Autobiographies Have Not Dissolved The Boundary Between Private And Public
In reviews of and debates over literary self-expressions, it is frequently pointed out that the boundary between what is private and what is public is in the process of being dissolved. Yet a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Swden, shows that the boundary is still there, but that the debates per se define what is private and public in new ways.
Highly revealing literary self-expressions often lead to controversies in media. A common point made is that such works contribute to smearing the boundary between what is private and what is public. While the authors claim that they are merely expressing their ‘true’ emotions, it is inevitable that their conduct poses a serious challenge to the prevalent norms concerning what emotions a person is allowed to express in public.
‘My study shows that it is rather the debates in themselves that alter the norms and therefore the private/public boundary,’ says Karl Malmqvist, who authored the thesis.
‘However, this does not mean that nothing changed during my period of study from 1976 to 2008. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the boundary was mainly defined according to what authors shared about themselves. Today it seems like it is more a matter of what may and may not be insulting to other currently living individuals.’
Malmqvist feels that the private/public boundary is becoming more and more of a moral issue in the cultural debate. Moreover, the norm for what may be made public in literary form is increasingly being questioned. New debaters with strong links both to the blogosphere and to the established fields of literature review and cultural debate are emphasizing the author’s right to give an honest account of things, and they talk about unrestrained honesty and assertiveness as a liberating counterweight to the cultural and media elite’s cowardliness and mendacity. In parallel to the moralization of the private/public boundary, a new ‘folksy’ type of anti-elitism is entering the public discussion of literature from below.
The study is based on an assessment of five major debates concerning literary self-expressions that occurred from 1976 to 2008. The material used comprises mainly articles about autobiographies published in the cultural pages of newspapers. In the articles, Malmqvist looked for discussions on what is acceptable and desirable to write about in an autobiography.
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