Autofiction and the absent self: representing trauma in life writing
The aim of this creative-led thesis is to develop a hybrid novel informed by life writing strategies to explore the experience of living with the eye disorder congenital nystagmus. One vital characteristic of that experience is the self-consciousness and shame related to being physically stigmatised, and the desire to conceal the vulnerable emotions associated with that stigma. This thesis began by asking if it was possible, within a life-writing context, to find a narrative strategy that allowed for the social dimension of living with nystagmus to be represented, but in a form which limited the exposure of personal emotional content. Rachel Cusk’s novel Outline also began with her seeking a way to mitigate personal revelation within the memoir form. Cusk asked herself the question; how can you speak without presenting yourself as a target? How can a life-writer exploit the material details of her own life whilst remaining hidden? The exegetical component of this research analyses Cusk’s Outline to gauge the efficacy of writing a trauma narrative using a narrator who does not reveal personal emotional content. I examine Cusk’s various strategies of self-effacement and place a critique of what I have termed her ‘absent narrator’ within the broader analysis of her entire oeuvre. This exegesis constitutes the first in-depth analysis of the development of the ‘absent narrator’ throughout Cusk’s body of work, while the creative component of this thesis tests the effectiveness of this narrative perspective for telling a personal story in a life-writing context.