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Tainted WitnessWhy We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives$
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Leigh Gilmore

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780231177146

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231177146.001.0001

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Neoliberal Life Narrative

Neoliberal Life Narrative

From Testimony to Self-Help

(p.85) 3 Neoliberal Life Narrative
Tainted Witness

Leigh Gilmore

Columbia University Press

Chapter three examines the historicized women’s life narrative as it migrates into the 21st century, via Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club and television show, to the genres of self-help and redemption --analyzes how the memoir scandals of the late 1990s were invoked to discredit Rigoberta Menchú’s testimonio, but also focused additional vitriol at women who wrote about incest and sexual violence within families. The chapter goes on to offer an alternative history of the memoir boom to the conventional association of memoir and confessional culture by dating its beginning to self-representational writing by radical women of color, queer activists, and literary innovators in the 1980s, and uses the response to Kathryn Harrison’s memoir, The Kiss, to demonstrate how judgments about women’s credibility operate across legal and cultural courts of public opinion. The chapter further claims Harrison as pivotal episode in the memoir boom that solidified the power of the backlash and made it a formal part of the boom, and identifies further lack of credibility and social authority as James’ Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was attacked. The chapter concludes by examining how Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed revived and redefined memoir to feature a traumatized heroine who may evade critique is she is resilient and sexually well-adjusted

Keywords:   Neoliberal Life Narrative, Memoir Boom, Boom/lash, Oprah Winfrey, Scandal, Self-Help

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