Pyyhtinen, Olli: The Autofictional Pact? Knausgaard’s My Struggle and the Question of Truth and Fictionality

The boom in autofiction over the past decade seems to suggest that authors of literary fiction have increasingly stopped making things up. Instead of narrating the fictional lives of fabricated characters, authors like Karl Ove Knausgaard, Rachel Cusk, and Elena Ferrante use their own life stories in their novels. The presentation explores how autofiction poses writing as a problem, in terms of truth and fictionality. Autofiction is examined in the talk as a kind of ‘third space’ between autobiography and fiction, which offers a pact different from both the autobiographical and the fictional one. Similar to fictional autobiographies, it is suggestive of a double pact: an autobiographical pact within a fictional pact. But whereas first-person literary fiction presents a nonreferential narrative, which itself creates the world it refers precisely by referring to it, works of autofiction refer to the world outside the text. The presentation suggests that the referential nature of autofiction needs to be considered in terms of a shift of emphasis from the content of the text to the speaking subject. It illustrates this point by examining the multivolume My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard as a case of parrhesia, that is, free-spokenness and telling the truth about oneself. In the lecture course The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II), delivered in 1984 at the Collège de France, Michel Foucault examined the role of parrhesia in Greek and Roman culture. According to Foucault, the notion of parrhesia is a constitutive component of truth-telling about self in ancient morality. The presentation examines how works of autofiction function within the dimension of parrhesia. Ultimately, the investigation of the preconditions, forms, and consequences of speaking the truth in autofiction is extended to wider contemporary concerns about the fragility of truth troubling our experience today due to post-truth politics, alternative facts, and authoritarian populism.