Recognition and Authenticity in Life Writing

Life writing involves a number of ethical questions, not least when fiction writers use real people to fulfill their literary needs, insisting on the truth of what they tell while at the same time hiding behind the «just fiction» banner if they are confronted with uncomfortable questions about facticity and how their models are portrayed. To explore some of the moral issues that have a tendency to be defined as secondary to aesthetic prerogatives on the one hand and to freedom of expression on the other, this essay calls on philosophers like Axel Honneth, who argues that a fundamental prerequisite for a healthy identity formation is that we are recognized and respected by others, and Charles Taylor, who argues that cultivation of self must be balanced with an ethics of authenticity. Life writing thus implies questions of shame and honour, of recognizing or disrespecting «the other», of power and powerlessness and using people as mere instruments for self-realization. Examples illustrating the discussion are taken from Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle and other contemporary Scandinavian titles.

Keywords: authenticity, ethics, Axel Honneth, Karl Ove Knausgård, life writing, recognition, Charles Taylor