David Chalmers Alesworth


Autobiographical Readings 2008-April 2009

Eissler, K.R. Goethe. (A Psychoanalytic Study), 1775 to 1786, Detroit, Mich.Wayne State University Press, 1963, 2 vols. A scientific biography positioned within classical psychoanalytical theory.

It has been recommended to me as a “prime example of intellectual honesty”. It is expected to arrive in Lahore by mid December 2008. It finally arrived and reading it is a daunting prospect, by first week of January 2009 I’ve barely begun.

Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things, (An Archaeology of the Human Sciences) translation of Les Mots et les choses, April 1994, Vintage Books Edition, April 1994.

A consideration of the position of Man as the subject of scientific culture within an historical context. I see this in tandem with my reading of Anna Parvord’s, The Naming of names.

Eakin, Paul John, How Our Lives Become Stories (Making Ourselves), Cornell Univ. Press, 1999.

A consideration of the nature of the autobiographical from the perspective of recent research in the filed of cognitive sciences. “There are many stories of the self to tell, and more than one self to tell them.” By first week of January 2009 I’m well into this book, and I consider it the most useful for autobiography as yet. Perhaps this is because it follows upon a lot of other readings.

Eakin, Paul John, Ed. The Ethics of Life Writing, Cornell Univ. Press, 2004.

A wide survey of traditional and modern works in the genre of the autobiographical that I intend to use as an initial grounding in the broad issues of this subject.

Eakin, Paul John, Living Autobiographically, (How We Create Identity in Narrative), Cornell Univ. Press, 2008.

Through the incorporation of findings within the fields of neuroscience and anthropology Eakin argues that autobiography is an integral adaptive part of our lived experience and key to our construction of a future.

Okely J. and Callaway H., Eds., Anthropology and Autobiography, Routledge, 2004.

Taking on the argument that the Anthropological should actually be the Autobiographical, the book sets out to counter-argue the position of the anthropologist relative to their subject. Contributing to the current debate on issues of reflexivity and political responsibility within the field of anthropology.

Olney, James. Memory and Narrative, (The Weave of Life-Writing.) Univ. of Chicago press, 1998.

An historical account of the evolution of life-writing over the past seventeen centuries of world literature.

Couser, Thomas G. and Fichtelberg, Joseph, Eds. True Relations (Essays on Autobiography and the Post-modern). Hofstra Univ. 1998.

A diverse collection of essays on the broader consideration of the autobiographical, covering issues of gender, suicide survivorship, and Pierre Manzoni’s autobiographical use of his own body.

Smith, Sidonie, and Watson, Julia, Eds. Reading Autobiography (A guide for interpreting Life Narratives.) Univ. of Minnesota press, 2001.

A textbook for the introduction and teaching of Life-Writing at graduate level, part retrospective survey of the genre, plus a comprehensive critical introduction.

Smith, Robert. Derrida and autobiography. Cambridge Univ. Press. 1996.

A reading of Derrida in relation to autobiographical theory. The premise being that autobiographical thought is not so much about subjective self-revelation as relation to the other.

Anderson, Linda. Autobiography, (The new cultural idiom). Routledge. 2004.

A wide ranging survey of theory and practice in the filed of the autobiographical, including a consideration of the ideological assumptions about the nature of the self that underlie autobiographical texts.

Miller, Nancy, K. But Enough about Me. (why we read other people’s lives). Columbia Univ. Press. 2002.

A passionately argued defence of the art of autobiography set within the life narrative of the author herself. She argues that it is not a solipsistic act but a communal relational practice.

Colebrook, Claire. Giles Deleuze. Routledge, 2007.

Part of the Routledge critical thinkers series, the book provides a concise over-view of Deleuze’s thought, particularly in relation to literary analysis. I have found the sections on cinema particularly relevant.

Homer, Sean. Jaques Lacan. Routledge. 2006.

Part of the Routledge critical thinkers series, the book provides an introduction to Lacans thinking on diverse subjects including, literature, film, gender and the imaginary and symbolic.

Mills, Sarah. Michel Foucault. Routledge. 2004.

Part of the Routledge critical thinkers series. I am particularly interested in Foucault’s thinking on the subjects of power, literary theory and anthropology. The book provides an initial introduction to Foucault’s work.

Royle, Nicholas. Jaques Derrida. Routledge. 2008.

Besides an introductory overview of Derrida’s thinking, I am particularly interested in the coverage of his work on literary and cultural studies.

Rice, Anne. Christ The Lord, out of Egypt. Ballantine. NYC. 2005. 

The twenty- page authors note at the end of this controversial historical fiction is pure autobiography and provided me with a profoundly new insight into Rice’s oeuvre.

Harberd, Nicholas.”Seed to Seed” (The Secret Life of Plants), Bloomsbury 2006.

The lowly Thale-Cress is the main protagonist of this book. An autobiographical mix of diary and science, fairly obscure science at that. I found it odd that despite a fair amount of personal trivia the author’s wife didn’t feature at all, though his children prominently did so. Perhaps she refused to share the pages with her husband’s weed obsession. I feel I was misled by the exciting excerpt on the back cover, where the plant was almost devoured by a rampaging slug. The glimpses of the life revealed here, heavily edited (perhaps with editorial direction to sustain the reader’s interest?) seemed extremely dull, the ups and downs of scientific enquiry seemed forced and the references to music an attempt to reveal that a scientist can actually be a whole human too. If nothing else this book awakens in me the dread of attempting to work autobiographically.

Parvord, Anna. The Naming of names, (The search for order in the world of Plants), Bloomsbury, 2005.

Although not a work of an autobiographical nature, I feel there is a correlation that I cannot adequately place at present. Perhaps it lies in the ambition to immortality that under-pins the naming of so many plants. This book is a detailed and copiously illustrated history of horticultural enquiry, philosophy and literature. A book that has substantially extended my understanding of the origins of plant taxonomy. I have found the numerous failed attempts at creating a holistic system of classification of particular interest, in the context of my ongoing enquiry into the nature of the archive. A wonderful book, written with enormous empathy and engagement, the most inspiring book overall, for me in this year of readings.

Alice Albina. Empires of the Indus. (The story of a river). John Murray. 2008.

History, anecdote, travelogue and contemporary Pakistani culture colloid in an entertaining diaristic format. Her depth of local history alone is a must read.

John Brockman. Science at the Edge. (Conversations with the leading scientific thinkers of today.) Union Square Press. 2008.