Macquarie University
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Autofiction and the absent self: representing trauma in life writing

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posted on 2023-12-18, 01:32 authored by Clinton Caward

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.


Table of Contents

Thesis introduction -- Creative component - Fun Times in Byron Bay -- Exegesis -- The absent narrator -- Chapter 1 - Rachel Cusk’s Outline -- Chapter 2 - The journey to Outline -- Chapter 3 - Form -- Conclusion -- Bibliography

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Literature, and Language

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Willa McDonald


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




313 pages

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