Heterobiography: A Bakhtinian Perspective on Autobiographical Writing

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The contribution offers a synthesis of a Bakhtinian philosophical approach to autobiography, conceived as both a text and a lifeproject, through the theoretical construct of ‘heterobiography.’ Drawing on Bakhtin’s philosophical rather than philological work, the discussion focuses for the most part on some of Bakhtin’s lesser-known, fragmented and often obscure writings: Toward a Philosophy of the Act, written ca 1919–1921; the long essay ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity,’ written ca1922–1924; and several fragments from Bakhtin’s wartime notebooks, written in 1940–1946 and published in English translation only recently. Building on the author’s previous work on Bakhtin and ‘the question of the subject,’ the discussion highlights some of the ‘dotted lines’ that link these relatively obscure and fragmented texts, and suggests that they add up to a coherent, albeit complex, philosophical position on the dynamics of autobiography. The construct of ‘heterobiography’ is used in this context to account for the immanent ambivalence of the Bakhtinian position and to denote an element of alterity which operates both ‘centripetally’ and ‘centrifugally’ in the dynamics of narrative identity and its autobiographical inscription.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413-430
Number of pages18
JournalLife Writing
Issue number3
StatePublished - 3 Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Rpt. in Philosophy and Life Writing. Eds. Christopher Cowley and D. L. Mahieu (Routledge, 2019)


  • Subjectivity
  • centrifugal and centripetal vectors
  • heterobiography
  • narrative identity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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