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Biography 24.3 (2001) 595-598

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Philippe Lejeune, ed. Récits de vie et medias. Les Cahiers RITM No. 20. Nanterre: Le Centre de Recherches Interdisciplinaires sur les Textes modernes de L'Université de Paris X, 2000. 235 pp. ISSN 1166-2212, F100.

As the celebrated author of Le Pacte autobiographique (Paris: Seuil, 1975) among many other studies of autobiography, Philippe Lejeune hosted, at the [End Page 595] Université de Paris X, the conference entitled Récits de vie et medias [Life Stories and Various Media]. This special issue of Les Cahiers de RITM contains the conference papers, which are timely responses to Gerald Prince's question in his review of Lejeune's L'Autobiographie en procès (Biography 22.4: 138) about how autobiography is influenced by the new non-written modes of transmission. There are fourteen contributions in this collection, divided into three subheadings: "From the Notebook to the Computer" (contributions by Jean Hébrard, Philippe Lejeune, Philippe Artières, Régine Robin, and Juliette Raabe); "Books and Visual Portrayals" (presentations by Claude Leroy, Marie-Françoise Chanfrault-Duchet, Claude Hubert-Ganyaire, and Jean-Pierre Mercier); and "Self-Figurations" (articles by Diane Watteau, Gilles Mora, Francis Vanoye, Jacques Lecarme, and Louise Merzeau). The media represented include the personal computer, the Web, the cassette recorder, the camcorder, film, photography, sketches, portraits, cartooning, CD-ROM, and writing.

The last contribution by Louise Merzeau, entitled "Médiologie et Moi" [Mediology and the Self], would have been a fitting introduction to this collection. This essay establishes the stakes for the developing discipline that studies the increasing number of forms mediating the presentation of the self. The questions of focalization and legitimization are brought to the fore as the various media are viewed as palimpsests of an individual's story, memory, and affect.

Jean Hébrard begins the volume with a survey of how journals were kept from the early eleventh century through the nineteenth century. He provides a codification of the types of journals and how they were kept together. His discussion of Moise, a veteran of the First World War, is especially interesting because Moise's journal from the Great War is juxtaposed with his interviews recorded on tape in 1975. The written diary is expanded by Moise's memory of the events of 1914-1918. For instance, he recalls that the fraternity of fighting in the trenches was a much stronger bond than other social ties such as work, class, and politics. Hébrard concludes that there is no privileged text providing the key to a single life. The various forms of encoding one's life are merely simulacra and expansions upon the life that was lived.

Lejeune himself provides the second essay, a remarkable journal of his struggles with electronic media. Acknowledging that the computer has provided a new space for communication, he provides the results of surveys he conducted requesting information on how the use of a computer has influenced respondents in their uses of a diary. The replies suggest how intrusive and transformational this machine has become. Lejeune observes from these remarks that the computer intrudes like an arrogant cat, making us negotiate anew the stakes for inscribing the self. [End Page 596]

Various ancillary media to the personal computer are also modifying the presentation of the self. Artières describes a twenty-three-year-old American woman's installation of a camcorder in her home in order to project visually the details of her personal life into her Website. Robin speaks about how the Web makes possible creative fiction that breaks away from the linear logic of the book, as e-mail and hypertext bring allusive methods to play in the telling of a story. Raabe adds that the audio and visual capabilities of the CD-ROM can guide and/or edit the presentation of the self in more dimensions than a single medium.

Visual representation is increasingly evident as an alternative, complementary, and expansive medium for self-presentation. Vanoye describes the growing presence of narcissism in contemporary film-making, while Mora posits the existence of "photobiography" as a term...


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