Life writing

I haven’t updated in a while, but that is a good thing – I’ve been researching like a crazy academic wannabe fueled by caffeine and over-zealous enthusiasm…oh wait.

I’m focusing this month on female autobiography, and I read an article about blogging that I’ve been mulling over all day. The autobiographical tradition is popular in Irish literature, especially in the Revival period, but it has always been a privileged male discourse (related to ideas about Ireland as a woman/maiden). The absence of women’s autobiography is notable in our fair nation(s). But this article was about women who blog about their personal lives on the Internet. It is a way to tell your life story, out there in the infinity that is cyberspace, with guaranteed anonymity, and without being judged by literary critics. The sheer number of female blogs suggest that women do want their stories to be told, but on their terms, and in everyday language.  Irish women cannot publish their memoirs without inevitably being either sexualised or drawn into the nationalist question by the sensationalist media. Reviewers pounce upon the autobiographies of women, only to dismiss them as ‘misery lit’, or to dissect the ‘otherness’ of their experience. Nuala O’Faolain, for example, wrote a successful ‘literary’ memoir, Are You Somebody? (1996). She was an important feminist journalist and commentator on Irish culture, but when interviewed on the Late Late Show, Gay Byrne’s most pressing question was how many men she had slept with. Eavan Boland’s autobiography, Object Lessons, recounts the difficulties she faced as a woman poet trying to enter the canon in Ireland, because she cannot see herself as the romantic hero of nationalist verse. My focus at the minute is on the strange and interesting genre of abuse survivor memoirs. Not the most joyful reading for this cold, dark January month, but fascinating. I’m trying to understand their popular appeal, and to examine what they say about the collective shame inherent in Irish history.

Apart from my research, I’ve been doing lots of things with the Belfast Feminist Network. We went to a play called Stripped, which dealt with one woman’s true experience of working as a lap-dancer. It generated a lot of debate. As did the BBC programme ‘The Abortion Wars’, which was scandalously deficient in fact and far from a balanced account of the status quo in Northern Ireland. We went to an exhibition on ‘Women in Media’ at the Golden Thread gallery, and had a group discussion about the observers gaze. If you’re at Queens, and care about women’s rights, then join us!

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