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Biography 26.2 (2003) iii

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Editor's Note

Partly because I had just returned from a seminar on autobiography and ethics, when putting together this issue of Biography, I couldn't help noticing that all three of the essays raised questions about what was appropriate or questionable in the practice of life writing. As he often does, G. Thomas Couser introduces us to a fascinating limit case involving highly vulnerable subjects, and then carefully assesses the writer's success in representing individuals whose very nature makes the possibility of ethical violation almost unavoidable. Joseph Phelan's essay shows us how foregrounding issues of ethnic background, supposedly in an utterly changed and far less racist literary scene, almost inevitably carries with it the kinds of evaluative assumptions that shaped ethnology in its formative days. And Carolyn Wells Kraus draws on her own experience as a writer of personal profiles for major national magazines to assess the morality of her own actions in the light of her subjects' and informants' sense of alienation and harm. Though the essayists' chosen texts, and their relation to them, are very different, it's clear that the ethics of representation and self-representation, whether considered as a political, a psychological, a racial, a social, or even an aesthetic issue, is at the moment catching the attention of many writers and scholars in the field.

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Please note in particular the Lifeline announcements for our next special issue, "Personal Effects: The Testimonial Uses of Life Writing," and for the 2004 IABA Conference in Hong Kong, "Inhabiting Multiple Worlds: Autobiography in an (Anti)Global Age" (400-401). Both the special issue and the conference stress the international dimensions of our field, and affirm the value of our critical and theoretical work at a time when life narrative and testimony play so prominent a part in the intense and often highly contentious political, legal, and ethical environments so many people find they must inhabit.



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