miriam cooke

Arab Feminist Autobiographies: Nawal El Saadawi

Arab Women as Agents of Change - Essays in Honor of Nawal El Saadaw

Every autobiographer approaches differently the challenge of remembering facts and events and then plunging them into the stream of days out of which meaning bubbles. The autobiographer does not necessarily search for the truth in her life but rather wrestles with it in order to discover what writing will reveal of that life’s meaning. Autobiographical writing floats across the continuum between deeply personal reflection and public confession, between writing for oneself and for others. Without a reader perched on her shoulder, the autobiographer can write more easily because she is free to say whatever she wants. At the same time, the autobiographer is driven to commit memory to writing. Fyodor Dostoevsky elaborates: “on paper it comes across somehow more majestically. There’s something inspirational about it, one’s a stricter judge of oneself, it adds to the style” (Dostoevsky 39). Writing one’s life may help others to understand and guide theirs. The responsibility to the reader and consequently the need to judge oneself more strictly, he adds ironically, enhances the aesthetics of the text. He may have laughed at the thought, but that attention to style may turn a mundane fact into an occasion for conjuring an event out of the depths of memory and giving it aesthetic shape.