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Reviewed by:
  • Medialisierungsformen des (Auto) Biografischen ed. by Carsten Heinze, Alfred Hornung
  • Nina Schmidt (bio)
Carsten Heinze and Alfred Hornung, eds. Medialisierungsformen des (Auto) Biografischen. Konstanz: UVK, 2013. 356pp. ISBN 978-3867644020, 44 euros.

The edited volume Medialisierungsformen des (Auto-)Biografischen is centered on the inherent mediality of auto/biographical accounts. The book is the outcome of an interdisciplinary conference of the same name, which was held in Hamburg in December 2011 and was organized by, among others, Carsten [End Page 803] Heinze, who is one of the volume’s editors. It builds on discussions prompted by previous publications such as AutoBioFiktion. Konstruierte Identita¨ten in Kunst, Literatur und Philosophie (2006) and Automedialita¨t. Subjektkonstitution in Schrift, Bild und neuen Medien (2008). It brings together research from various disciplines, with contributions from sociology and literary/cultural studies dominating. However, the volume also accommodates the work of “practitioners” of auto/biography, containing essays by filmmakers Christoph Hübner and Diana Weilepp, as well as an interview with director Pepe Danquart. In its endeavor to create an interdisciplinary dialogue relating to auto/biography, it follows in the footsteps of the special edition “Autobiographie und Zeitgeschichte” of BIOS—Zeitschrift für Biographieforschung, Oral History und Lebensverlaufsanalysen (23.2, 2010), in which the interrelation of historical, sociological, and literary perspectives results in giving an excellent overview of the state of auto/biographical research in each of the aforementioned fields.

Medialisierungsformen des (Auto-)Biografischen opens with a brief preface by editors Carsten Heinze and Alfred Hornung, both of whom have a longstanding interest in the auto/biographical. It offers speculations on why an intensified academic interest into the field of auto/biography has been taken up comparatively late in German-speaking countries. One reason they rightly propose is literary studies’ conservative resistance to that which has been regarded as mundane and unsophisticated writing unworthy of critical examination. Such views are symptomatic of a dichotomized approach to “high” vs. “low” culture that, in the German-language literary realm, remains influential to this day.

The editors credit Anglo-American research, in particular James Olney’s work, with opening up the field and shifting its focus from “classic” (auto)-biographies—which are typically teleological narratives of white, male public figures—to a broader and more inclusive understanding of life writing. From the 1980s onwards, English-language research has pointed to new directions in auto/biographical studies, especially in promoting the analysis of portrayals of both mundane and marginalized lives, fostering an interest in life writing “from below.”

Today we take it as a matter of course that that which we call “life writing” does not necessarily have to be “written”; text, in the narrow sense of the word, is only one of many forms in which lives find shape in a digitized society. The directions of academic analyses of the auto/biographical have diversified accordingly, and an awareness has grown in academia of the choices that life writers make concerning media usage, their stories’ materialities, and the visual and digital technologies increasingly available to them. Each of these decisions, conscious or not, calls for a critical reflection beyond the “content” [End Page 804] of the auto/biographical, as they are likely to influence not only the life writing process but also its “product.” Medialisierungsformen des (Auto-)Biografischen therefore appears to be a timely book, contributing to the continuous efforts to rectify what many see as the field’s former Medienvergessenheit, or oblivion of media usage/mediation—of course, a charge leveled against the humanities as a whole—when interpreting life writings.

The sixteen articles included in the volume are structured into five sections, the first and most comprehensive of which adopts the overall theme of the original conference and the title of the book, focussing broadly on the media of auto/biography.

Carsten Heinze’s introductory first chapter is the point of departure for this section, and explicates the fundamental conviction of this volume: that to advance research into the role and meaning of the auto/biographical (both in society and for the individual), researchers must work together across disciplines when examining the dynamics underlying our complex and never “natural” representations of lives. Heinze further comments on the...


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