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All Writing Is Autobiography: Perspectives

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All Writing is Autobiography: Perspectives

Often people believe that the greatest gift that one gives to their writing is the individuality and the personal perspective. In the piece "All Writing is Autobiography" by Donald M. Murray illustrates a very controversial thesis (especially to librarian catalogers) that any writing that is done is an autobiography. He justifies this by claiming that any writing is autobiography in the sense that we share our personal experiences and opinions within our writing. He then ends the piece with a very resounding new thesis ".....all reading is autobiographical" (74, Emphasis mine). The purpose of this essay is to define autobiography and therefore refute both theses concisely. There are three main reasons one shouldn't consider all writing autobiography, the first reason would be definition, the second would be commonsense, and the last would be implications.


"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."(Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, VI)

Unlike Humpty Dumpty we need clear definitions in order to truly understand the world. Surely it wouldn't be helpful to try to find a butterfly if there was no clear definition of butterflies. Murray is trying to construe the definition of autobiography to his own personal preferences and while this may be subjectively valid this has no place in objective reality. If Murray is going to get our support he must have extensive support of his definition versus the classical definition, if he cannot then like Humpty Dumpty he must take a great fall. The contemporary definition of autobiography is "the biography of a person narrated by himself or herself" (Merriam-Webster). It should be mentioned that this is exactly what Murray is contending and the purpose of introducing the definition was not to refute his thesis (this would be to beg the question) but to introduce a counter common definition. The reason that Murray's thesis is incorrect is that there is no reason to think our own personal perspectives fundamentally change the writing. As a college students we all write various pieces on various subjects, however, no one would suggest we drastically change the subject matter simply because us as individuals write it. We surely leave small footprints upon the writing we write but because we cannot deduce characteristics of the person simply from the writing even though we often assume that all supposedly autobiographical information is actually autobiographical (this notion is drastically tested by Mr. Langston Hughes).

Common Sense

"Common sense is not so common." (Voltaire)

As Voltaire understood all too well, commonsense isn't often used when determining important things. We must use common sense to analyze the situation. The problem that Murray faces is very threating in nature. Almost nobody, save Murray, considers autobiography to be a part of other genres such as fiction. The reason being that autobiography as a word was a response to counter concept of biography which is simply the details of personal facts about someone else. The auto portion of the word is to indicate the autonomy which means "one who gives oneself their own law" therefore autobiography can be taken to mean one who lists personal facts about oneself. However, in fiction and non-fiction many of the genres do not specifically aim to create an environment of an individual's life (not to mention truth of said life). Historical fiction and fantasy cannot both be considered fundamentally the same genre just because they are written by the same author. We see this frequently with reading as well. We all agree Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason undoubtedly had his own personal perspectives and experiences but no one would argue that his has the same autobiographical value as Cat in the Hat had to Dr.Suess. Interestingly enough these two books both changed my perspectives on books in general. Cat in the Hat with its rhyming and Kant with its deontological comparison to consequentialism. Clearly these texts do not support this thesis.

Implications and Consequences

It seems like the most important part of this essay ought to be the real implications on this line of thought. In his book "Utilitarianism" John Stuart Mill talks about how we evaluate things based on their consequences and this is another way I will choose to evaluate Murray's theory. This text impacted me personally as it was the first philosophy book I had ever read and I found its insights profoundly interesting and I still to this day carry some consequentialist thought in my philosophy. The fact is that if Murray has a legitimate point than we should all adopt subjective opinions as facts, furthermore, lying is only conveniently telling the truth because in order to claim autobiography one must accept the notion that the piece is fact(autobiography is a genre of non-fiction). Furthermore, we must eliminate the notion of complete fantasy as well as any notion of completely creative thought.


We simply cannot conclude based off implications, common sense, and the very definition of autobiography that Murray's theses are correct.



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