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Reviewed by:
  • Récit de vie, récit de soi ed. by Christophe Ippolito
  • Sonia Wilson
Récit de vie, récit de soi. Études réunies par Christophe Ippolito. (Essais.) Caen: Passage(s), 2018. 309 pp.

This collection of fifteen essays is framed as an exploration of contemporary French narratives of life and self. Extending his definition of récits de soi to include traces of the life of the author in fictional texts, Christophe Ippolito casts the net wide. This allows contributors considerable interpretive scope: essays focus on a variety of generic practices and a range of authors, including established twentieth-century literary figures — Beckett, Cendrars — as well as contemporary francophone writers such as Rachid O. and Abdellah Taïa, and Vietnamese-Québécois novelist Kim Thúy. In the introductory chapter, Ippolito briefly outlines the critical problems explored in the volume: the relationship between autobiography and autofiction; the role of the récit de soi in the constitution of cultural memory; and the poetic and ethical challenges of telling trauma. While Ippolito’s brief explanation of the English term ‘life writing’ will be useful for francophone readers new to the field, there is little acknowledgement in this chapter of the substantial shifts in scholarship on écriture de soi which have taken place in France over the past thirty years. Philippe Lejeune’s definition of autobiography is cited (Le Pacte autobiographique (Paris: Seuil, 1975)), and, while Ippolito observes that Lejeune’s research has evolved since, he neglects to explain how: there is no discussion of Lejeune’s later problematization of this definition (Le Pacte autobiographique, ii: Signes de vie (Paris: Seuil, 2005)), nor of his shift from a focus on literary autobiography to what has come to be called ‘écriture ordinaire’. The fifteen essays are well organized and Ippolito gives a useful overview of their grouping. Part One comprises two modules. The first focuses on the strategies drawn on by Roland Barthes and Philippe Forest in their narrative transactions of self and other; the second on the ways in which socio-cultural configurations of gender and sexuality complicate the autobiographical project. The last chapter of this section, in which Julien Defraeye identifies trauma as the driving force behind the negotiation of time and space in Thúy’s novel Ru (2009), links neatly with Part Two, in which the relationship between narrative and trauma is explored more fully. Part Two opens with a fascinating investigation by Jean-Michel Caralp into the ways in which literature, mediated by memory and recitation, worked as a vector of neurobiological resilience in the concentration camps. In the closing essay, Ophélie Chavaroche provides an equally astute reading of Alix Cléo Roubaud’s [End Page 660] diary by drawing on Derrida’s notion of hostipitalité and Foucault’s distinction between gnōthi seauton (self-knowledge) and epimeleia heautou (self-care). Part Three shifts to topics as diverse as Cendrars’s mythobiography, the pragmatic use of narrative by Hamm in Beckett’s Endgame, and biographemes in the fiction of Philippe Djian and Michel Houellebecq. The section, and thus the volume as a whole, closes by helpfully returning the reader more explicitly to questions raised in Part Two. Here, Mendel Péladeau-Houle’s insightful analysis of the ethopoetics of Emil Cioran’s aphorisms is well placed: the function of memorization in the transformative potential of the aphorism resonates nicely with Caralp’s piece on the effects of memorization and recitation on bodily and psychic equilibrium in the camps.

Sonia Wilson
University of Sydney