Exploring the Self: Visiting Fellow Tiago Ferro Discusses the Rise of Auto-Fiction

Feb. 19, 2024

On February 16, the Brazil LAB hosted an event with award-winning author and Princeton Visiting Fellow Tiago Ferro. Co-sponsored by the Departments of Anthropology and Spanish and Portuguese, the event became a lively forum for discussing the increasingly prominent genre of auto-fiction on the contemporary literary scene. Prized for its raw and introspective exploration of the self, auto-fiction has garnered attention through the works of world-renowned authors such as Karl Ove Knausgård, Emmanuel Carrère, and Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux, as well as other notable writers such as Ben Lerner, Teju Cole, Rachel Cusk, and Tatiana Salem Levy. The event aimed to explore the multifaceted nature of the genre and its significance in today's literary landscape.

In his presentation, Ferro took the audience in a tour de force through Brazilian social thought and emphasized that the origins of auto-fiction are as diverse as the authors who champion it. However, he argued that it is only in the context of dominant market societies that the genre has begun to take a definitive shape, characterized by a unique blend of autobiographical writing and fictional narrative.

Through the lens of auto-fiction, Ferro proposed a new paradigm for reading and understanding literature, one that embraces the tension between personal narrative and broader societal tensions. This paradigm seeks to navigate the complexities of identity, memory, and authenticity, offering a fresh perspective on the role of literature in reflecting and shaping the human condition in contemporary societies. Through an examination of the theoretical contributions of Walter Benjamin, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda and Roberto Schwarz, to name a few of the intellectuals cited, Ferro illuminated the genre's resonances in Brazil’s past and present and its ability to articulate deeply personal yet universally relatable experiences. A lively discussion with the audience ensued, covering topics such as the action of breaking open self-identities in writing fiction and the active role that the readers play in literature (as a way of reinventing life).