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  • Topologies of the Self:Space and Life-Writing
  • Frédéric Regard

The border between fiction and truth in autobiography has been the subject of numerous investigations, yet the question of the spatial positioning of the author remains largely ignored. Critics have written abundantly about autobiography in its relation to the origin of the author as a living personality with his/her own story but have never seriously treated the idea of the spatial modalities, the layout, of the author's writing self. In his relatively unknown 1967 article "Of Other Places," Michel Foucault, then on assignment in Tunis, predicted that Western thought would soon become an arena for two competing visions of the world: "One could perhaps say that certain ideological conflicts animating present-day polemics oppose the pious descendants of time and the determined inhabitants of space" (1986: 22). If we acknowledge, with Foucault, that space itself has a history (22), we may also deduce that the history of the "functions" of the autobiographical author, logically called upon to situate himself or herself in pragmatic fashion —not just as a body interacting with other bodies but also simply in the act of pronouncing "I" when faced with a "you" —is manifested as multiple effects of geographical schemas. What Foucault was soon to call the "author-function" (la fonctionauteur), i.e., the various conceptual definitions of authority produced by historically dated discursive conjunctions (Foucault 1969: 810-11), cannot escape the law of geographical placement implicated in the use of any specific discourse. The purpose of this paper is to survey theoretical tools for the study of this aspect of the author-function, and to apply some of them to Cardinal Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864) by way of illustration. My approach, to state it clearly from the outset, is deeply influenced by pragmatism, at least as represented by Jean-Jacques Lecercle (1999). Our positions, however, differ on two fundamental points: where Lecercle sees, in the "placement" that produces a "subject," the effect of a purely linguistic interrogation (34), I refuse to exclude from my reflections a kind of emplacement [End Page 89] inscribed in geographical reality; moreover, where Lecercle, a disciple of Althusser, sees no other issue than the ideological game of point/ counter-point (232), I would rather invest in the inscription of the "I" inside a game challenging the structures of ideological placement and precipitating what I would like to call a poetic spacing of the self.

Here is my major contention: when it comes to self-writing, the question is not so much "who am I?" as "where am I?" Let us take the near-simultaneity of the Rome-London divorce, the Puritan injunction to introspection, and the first university course in geography (in 1574 at Oxford, by Richard Hakluyt, cantor of the English colonialist epic): is this near-simultaneity really a matter of coincidence? Three centuries later, is it surprising to see autobiographical narratives multiplied, at the period when geographical instruction is generalized, when the Royal Geographical Society is founded in London (1830), when Darwin introduces the idea of "environment" ( 1859), when the first professorship in geography is finally established for John Mackinder at Oxford (1887)? Indeed, the question of the English subject's space arises as if the history of self-conceptions, and therefore of the autobiographical author, had always in some way been dependent on geographical knowledge. We can trace numerous other topics of interest in the same manner: can the author really exist in the same way if he/she lives before or after the first big topographical statement of the kingdom, the famous Domesday Book (1086)? Who is the author before he is capable of being "a point" whose longitude and latitude can be calculated with precision? Is she the same after the 1884 international agreement that draws an imaginary line from pole to pole, the one passing through Greenwich? And how would our perception of the author change given the shrinking of the planet and the disappearance of the last remaining wild places —that is, given the fact that space has finally become an "abstract" system, disconnected from the time once necessary to travel it (Giddens 1991: 17...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-9247
Print ISSN
1565-3668
Pages
pp. 89-102
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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