Autobiographical and Personal Criticism

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Autobiographical and Personal Criticism
Immanuel Kant was one of the first modern-day philosophers who admitted that there is no such thing as an “objective” interpretation, and that every interpreter brings a great deal to the text. Up to very recently almost all scholarly writing has been defined by the absence of the “I” or any reference to the personal situation of the writer or to the writing process. This situation has changed drastically with the introduction of autobiographical criticism.

Autobiographical criticism is also known as personal criticism, confessional criticism, autocritography, New Belletrism, New Subjectivism, or even moi criticism. It is thus a form of self-disclosure, but the degree of self-disclosure, or self-exposure, varies. Most of the currents in literature theory and criticism in the past thirty years have concentrated on the problematic of readers and reading. The widespread acceptance of responsibility to and for our own reading experiences is one of the major catalysts for the present surge of autobiographical criticism.

Autobiographical biblical criticism entails an explicitly autobiographical performance within the act of criticism. This involves implementing personal criticism as a form of self-disclosure, wittingly, while reading a text as a critical exegete. It requires a willing, knowledgeable, outspoken involvement with the subject matter on the part of the critic. It discloses the fact that the act of reading and interpreting are subjective.

1. Autobiographical scholars

The Golden Era for the entrance of autobiographical criticism as genre on the theological academic landscape was in the late eighties to the mid nineties. That was the period when the most work on this topic was published. Since then, in certain communities, it were generally accepted that all theology was anyway autobiographical.

According to Moore (1995:20), four books in particular stand out as exemplifying autobiographical criticism. The first is Nancy K Miller’s Getting personal: Feminist occasions and other autobiographical acts. The second is The intimate critique: Autobiographical literary criticism, edited by Diane Freedman, Olivia Frey and Francis Murphy Zauhar. Then there is Confessions of the critics, edited and introduced by H Aram Veeser. The fourth is the only full-fledged example of confessional criticism to date by a biblical scholar, Jeffrey L Staley’s, Reading with a passion: Rhetoric, autobiography, and the American West in the Gospel of John.

A stream of autobiographical essays has also been issuing from historical Jesus scholars. These have been published either in the Westar Institute’s scholarly journal Forum, or in its periodical The Fourth R, or in independent publications. The scholars publishing these essays include Marcus J Borg, “The Journey Home” in The Fourth R 1993 and Meeting Jesus again for the first time: The historical Jesus and the heart of contemporary faith (1994). John Dominic Crossan, “Exile, stealth, and cunning” in Forum 1985. Eugene Boring, “Revolutions in the Jesus tradition: From Bonnie to Dominic”, in Forum 1985. Bruce Chilton, “Finding a way”, in The Fourth R 1993, and Walter Wink “Write what you see: An autobiographical reflection”, in The Fourth R 1994.

2. Explore the definition

Autobiographical criticism gives scholars a critical forum for exploring the connections between themselves as real readers and their exegesis of biblical texts in a self-conscious and autobiographical manner (Anderson & Staley 1995:10). The autobiographical mode of criticism can offer itself as a partner in a hermeneutical dialogue with those rhetorical tropes of academic writing which are normally claimed to show scientific objectivity.

It helps the reader to assess the collision of the personal and the professional that has resulted from that swerve, along with its consequences or a lack thereof (Moore 1995:20). According to Fowler (1995:232),...
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