Personal Value, Impersonal Subjects

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This article explores the critical tensions between the valorisation of “personal” registers in feminist and queer writing since the mid-1980s – including my own – and cultural theories of the “impersonal” subjects of memoir, family history and photography. Starting with Lauren Berlant’s reading of femininity as generic, the article seeks to situate feminist uses of the “I” within what Denise Riley calls the “outward unconscious, which hovers between people”. To articulate subjectivity not in the first person – or not necessarily – the argument follows Carolyn Laubender’s critique of the “plural self “of recent auto-theory, pursuing instead the elusive psychic dynamics of historical and cultural formations in the writing of Gail Lewis and Janet Wolff. Looking at the sense of “wrongful narration” from the point of view of both the subject and the object of a story, the affective investment in personalised accounts is read alongside an intellectual affiliation to the impersonality of language.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-129
Number of pages17
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2023


  • auto-theory
  • feminism
  • queer
  • Cultural Studies


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