For many, autobiography is their only path to the past. Autobiography offers
a way in which individuals can interweave their personal stories and remem-
brances with a public account of those major historical events that have social
and po litical meaning within a given society. But how do autobiographies differ
in their form, content, and purpose depending on their place or time? Do men
and women write differently in given po litical, social, and cultural circum-
stances? And how far may the autobiographical genre be understood as a
type of per for mance?
This book’s aim is to begin answering these questions by theorizing the
relationship between gender, history, and the self. It does so by looking at
life histories and beyond to take a more complex approach to the history of
women and their conceptualization of the self in South Asia. In par ticular,
it explores how notions of “per formance” and “performativity” might be es-
pecially useful in opening up the autobiographical genre. For a genre that is
inherently confessional—an artifice insofar as it is about self- fashioning—the
idea of per formance teases out the choices made in terms of forms and narra-
tive strategies employed, and the audiences addressed. In other words, if we look
at autobiographical practice as a “self in per formance,” we begin to appreciate
the historical, social, and cultural milieu in which the self was imbricated, and
what enabled gendered subjectivity and speech. Linking this discussion then
Gender, Per formance, and Autobiography in South Asia
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