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  • Performativität statt Tradition—Autobiografische Diskurse von Frauen by Brigitte E. Jirku and Marion Schulz
  • Beth Ann Muellner
Brigitte E. Jirku and Marion Schulz. Performativität statt Tradition—Autobiografische Diskurse von Frauen. Peter Lang, 2012. Inter-Lit Stiftung Frauen-Literatur-Forschung 12. 316 pp. Cloth, $69.95.

In their study of the autobiographical works of Western European women from the late 1990s to 2012, Jirku and Schulz appropriately claim that gender should remain central to discussions that challenge and redefine the genre. In the editors' brief history of women's autobiography, women's struggle for political and/or private autonomy follows the genre's split from religious and confessional origins to secularity. The volume's thirteen chapters, many reflecting the current emphasis on Momentaufnahmen (snapshots), are variously influenced by different genre theorists. These include Lejeune's invitation to readers to join an "autobiographical pact," feminist theorists' destabilization of the classical (patriarchal, colonial) autobiographical subject, poststructuralists' understanding of the subject as fragmentary and fractured, and Judith Butler's concept of "performativity."

The chapters are grouped in three sections that reflect autobiography as performance, dissolution, and transformation. The first section begins with Julia Prager's chapter on de Man, Derrida, and Butler and is concerned with the trope of prosopopoeia, the ability of the autobiographical subject to claim a voice. Antonia Cabanilles Sanches and Anna Lozano de la Pola's chapter reveals Spanish-and German-speaking women's playfulness with gender and autobiography in written, photographic, and painted texts from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Angelika Baier presents Elisabeth Scharang's Austrian documentary Tintenfischalarm (2006; Octopus alarm) as an autobiographical toolkit to feature the life of intersexual subject Alex Jürgen. Eva Kimminich presents the authenticity and credibility of French female rappers through the narratological lens of "possible world theory," revealing the similar experiences of male and female rap artists as outsiders vis-à-vis France's colonial history. Eva Thüne's chapter emphasizes poetic multilingualism and code-switching as discursive strategies for migrant poets in Italy. Several chapters here highlight intersectional and transnational identity concerns over those of gender specifically.

The second section begins with Carola Hilmes's chapter on Ilse Aichinger's 2001 autobiography, Film und Verhängnis (Film and doom), whose title captures the fleeting nature of filmic images that work to decenter memory and overcome trauma. Nuria Girona's chapter on Chantal Maillard problematizes the "I" of the Belgian-born Spanish [End Page 165] writer while sidestepping the issue of gender altogether. Mercè Picornell Belenguer's chapter interprets the Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska's critique of the objectifying tendencies of biography as an autobiographical act. Susanna Stempfle Albrecht focuses on Swedish women's interventions into autobiography through their challenge to media and literary debates, and suggests that the category of gender limits rather than loosens boundaries for the genre.

In the third section, Angelika Künne offers a close reading of Claire Goll's displacement of the self via literary images, allowing the author to move beyond painful childhood memories of abuse. Myriam Naumann describes DDR politician Vera Wollenberger's confrontation with her own Stasi file, including the revelation of her husband's betrayal, and the split of the self between the "reader-I" and the "textual-I." Cornelia Anna Maul outlines Barbara Honigmann's embrace of a lost Jewish identity that eventually leads to exile outside her native GDR and into the location of the self in writing. Carla Batuca-Branco discusses a similar search for self with the Portuguese writer Isabela Figueriredos, who comes to terms with the guilt of her colonialist heritage growing up in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique.

While Jirku and Schulz do not make clear why these particular authors were chosen, the seemingly random assortment of texts by Austrian, Belgian-born Spanish, French, German, transnational Italian, French-born Mexican, Spanish, and Swedish writers and artists does succeed in challenging a stable or monolithic (Western European) "I." The most successful chapters are those that offer close readings dedicated to individual texts and authors rather than generalizing broader national trends. That said, some discussion of an interconnection (or specific lack thereof) in the experiences of gender, class, or national identity in...


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