Eye to I: American Autofiction and Its Contexts from Jerzy Kosinski to Dave Eggers

  • Bran Nicol
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Life Writing book series (PSLW)


While autofiction has featured significantly in French literary theory for around four decades, postmodernism has rarely figured as a context for literary-critical analysis in France. In the United States the situation is almost the exact opposite. Autofiction features seldom in studies of American literature from the late twentieth century to the present day, while postmodernism remains one of the dominant categories within which to analyse late twentieth-century fiction. This chapter provides the first analysis of autofiction in the United States as a postmodern form of writing. More precisely it will examine the similarities between autofiction and the signature device of postmodernist writers, metafiction, in order to suggest that autofiction deserves to be regarded as an important postmodern form of writing. In fact, because of the emphasis on authorship in postmodern writing (its preoccupation with what it means to be an author), it can be argued that as much as autofiction emerges from within the tradition of postmodern metafiction in the United States, it might make sense to consider metafiction itself as a subcategory of autofiction. At the heart of the chapter is a study of the work of the Polish expatriate American-based writer Jerzy Kosinski, who began in the 1980s to describe his writing as autofiction. Kosinski’s work functions as a gateway to studying American autofiction in relation to postmodern metafiction. But the reception of his work also invites consideration of autofiction in a second context, what I term ‘obscene’ culture (celebrity- and scandal-obsessed and fascinated by self-revelation and exposure). The chapter also posits a third context, what Mark McGurl has termed ‘The Program Era’, in which the practice of ‘autopoesis’ (or self-production or self-reference) is central. While none of these three contexts is exclusively American, each is nevertheless especially relevant to literature produced in the United States in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as we have moved from postmodernism to post-postmodernism. To demonstrate this, the chapter accompanies its focus on Kosinski with analysis of autofictions by his contemporaries Kurt Vonnegut and John Barth, and more recent work by the writers David Foster Wallace, Bret Easton Ellis and Dave Eggers.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bran Nicol
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SurreyGuildfordUK

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