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  • Métamorphoses du journal personnel. De Rétif de la Bretonne à Sophie Calle
  • Raylene L. Ramsay (bio)
Catherine Viollet and Marie-Françoise Lemonnier-Delpy , eds. Métamorphoses du journal personnel. De Rétif de la Bretonne à Sophie Calle. Louvainla-Neuve: Bruylant-Academia, 2006. 236 pp. ISBN 2-87209-819-4, Euro26.

A study of the forms that the personal diary has taken from the eighteenth century, conducted by archival research into the genesis of particular texts, this is work in a specialist academic field. The reader is introduced to a particular genre of life writing through the examination of the origins and developments of a small number of eclectic texts. These include Lejeune's research into Rétif de La Bretonne's incorporation of the curious inscriptions and memory-notes or anniversary dates encrypted on the walls of public places on the Ile St-Louis in Paris from 1779–1785 into a later meticulously kept daily diary. They range to Montément and Tenant's analysis of the origins of [End Page 402] Sophie Calle's "non-identified artistic object," a "work of mourning for a lost love, constructed on the ruins of a phantom-diary" (Lejeune 7).

The critical studies included in this volume were generated by a research seminar, "Genèse et Autobiographie," organized by the Institute of Modern Texts and Manuscripts (CNRS-ENS). The earlier publications of this group included Genèses du "Je", Manuscrits et autobiography [Origins of the "I": Manuscripts and Autobiography] (CNRS, 2000) and Autobiographies (Genesis 16, 2001). A central thread of this present and third project is the investigation of the diary as a particular pre-text of the "I" or precursor of the autobiography, but the book also focuses on the metamorphoses of the diary itself as text.

The "dutiful" diary writing imposed on the sailor son of King Louis-Philippe, Le prince de Joinville, metamorphoses into the Prince's original illustrated accounts of his travels and encounters. The nineteenth century diary of a young Strasbourg woman, Amélie Weiler, is also illustrated by its author, giving new insights into both her conformity to the norms of her time and her individual challenges to her feminine condition. A chapter tracing the genesis of the diary of the Rumanian poet Gabriela Melinescu and her descriptions of her experiences in Sweden far from her homeland shows that this is again an ongoing construction from both text and image as is Sophie Calle's similarly hybrid self-writing, Douleur exquise.

In his "avant-propos," Philippe Lejeune (author of a number of theoretical studies of life-writing, and notably the ground-breaking study of the popular nineteenth-century diary writing of young girls, Le moi de demoiselles, 1993) points to another aspect of the diary's hybridity, describing the works that make up the second section of Métamorphoses as examples of pre-texts. The term "pre-text" includes the diary seen as writing-laboratory (as the basis for a novel by Marie-Claire Blais), or as the origin of a novel followed in its turn by a treatise on the genesis of the novel (Journal de Printemps, Récit d'un livre, 1977, by Christiane Rochefort). The diary may constitute a first text in which to confide, as it is for the Russian poetess Marina Tsvetaeva or the French writer Charles Juliet. The 1913 account of Victor Segalen's travel to China that gave birth to a literary narrative, Equipée, is seen to be foregrounding poetic art and the limits of language rather than the voyage of its title. A note in Michel Leiris's diary, later transformed by its passage through other literary texts, can also situate his diary text as pre-text or precursor. However, the "false diary" of the poet Jude Stefan that Lejeune characterizes as "the poetic distillation of the real diary of a real writer" (7), and Sophie Calle's "non-identified artistic object," a "work of mourning for a lost love, constructed on the ruins of a phantom-diary" (7), stretch the boundaries of Lejeune's categorization of these diaries as pre-text by evolving into other genres. [End Page 403]

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1456
Print ISSN
0162-4962
Pages
pp. 402-406
Launched on MUSE
2007-10-01
Open Access
No
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