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  • The Brazilian "I/Eye" at the IABA Global ConferenceThe Year in Brazil
  • Sergio da Silva Barcellos (bio)

At the Sixth IABA Conference in 2008, Philippe Lejeune posed a seemingly enigmatic question: "Is the I international?" The conundrum was only apparent. Illustrating with his personal and professional experience, Lejeune offered a glimpse of the trajectory of autobiography studies from "colonization," as considered by Georges Gusdorf in 1956, to "globalization," being discussed in 2008. Core to his reflections was the inquiry into whether translations of critical texts and original works compensate for linguistic insufficiencies and whether some life experiences could cross borders more easily than narratives attached to national or historical realities. Although now we approach autobiographical narratives from the perspectives of decolonization and posthumanism, some questions presented by Lejeune during the 2008 conference remain relevant, such as "Are there any general, transversal, comparative, multinational studies on autobiography or the diary?" (12) or "Is it possible to construct a theory of autobiography without its carrying the mark of a specific culture or a particular ideology—in short, can our ideas be translated?" (13). Indeed, the extensive and irreplaceable contribution of Philippe Lejeune to the field of auto/biographical studies itself has not achieved an international scope, nor has it been widely accessible in more than a few hegemonic languages.1

The background perspective for answering these questions has been suggested by Eva Karpinski: "In the landscape where migrancy and translation are inextricably linked, people affected by larger historical shifts, past and present, turn to life narrative as a means of translating their lived experiences into texts" (Borrowed Tongues 1). Whereas the encounter of ontological self and the narrated and narrating "I" represents more than a pact, it marks first a catalyst for the translation and migration of practical human experience into verbal or graphic narrative. An international summit of scholars and practitioners of life writing is unquestionably an excellent arena for the development of these pieces of knowledge through the [End Page 13] exchange of experiences and exposure to debate and scrutiny. However, how much of the essence of this catalyst is missing due to cultural and linguistic barriers? In an essay for The European Journal of Life Writing issue commemorating Philippe Lejeune, Craig Howes stresses that since IABA's foundation in 1999 "language remains a demanding, and still not fully addressed challenge," despite many efforts to minimize linguistic barriers (35). Among these efforts, Howes cites the creation of regional divisions of the association: Europe, Americas, Asia-Pacific, and Africa. In addition to this, I would like to mention individual efforts, such as those of the IABA Students and New Scholars Network (SNS) members, who provide multilingual materials during their workshops.

Ten years after the 2008 conference, the IABA Conference took place in Brazil—a country with a rich culture of auto/biographical writing yet so timid in life writing studies, so permeable to the seduction of the self or "the autobiographic temptation," to use an expression coined by Philippe Gasparini, and yet so concerned with questions of formality, literary value, ideological contents, and philosophical or political engagement. Perhaps these questions should have reemerged during this most recent IABA conference, held in a Portuguese-speaking country while the official language of the conference was English. Efforts were made to minimize linguistic alienation, but the echo of the question "can our ideas be translated?" reverberated through the four days of the conference. Moreover, other questions could be raised. How was the Brazilian "I" presented? How was the Brazilian "eye" contrasted with other epistemological frameworks and methodological approaches in life writing studies? How much of the Brazilian "eye" was shared and communicated to this international audience? Unquestionably, the dedicated participants, both nationals and foreigners, contributed to an unprecedented joint effort to strengthen the ties between scholars and practitioners of life writing. Although it would be an arduous task to assess a specific and tangible result, an attempt to review some particularly strong contributions could be a fruitful exercise.

The theme of the conference, "Secret Lives: Hiding, Revealing, Belonging," despite using a problematic adjective such as "secret," allowed participants to explore a wide range of rich analytical possibilities available within the life writing realm...


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