The interfaces of auto/biography, part one
Sophie Mayer, Karen Dias, & Jenéa Tallentire

2004, when we began to solicit and read work for this issue, marked the publication of Intimate Journal, Barbara Godard’s fine English translation of Nicole Brossard’s Journal Intime, nearly fifteen years after the text was broadcast on CBC. Brossard was commissioned to write a series of journal entries, to be read on the radio (by Pol Pelletier), an account of the literary life. Brossard, being fully engaged with the discourse of feminist theory, took the opportunity to reflect on the journal as a form, and on the strangeness of writing about writing, which suggests a line between writing and living. In particular, she explores the intimate and surprising operations of memory, of the construction of the self in moments of time. Brossard’s moments are witty, poised, feminist, desiring. Women remind her of other women. She writes not a self, but community – a theme that emerges again and again in the essays presented here. To write the self, as a feminist, is to place the self in relation to others, to provide models, to enter community. It is an act that mediates the unconscious and self-consciousness, personal writing and a theoretical stance on what ‘the personal’ might mean. The writers we selected concern themselves with both the act and its meaning, and insist on the political importance of such doubled writing for feminism, as a politic dedicated to building a multiple, accessible, alternate history. Each approach is different, but, reading through the journal, you will encounter thematic and theoretical similarities, echoes and emphases, although no single answer. As Brossard writes, “[t]oute est question de cadrage dans la paysage du réel, de montage et de fondu enchaîné dans la memoire, lorsqu’une vue de l’ésprit se transforme en une image precise de femme en train d’écrire” (Journal Intime 63) - “Everything’s a question of framing in the landscape of the real, of montage and dissolve in memory, when a mental frame is transformed into a precise image of a woman in the process of writing” (Intimate Journal trans. Godard 77).

Sifting and evaluating the many excellent submissions we received for this special issue took an enormous amount of time and effort, but we think the results are worth it. In fact, we had enough prime submissions to make a second issue - which we will present as a special July issue of thirdspace. So for this first issue in our two-part offering on “the interfaces of auto/biography” we have two articles and four essays, all centring around the uses and revelations of voice in auto/biography.

Lu Bailey’s article, “When ‘The Research’ is Me: Women’s Experiences as Contingent Faculty in the Contemporary Academy,” presents an intricate auto/biographical portrayal of the mostly invisible experiences and teaching conditions of over-worked and under-compensated contingent female faculty (adjuncts, instructors, and graduate teaching assistants) in contemporary academic institutions. This piece is a particularly significant and relevant for all ‘emerging feminist scholars’ as we prepare for and move into our various roles as scholars, researchers, and teachers. Karen notes: “I found this piece particularly profound and insightful - and difficult - because one strategy I have for surviving and coping with the daily ups and downs of graduate school is telling myself that the job (tenure track, good school, geographically desirable location, feminist and feminist friendly colleagues) will be there. Somehow.” Bailey challenges us to confront the reality for marginalized and underemployed educated professionals whose work is undervalued in various ways, “casting into sharp relief the contradictions between the rhetorical mission of higher education and the labour standards sustaining it.”

In one of our rare French-language offerings, Sharon Larson explores the intersection of masculine discourse and its construction of female voice and identity in Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein by Marguerite Duras. By examining the intersection of the male narrator’s construction of female hysteria to Freud’s case study Dora, she seeks to unveil the incapacity of Duras’s male narrator to articulate feminine subjectivity. She then turns to Cixous’s écriture féminine to re-locate female subjectivity in psychoanalytic discourse and auto/biographical writing, calling for a reader that reads such work not for the ‘madness’ of women but the complicity of the narrator and the possibility of other meanings to women’s lives beyond masculine self-perceptions.

Our four essays move in similar directions: the ethics, challenges, and transformations of auto/biographical research. In her essay, “Seductive Whisperings: Memory, Desire and Agency in Auto-bio-graphy,” Sue Lovell discusses her project of researching the life of late nineteenth century Queensland, Australia artist, Vida Lahey. She deals with the ethical issues, power relations, and troubling dilemmas inherent in representing historical subjects through biographical writing, including the inevitable intrusion of self into narrative and the hybrid blurring between biography and autobiography. Lovell is concerned with how to ethically represent Lahey and not ‘overwrite’ her subject’s agency and voice, whilst negotiating her own contemporary feminist sensibilities and desires, with their inherent poststructuralist and humanist conflicts. Lovell grapples eloquently and honestly with her own autobiographical tensions, which do and will structure her biographical and historical project.

Tamar Hager explores he impact of writing about a woman who committed infanticide on her own perceptions and struggles as a mother in “Chasing Shadows: A Journey in the Footsteps of a Woman Who Murdered Her Baby Daughter in 1877.” The difficulties of dredging up details from the past - even a single grave - are compounded here not just by the vagaries of time and memory, but also the presence and demands of one’s own children. Hager pursued the life story of Ellen Harper because of her own motherhood, yet the conditions of motherhood constrained, perhaps even created failures in that attempt to recreate that life. In the end, it is what Ellen Harper gives to Tamar Hager that is indispensable.

The essays by Marta Sofia Lopez (“Sappho, C'est Moi”) and Michelle Lee (“Performing Michael Field: The Infatuation and Revelation of Auto/Biography”) in many ways are companion pieces: both are meditations on autobiographical positioning in academia, as inflected by wrestling with issues of lesbian textuality. Sappho and Michael Field stand, metonymically and literally, for a tradition of feminist recuperation of lesbian lived experience through tantalising hints in literary texts, commentaries, and letters. These authors imagine another form of reconstruction, one rarely talked about in academia: a mimetic enthusiasm, an infusion of the spirit of the authors, in order to imagine their worlds – Homeric Greece, Victorian England – as both different from our own, and strongly informing our own conceptions of gender, sexuality, and authorship. Both writers speak of being ‘warned off’ such subjects by the academy, and of finding and/or providing ‘thirdspaces,’ such as the “Performing Autobiography” class that Lee discusses, in which to imagine a feminist critical practice that enlivens, or even relives, texts, not in a search for a coherent, biographical truth, but for a deeper understanding of the power of iconic biography, and its literary crystallisation, to inform our intellectual, emotional, and political choices in the present.

We hope you enjoy this first issue in our two-parter on the interfaces of auto/biography. In our July special issue we will highlight new approaches to auto/biography theory and explorations of new kinds of life writing in the twenty-first century.