Autofiction as a political act: the use of the self in Bret Easton Ellis, Michel Houellebecq, and Walter Siti
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date07/12/2022
Since its first appearance on the back cover of Serge Doubrovsky’s 1977 novel Fils, the term autofiction immediately attracted the interest of many French critics and writers. Critics such as Philippe Lejeune, Philippe Gasparini, Gérard Genette, Vincent Colonna, Marie Darrieussecq, and Régine Robin started a vibrant debate about this new literary genre, whose subject was neither entirely autobiographical nor exactly fictional, a debate that even today is far from being concluded. In its early stages, the debate on autofiction was primarily focused on issues such as its position in Lejeune’s autobiographical pact, on its generic status as a literary genre, and on its differences with other literary genres such as the autobiographical novel and the memoir. However, thanks to critics and writers such as Arnaud Genon and Chloé Delaume, the debate on autofiction was opened up to other stimulating perspectives, like its relationship with postmodernism and its ability to represent the fractured and shift identity typical of the postmodern era. Moreover, Genon and Delaume, among other critics, also started to focus on the political aspect of autofiction – political in the sense that, because of its characteristics, autofiction could be an appropriate instrument for representing, questioning, and therefore critiquing certain features of our contemporary times. The aim of this thesis is to shed light on this side of autofiction, which is related to its political potential. Though this aspect has been partially ignored by most critics, in my view it represents an extremely fecund and stimulating field of research. In particular, this thesis will focus on the ways in which the literary genre of autofiction can represent an appropriate instrument for unveiling and questioning certain mechanisms, like self-branding, selfish competition, and obsession with consumerism, of that cultural and economic system which is now hegemonic: neoliberalism. In this sense, the autofictional works of three contemporary authors from three different countries and backgrounds will be taken into consideration: Bret Easton Ellis, Michel Houellebecq, and Walter Siti. As this thesis will demonstrate, these three authors used the literary genre of autofiction as an instrument for representing and critiquing the mechanisms through which neoliberalism imposes and perpetuates its hegemony. Ellis’s, Houellebecq’s, and Siti’s autofiction is, as we shall see, an integral part of the critique of neoliberalism they have pursued throughout their entire literary careers. It is a political critique that, in the cases examined, could only have been carried out through the literary genre of autofiction, whose use is therefore a political act in itself. Ultimately, I will also introduce the distinction between passive autofiction and active autofiction. This distinction, as the thesis will demonstrate, is a valid instrument for describing certain attitudes – mostly related to the neoliberal imperative to self-brand – that have now become hegemonic and oppressive. After all, what is self-branding if not a form of autofiction?