Life-Writing as a practice and discipline has been intimately bound up with notions of fame and celebrity. Our fascination with biography is often driven by ambivalent motives, ranging from a desire for emulation, hero-worship, and semi-religious veneration to a hunger for gossip, revelation, and social levelling through a ‘dethroning’ of famous individuals. We are drawn towards the extraordinariness of exemplary lives, while, at the same time, the appeal of individual life narratives is rooted in their ‘ordinariness’ and the democratic attainability of fame.
Closely connected as life-writing and celebrity are, through their shared concerns with authenticity and intimacy, public and private selves, myth-making and revelation, their many overlaps have only recently begun to be addressed. This OCLW strand examines their complex intersections across historical periods, disciplines, media, and genres, exploring ideas of image, persona, self-fashioning, myth, mediatisation, and commodification. It addresses the influence of these concepts on the writing and reading of lives, thus shedding light on aspects of agency, industry appropriation, and identity politics. Through a series of termly events, this strand offers a forum for a more sustained dialogue between these two closely interconnected areas, highlighting possibilities of theoretical and methodological cross-fertilisation.
The strand is co-ordinated by OCLW Visiting Scholar Sandra Mayer, who is a senior teaching and research associate in English Literature at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. She has just completed her monograph Wilde in Vienna: Pleasing and Teasing the Audience (Rodopi) and, in collaboration with OCLW, is currently working on a project – Art and Action – that explores the interrelations of literary celebrity and politics in and through autobiographical life-writing genres. Her co-edited journal special issue on the theme of “Life-Writing and Celebrity” for Life Writing is forthcoming in 2018.
Upcoming Life-Writing and Celebrity Events:
Saturday 4 November 2 – 6pm, Life-writing and Female Celebrity
Part of OCLW’s Life-Writing and Celebrity strand, this half-day colloquium, convened by Sandra Mayer in collaboration with TORCH Oxford, will explore the gendered dynamics and cultural values at work in the creation, representation, and consumption of celebrity. Featuring a keynote lecture by author Patricia Duncker and contributions by Stella Tillyard, Ruth Scobie, Mary Luckhurst, Oline Eaton, and Hannah Yelin.
Tuesday 7 November 5:30 – 7pm, Ghost Writing panel
Andrew O’Hagan; Brett Kahr; Claire Squires.