Biography 25.3 (2002) 518-521
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Philippe Lejeune and Catherine Viollet, leading members of the team "Genesis et Autobiographie" [Origin and Autobiography], continue in this second volume to present the significant results of their ongoing investigation into texts which have led to autobiographies. The project, officially initiated in 1994 within the Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes at the University of Paris X (ITEM), presented its Year 2000 results in Genèses du "Je": Manuscrit et autobiographie [Origins of the "I": Manuscripts and Autobiography]. 1 The 2001 presentation features thirteen articles written by scholars and students on nineteenth and twentieth century authors. All of the articles agree on the need for better definitions of the objectives of "critique génétique": criticism applied to a body of autobiographical "foretexts," such as notebooks and journals. The endeavor undertaken by ITEM is all the more appreciated as the corpus of foretexts is at times very complex, and requires, it would seem, limitless patience from the researcher.
Genesis, Manuscrits-Recherche-Invention, Autobiographie is essential because it presents an index of terminology that can be used to describe how autobiographical foretexts operate. This indexing—"a grammar," according to Lejeune—is invaluable when trying to analyze or delineate works of fiction or of autobiography. This contribution perhaps makes it easier to perceive autobiographical writing as an autonomous and legitimate field within the canon, one that ultimately can be added to the curricula of universities. This didactic aspect buttresses and confirms the overall validity of the project.
The 2001 issue is divided into five sections. The first, "Enjeux" [The Stakes], features two seminal articles on genetic criticism applied to the genre [End Page 518] of autobiography and its foretexts. In the first article Lejeune analyzes Marie d'Agoult's Mémoires in light of a notebook that she wrote between 1865 and 1866. As the manuscripts of her Mémoires are not extant, this notebook becomes an essential piece of the genetic puzzle leading to the final publication, and offers pertinent material not in the Mémoires: the revenge taken against d'Agoult's children, for example, or against her lover, Liszt. Furthermore, Lejeune comments upon the fear of failure which haunted d'Agoult before writing her Mémoires—especially after the unsuccessful publication of George Sand's autobiography. D'Agoult hesitated for twenty years before penning her unfinished and unpublished Mémoires, and by choosing her as a focal point of his investigation, Lejeune argues convincingly that the foretext is sometimes more substantial and significant than the final production. As for the published work of D'Agoult herself, the Mémoires are only moderately interesting.
In the second article, Catherine Viollet (editor of the Revue) examines the wide range of writing practices peculiar to autobiography, practices codified by the ITEM team since 1995. For Lejeune, the divisions and subdivisions of the grammar of autobiography are a) Deliberating before writing, b) Gathering information and locating points of reference in the past, c) Searching for the meaning of one's life, d) Creating a text (considering and choosing the paratext of readers, the level of enunciation, the narrative order and style), e) Determining the provenance of intertextuality in terms of genre and in terms of personal model, and f) Censorship and the social commitment implied by the publication of one's text. Viollet adds the following determinants: a) The progressive construction of the self through rewritings and foretexts, b) The anchoring of the identity through the name, the censorship of others, of publishers, and auto-censoring, c) The metamorphosis of the journal into a work of fiction, a publication, etc., and d) The critical metadiscourse inserted into the autobiography by the autobiographer.
The second section, "Etudes" [Studies], offers three genetic studies which affirm the clear distinction between the creation of a form and the invention of fiction. This section also destroys the myth (established by Thibaudet) by which autobiography...