Biography 26.2 (2003) 306-312
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For scholars whose interests lie in the field of autobiography, Écriture de soi: secrets et réticences constitutes an invaluable collection of critical reflections on nineteenth- and twentieth-century works in French. This publication contains twenty-two papers from an international colloquium held in Besançon in November 2000, as well as a conclusion by Philippe Lejeune, a prolific critic of autobiography who is best known for his theorization of the "autobiographical pact" in his 1975 text of that name.
As the subtitle of this book indicates, the various cases of "self writing" examined in its pages do not constitute straightforward autobiographies in accordance with Lejeune's definition. Instead, the writings under scrutiny are situated on the margins of "autobiography," and they push the limits of the genre in interesting new directions. The novelty of this collection of essays lies in its careful attention to contemporary French publications that do not easily lend themselves to categorization, but that undeniably contain autobiographical elements. The inclusion of names such as Henri Bosco, Blaise Cendrars, Driss Chraibi, Philippe Jaccottet, Richard Jorif, Pierre Michon, Patrick Modiano, Dominique Pagnier, Pascal Quignard, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jacques Roubaud, and Claude Simon reflects the very recent proliferation of works that challenge and expand the ways we conceive of writing the self.
There can be no question that Lejeune's presence at the colloquium's proceedings influenced the tone and the content of the papers. The various analyses almost inevitably come into contact with Lejeune's critical corpus, but they are not content to settle there; they move instead to find innovative [End Page 306] expressions to render the complicated and rich autobiographical content of the works at hand. While traditional questions of "truth" and "transparency" are central to all literary explorations of themoi, this publication does not limit its approach to the autobiographical problematic from the angle of veracity.
It is significant that Proust is mentioned more than twice as often as Rousseau in Écriture de soi, for the turn-of-the-century writer's criticism and practice serve as a pertinent model for reflecting on autobiographical texts from the last two centuries. À la recherche du temps perdu would also have been an appropriate subtitle for this book, since each chapter—without exception—focuses ontimeas the important element in writing the self. On two pages of previously unpublished verse by William Cliff tucked between the preface and the first chapter, the poet makes a performative statement: "ce mien temps deviendra littérature." This single provocative line can be read as a guide to the critical reflections that follow, for writing the self is as much about writing (one's) time as it is about searching for a deep inner truth. In fact, the two may be so tightly intertwined as to become inseparable. As the chosen autobiographical works reveal, temporality is the critical theme around which the quest for authenticity revolves.
The book opens with a preface by co-editor Marie Miguet-Ollagnier that provides a helpful overview of the eclectic contributions to this volume. According to her account, the idea for this series of reflections on texts that disrupt the "pacte de référentialité" (in which direct reference is established between text and world, between character and person) found its genesis in a 1998 essay Vie secrète by Pascal Quignard. The 2002 recipient of the Prix Goncourt, Quignard has produced an oeuvre marked by autobiographical fragments that appear within fictionalized stories, and this intriguing mixture of genres sparked this conference and subsequent publication. The organization of the various articles into four well-chosen categories contributes to a cohesive whole despite the differing nature of the works included. The following overview will briefly address the contents of the book, "zeroing in" ontimeas the focal point.
L'autobiographie En Questions / Questioning Autobiography
In "Le Navire Argo, ou la vie secrète d'...