I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent, and which, once complete, will have no imitator. My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I portray will be myself. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions, 1988, p. 19. To some extent we always write out of our own experience. If this is the case, what’s different about writing specifically autobiographical material? Is there anything special about the way we remember, about the relationship between personal and shared worlds of experience? And what of the reflexivity of re-membering: does it have anything to show us about the writing process in general? At the opening of the Confessions, Rousseau declares his project is a scientific one: he will be ‘true to nature’. Despite the religious overtones of his title and the romantic revelations the book will contain, this is to be writing based on experiential knowledge: ‘Simply myself. I know my own heart,’ he continues. When Rousseau goes on to invoke the ‘sincerity’ of religious confession in this experiment, we need to remember that eighteenth-century science centred on the thought processes of ‘natural philosophers’ such as George Berkeley and David Hume,1 rather than on objectively repeatable techniques. It was subjective in the fullest sense of that term: a sense referring not only to agency but to a process of meaning-making which centres round the individual.
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