TOPIC: Who Do You Think You Are?: Self and Society in Memoir

Memoir is the "new kid" on the bookstore block, and this kid is part of the popular crowd: dozens of memoirs are being published each month, and the writers aren't necessarily famous. It seems that American culture is asking, "who do you think you are?"--and everyone wants to respond. The popularity of this genre may reflect society's narcissistic and voyeuristic tendencies: we like to divulge our innermost secrets just as much as we enjoy listening to other people tell stories about their lives. But, memoir also is popular because it challenges the ideas and behaviours that society considers acceptable or normal. Throughout the course, we will use memoir, the story of just one person, to think about American culture: why does society accept some identities but disparage others? To begin our study of identity, we will read autobiographies that deal with race, gender, and sexuality. We also will use written autobiographies to talk about body image and physical beauty. What does it mean to have a "normal" or even "attractive" body? What happens when one's body, perhaps because of an illness, does not fit the narrow categories of "normal" and "attractive"? During the second half of the course, we will analyze autobiographical films, like Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, to investigate what the celebrity identity reveals about American society. Importantly, because this is a composition course, you will practice the kinds of writing that college requires.