By Frank Miller
In “Getting Personal: Autobiography as Cultural Criticism,” Nancy K. Miller first poses a question to her audience: “What’s personal criticism?” She herself defines it as “an explicitly autobiographical performance within the act of criticism” which “involves a deliberate move toward self-figuration” (1). Miller highlights that personal criticism may come in the form of high-brow academic analysis or a heartfelt personal account; yet, ultimately ponders: “are autobiographical and personal criticism the same thing?” (1). Miller states that distinguishing a difference between the two is important; however, concludes that “the effects” that autobiographical and personal criticism have on “the constitution of critical authority and the production of theory” (2) is truly what is relevant.
Miller invokes the works of several prominent feminists writers who cross the “autobiographical” and the “personal.” While reading, I couldn’t help but think of Martha Moulsworth, a British widow living in the post-Elizabethan era who seemed to interwine the personal with the autobiographical. Moulsworth’s “Memorandum,” a 55-couplet testament to her 55 years of life in 1632 has been recorded “as one of the first autobiographical English poems“; however, “the fact that it is by a woman, of course, adds to its importance.” It includes “one of the most sweeping and radical claims for the right to equal education ever issued in the Renaissance.” Yet, for the fact that the claim is made so early, only propels the significance of her statement. She writes: “Two universities we have of men, / O that we had but one of women then! / O then that would in wit, and tongues surpass / All art of men that is, or ever was” (33-36). Though the lines following these deal more with Moulsworth’s autobiographical story, these lines specifically portray her attack of “the constitution of critical authority” which in this case are Oxford and Cambridge, divine enforcers of constitutional patriarchy. Jointly, her assertion that women would “in wit, and tongues surpass, all art of men that is, or ever was” demonstrate her attempt to empower women, designating them to positions other than banal housework. Though Moulsworth’s voice might have been irrelevant at the time, I’m sure Miller would agree that incendiary works like these are indeed what is “truly relevant” to the production of future theory.
Here is the link to her work: