Panel on "The Pain and Pleasure of Autobiographical Expression" (ASA 2014; Los Angeles, CA)
We live in an age of autobiography. Never has life-writing enjoyed such widespread social, political, and literary significance. Never has it held such market share. Over these same sixty years, though, we (a different we?) have lost our faith in the book as form—in the printed word as medium. How can we square these incompatible truths? What is autobiography beyond the “graphic”? All of these questions, I suggest, were ably theorized by midcentury judges as they radically reconsidered the juridical value of confessions. Trapped within the rigidly textual confines of American jurisprudence, but filled with the fresh belief that confessions can only ever be “reduce[d] … to writing” (Culombe v. Connecticut), these judges learned to approach the textual record of confession the way a performance theorist approaches the historical archive—pitting text against text, document against document in the hope of accessing the performed origin of each confession. In this paper, I suggest how these landmark court opinions can help us read autobiography against its graphic grain.