INSTRUCTOR: Professor Eva-Lynn Jagoe


Course Description

In the 21st century, the cultural turn towards self-accounting and recounting is shaped not only by the literary memoir, but also by other autobiographic mediatic forms such as documentary, performance art, theatre, blogs, graphic novel, and essay. Memoir raises question about the blurred lines between memory and forgetting and fiction and documentation. This course engages narrative and non-narrative forms of memoir so as to examine issues around neoliberal demands and expectations on the constitution of self, as well as generic issues around popular writing, online dissemination, auto-fiction, and critical memoir.


Required Texts


Lauren Slater Lying (2000)

Etel Adnan In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country (2005)

Chris Kraus I Love Dick (1997)

Amarnath Ravva American Canyon (2015)

Paul B. Preciado Testo Junkie (2013)

Maggie Nelson The Argonauts (2015)

Bhanu Kapil Ban en Banlieue (2015)

Karen Green Bough Down (2011)

Gillian Rose Love’s Work (2011)


Chapters and Websites:

Wendy Brown, Introduction to Undoing the Demos

Judith Butler “Introduction,” Senses of the Subject (2015)

Wayne Koestenbaum “My 1980s”(2013) and “Through a Glass Randomly: Matias Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too”

Eve K Sedgwick, “Teaching/Depression” and “White Glasses”

Sara Ahmed, Feminist Killjoys blog

Bhanu Kapil, Shame May be Fatal blog


Week 1: Introduction: Mixed Genre Memoir (Jan 14)

Melissa Petro, “The Writing Cure.” The New Inquiry

Week 2: The “I” (Jan 21)

Lauren Slater Lying (2000)

Judith Butler “Introduction,” Senses of the Subject (2015)

Week 3: Obsession (Jan 28)

Chris Kraus I Love Dick (2006) 

Week 4: Trans and Intimacy (Feb 4)

Maggie Nelson The Argonauts (2015)

First essai must be posted.

Week 5: Genre and Memory (Feb 11)

Amarnath Ravva American Canyon (2015)

Week 6: Reading Week

Week 7: Trans and Identity (Feb 25)

Paul B. Preciado Testo Junkie (2013)

Week 8: (Mar 3) Self and Erasure

Bhanu Kapil Ban en Banlieue (2015) and 

Week 9: Grief (Mar 10)

Sedgwick, “White Glasses” and “Teaching/Depression”

Wayne Koestenbaum “My 1980s”(2013)

Wayne Koestenbaum “A Manual Approach to Mourning”

Week 10: Catch-Up and Sianne Ngai (Mar 17)

First hour: Workshop essais

Second hour: Attend Sianne Ngai‘s talk. You can leave at 5 if you have to!

Week 11: Politics (Mar 24)

Etel Adnan In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country (2005) and Wendy Brown, Introduction to Undoing the Demos


Collaborative Projects Due March 30

Week 12: (Mar 31)

Collaborative Project Workshop

Week 13: Memoir Forms (Apr 7)

Gillian Rose, Love’s Work and

Course work 


The course will be run workshop-style: the first half of each class will be devoted to a focussed discussion of the reading for that week; the second half of each class will be devoted to workshopping essais (memoir, literary criticism, literary theory) by members of the class. Such workshopping will enable us to access the reading for that week from a different position at the same time that we each put our writing to certain valuable tests. The writer(s) must post the essai to all members of the class on the Wednesday night before the class in which it is being critiqued.

The class will host a blog, on which you will post 4 essais (500-1500 words) throughout the semester. I am calling them “essais” to differentiate them from the academic essay. Think of them more as drawing from the etymology of “essai” which is “to attempt.” The essais can be: Analytic essays that take up some aspect of the reading in particular; personal criticism that takes up some aspect of the reading in particular; experiments in memoir that may or may not have the reading in mind; in short, any brief but sustained (only in the sense of substantive) piece of prose that is relevant to the course.

Only one of your essais will be critiqued in the workshop, though all of you will post the essais publicly and be able to comment on each others. The workshop will be a constructive group exercise in which you will receive feedback and comments. 

Collaborative Project:

A 3-5 person group webpage project. There are a variety of approaches to excavating a single topic—the “scrapbook” form; short sections with frequent new beginnings; multimedia components; archival work; and movements back and forth between personal history and a larger, social history. With your group, settle on a topic that has some resonance for each of you. Think about ways of structuring a short but multivoiced, multiperspective, multihistory archeology of the topic. Your various brief sections should evoke different private and public space, different personalities, different bodies experienced from the outside and the inside. Work individually and collectively on the pieces. There is no set length.

Final Project:
I give students in the seminar the option of submitting work in one of two forms at semester’s end:

  1. a portfolio containing no less than 20 and no more than 30 pages of material representative of at least two of the genres described below and/or others that you have discussed with me in advance;
  2. a seminar paper.

If you choose the portfolio option, your portfolio could contain: short (5-10 page) analytic essays that are revised versions of material workshopped in class; a proposal for a book-length memoir; focused annotated bibliographies (of at least five titles) of critical, theoretical, or memoiristic texts out of which might emerge a piece of non-fiction or an analytic paper that may or may not appear in the portfolio; a piece of creative non-fiction; a chapter of a memoir-in-progress; memoiristic or critical prose that is responsive to problematics, challenges, and/or experiments suggested in class. If you choose the seminar paper, you need to submit a 1-p proposal to me by March 24 so that we can discuss the topic and texts before you begin writing.


Participation marks are awarded for active attention and constructive class interaction and workshopping, for clear evidence of familiarity with assigned readings, and for focused attention and participation in the seminar and assignments. Your participation grade will be based on reasoned, thoughtful and informed contributions to this course.


Essais are due online to Blackboard by 6pm on the appropriate date noted above.