“Imagined Rendering”: Photography, Memory, and Autobiography in Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family and The Cat’s Table
This thesis examines the idea of memory as a creative and aesthetic process in Running in the Family and The Cat’s Table – Michael Ondaatje’s most autobiographical texts. By paying particular attention to the invocation and representation of photography and visual art, this thesis considers how Ondaatje uses photography and visual art to explore the reliability of memory in order to raise questions about autobiography’s claims to absolute referentiality. Drawing on Philippe Lejeune’s foundational analysis of autobiography, this thesis demonstrates how Ondaatje invites his reader to interpret Running in the Family and The Cat’s Table as autobiographies while simultaneously frustrating the reader’s assumption that memory is an accurate record of a historically verifiable past. Overall, this thesis reveals how Ondaatje foregrounds the constructed and dynamic nature of memory, ultimately emphasizing the fictional structures at the heart of autobiography and the problematic assumptions readers’ make when reading autobiographical texts.