New book examines use of imagery in French autobiography

Posted by mjs76 at Nov 15, 2011 03:25 PM |
Modern Languages Fellow edits volume on 'textual and visual selves' in French autobiographical literature.

Textual and Visual Selves: Photography, Film, and Comic Art in French Autobiography is a new book co-edited by University Fellow Dr Ann Miller.

Four years ago our School of Modern Languages hosted a conference on ‘Narratives of Self in the Visual Arts’ that looked at how autobiography and autobiographical fiction have been depicted in film, photography and comics. Dr Ann Miller is a particular expert on the French use of this last artform, known as ‘bande dessinée’, and has previously covered the topic in her book Reading Bande Dessinée: Critical Approaches to French-Language Comic Strip.

This new volume, drawing on material presented at that conference, considers the recent trend among French language writers (in France and elsewhere) to incorporate visual elements into autobiographical work which do more than simply illustrate the text. Many of these works use the visual element in contrast to the text, confounding the obvious meaning and increasing rather than decreasing the ambiguity inherent in any but the most literal autobiography.

The chapters by Dr Miller and the other contributors draw on the ideas of the French philosopher and semiotician Roland Barthes whose work explored notions of authorship. In fact his 1975 autobiography Roland Barthes on Roland Barthes includes the instruction that the reader should view the ‘Roland Barthes’ within the book as a fictional character.

There is a strong tradition of autobiography within French literature (and art), extending significantly beyond the conventional memoirs which one might normally associate with this type of writing. Authors and artists addressed in this book, who have used text and images to blur the concepts of identity, include Georges Perec, Marguerite Duras, Sophie Calle, Hélène Cixous (once described by Jacques Derrida as the greatest living French language writer) and Agnès Varda.

Textual and Visual Selves: Photography, Film, and Comic Art in French Autobiography has been jointly edited by Ann Miller, Natalie Edwards (Wagner College) and Amy L Hubbell (Kansas State University/University of Queensland). It is published in paperback at $25 by University of Nebraska Press.