and random impulses and flows (to use their terms, lines of flight and machinic assemblages) that overlap and intercut with one another, but that never form any but the most transitory and dynamic correspondences (Mansfield 136).
Couser, Thomas. Signifying Bodies: Disability in Contemporary Life Writing. New York: U of Michigan P, 2009. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Vol 2: A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987. Print.
Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. London: U of Minnesota P, 2001. Print.