Vol. 6 No. 1 (2021): Life Writing
ISSN No: 2583-4347
This edition of Samyukta: A Journal of Gender and Culture comes at a crucial time in global history. The pandemic is a significant stakeholder in the lived and imagined realities of human and non-human participants everywhere. It will soon be well-nigh difficult to fashion a narrative outside of the impact it has had. Long days of lockdown, quarantines- mandated or self- imposed, the politics of vaccines and oxygen precarity, dialectics of homelessness, domestic migrants, narratives and perceptions of development, the questions of citizenship and participative governance are looming large over memory and history. These are sure to find expression in the times to come, thus changing the landscape of Life Writings in a rather metamorphic manner.
Life Writing refers to the ability to inscribe the personal with the script of history – to ensure that a certain time and experience does not pass without leaving a mark, without telling the story from a different angle. The experiential is as important as the political, cultural, spatial milieu that somehow will find their way in. The voice that narrates- the I or the third person- resonates on accounts of the tone or empathy, not just the levels of accuracy. That is ofcourse an aspect that has been oft debated upon in Life Writing- the question of accuracy. And is a person really obliged to tell us the truth about the most intimate, possible embarrassing moments of their life? Or if they choose to leave these segments out, then is that even a rounded, fair narrative of their life? And what did they actually set out to do? What separates a biography from a hagiography? When does a voice stop sounding rational and the finger-pointing start? And do those who get painted the villains in these stories ever get to make their clarifications? How does history treat them? what is a fictionalized biography? Is a fictionalized autobiography a genre of the novel?
There are these and many more questions that routinely get asked in the course of Life Writing studies. Despite these grey areas, Life Writing is an eminently saleable genre, with ‘tell -all’ books doing extremely well. The lives of the rich and famous, the doyens in various spheres of human achievement put their stories out there. The tendency to confess, that Foucault refers to, continues to this day. Perhaps, it’s the voyeur within us- perhaps, it is the need to feel in control by participating in the narrative that makes the author vulnerable, relatable- human- that makes Life writing such a popular genre.
Be it to inspire, to vilify, clarify, justify or to immortalize, Life Writing holds immense appeal.
I view Life Writing as an important segment of a philosophical conceptualisation of the world. It contributes greatly to the intuitive understanding (Bergson) that one needs in order to correlate elemental conversations that lie at the bottom of
the way we construct our societies, incorporate nuances of language and create stratified memories. The obsession with multidimensional Time and the visualisations of time travel that we see in contemporary culture could all be manifestations of this intense desire to actually see what it was like, to change the course of events and feel the thrill of relevance- in short, to live the lives that are being written about.
At this pivotal moment in our history, it is considered important to retain a memory of things as they were because, the vocabularies that we shall apply to ourselves, the yardsticks with which we measure time, lives, social dynamics is on the verge of change. The unpredictability of it all makes the past seem more stable than it actually was. In this aspect, Time is like cement. It sets and settles into epochs and eras and develops characteristics- a pre-calamitous- calamitous, post-calamitous continuum. Reading lives becomes as important as writing them. there is often a danger of anachronistic readings that are quick to judge and which seek revisionist redactions. There is a need to understand the instability and vulnerability of Time, Society and People. When written and read from this vantage point, Life Writing opens up spatial tunnels that run between the lines and outside the pages. Time becomes truly multidimensional and multinarrative. Polyphony, which is the purest form of both order and anarchy becomes emergent as a rhizomatic entity.
The current issue of Samyukta draws from life, art, film, experience- and curates a valuable archive of scholarship that looks into the relevance of these works, the arcs of narratives these lives have created. The world shaped by these lives and thoughts and vice-versa is worth remembering, studying and viewing with empathy.
Kukku Xavier - Guest Editor
Assistant Professor at the Department of English, All Saints' College,Thiruvananthapuram