History, Memoir and Fiction

Since the boundaries of life-writing is more fluid and less definable in relation to form than other literary genres and can, therefore, adopt various forms including court chronicle, travelogue, diary, memoir, and autobiography, this article suggests that various forms of life-writing could be placed on a continuum between history and fiction--in which court chronicle is placed on the boundary of historiography whereas autobiography is nearer to fiction.

In the West, autobiography is by and large a literary medium through which the self has, in the cultural milieu of evolving self-consciousnes and self assertion, unfolded his/her innermost feelings and experiences. Furthermore, the development of "auto-bio-graphy" into a fictional literary genre in the West and the refocusing from bios to autos, have openened it up to literary criticism, whereas, other related forms of life-writing such as chronicle, travelogue, diary and memoir along with the "bios" of autobiography have remained valuable sources of historiography.

Persian memoir (khaterat), in the broad sense of the term, is by and large more of a narration of political and social events than a personal autobiography similar to those authored in the West since the rise of humanism in the course of 18th century enlightenment movement. Memoirs, particularly political memoirs, have been the most common form in the repertoire of Persian life-writing since the latter half of the 19th century. Indeed, nearly 95 percent of some 250 Persian memoirs in this period may be characterized by their focus on political, social, and cultural events, while no more than five percent are either diaries or autobiographies. Persian memoirs, therefore, are among indispensable sources of historiography and should properly be read within the context of their authors' specific hostorical circumstances.

Ahmad Ashraf
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