JFC 5129H-S

Performative Autobiographical Acts: Painted and Photographic Representations of Self in Personal and Political Testimonials

Modalités de diffusion du cours

LEC0101 - En présentiel

LEC9101 - En ligne synchrone


Jeudi 12h - 14h


J. LeBlanc






Many theorists and critics of illustrated autobiographical narratives (Adams, Butler, Didier, Egan, Gusdorf, Gilmore, Hirsch, Heddon Lejeune, Perrault, Simonet-Tenant, Olney, Rugg, Watson, etc.,) have proposed that the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century be perceived as an age of testimony, an age of “bearing witness or testifying” (Heddon). This is perhaps best epitomized by the proliferation of autobiographical narratives (diaries, mémoires, notebooks, autobiographies) published in the past century and the rise of extremely diverse theories for the study of life narratives (structuralist, historical, visual, feminist, genetic, etc.). What Suzanna Egan calls testimonial culture is part of and related to a more general memory boom, itself indebted to the “transformation of the personal into the political” [1]. My seminar will be dedicated to personal testimonials and to the study of the performative qualities of identity construction in self-representational photographic and painted narratives marked by subjective experiences and political convictions. Testimonial culture is marked by the political upheavals that have marked the 20th and 21st century. Many writers and artists have focused their visual self-representational acts on political historical events (WWI, WWII, the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, War in Iraq) becoming performative witnesses to tragic sociopolitical events. In the process of “imagining” and “imaging” these worlds, the visual auto-biographical narratives studied in our seminar simultaneously challenge generic conventions, the mimetic and referential nature of images, the role of readership and spectatorship in the intellectualization of these descriptive, culturally and politically charged visual self-representational narratives. More importantly, these texts flaunt the fact that they are visual cultural constructions deeply involved with human societies, ethics, politics and the epistemology of “seeing and being seen” (Mitchell, What do pictures want? p. 341). Various theories of performativity (Austin, Carlson, Hirsch, Kadar, Langford, Récanati, Smith, etc.) will be at the core of our study of Blais, Calle, Findley, Kahlo and Salomon’s personal and political testimonials.



Primary texts:

Blais, M-C. American Notebooks. Our focus will be on the political commentary regarding the Vietnam War.

---. American Passages.

Calle, Sophie. Double Game.

Findley, T. The Wars.

---. Findley’s unpublished Personal Notebooks and manuscripts (including his uncle’s unpublished WWI correspondance) pertaining to the genesis of the Wars will also be examined.

Kahlo, Frida. Painted Diary.

(We will also study her numerous self-portraits and their political/cultural meanings).

Salomon, Charlotte. Life? or Theater.


Photography and Autobiography: a “selection”

Mirzoeff, N. The Visual Cultural Reader. London: Routledge, 2005.

Mitchell, W. (Ed.) The Language of images. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

Taylor, J. Body Horror. Photojournalism. Catastrophe and War. Manchester: 1998.

Adams, Timothy Dow. Light Writing and Life Writing: photography in autobiography. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Fauvel, Maryse. “Photographie et autobiographie”, Romance Notes, vol. 34, no 2, 1993, p. 193-202.

Méaux, Danièle (dir.). Traces photographiques, Traces autobiographiques. Paris: Broché, 2004.

Melera, Mariella. “Photographics/Autobiographics: Felix Nadar and the Face of Resemblance,” French Cultural Studies, vol. 8, no 2 (1997): 180-193.

Paraye, Catherine. “Photographie et autobiographie : comment raconter le traumatisme?”, Texte, revue critique et de théorie littéraire, vol. 41-42, 2007, p. 63-80.

Ruchel-Stockmans, Katarzyna. “Impossible self-representation”, Image & Narrative: Painting/Portrait, vol. 14, July 2006.

Rugg, Linda Haverty. Picturing Ourselves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Painting: a “selection”

Fossi, Gloria. Le Portrait. Paris: Grund, 1998.

Garcia, Tristan. L’Image. France, Atlande, 2007.

Genette, G. L'œuvre d'art. La relation esthétique. Paris: Seuil, 1997.

Game, J. (ed.) Porous Boundaries. Texts and Images. Oxford: Oxford Press, 2007.

Ricci, F. Painting with Words, Writing with Pictures. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.

Vouilloux, B. La peinture dans le texte. Paris: CNRS, 1994.

Weisberg, G. “Painting as Autobiography” Arts Magazine, vol 63, no 9 (1989): 48-55.

Felman, S and Laub, D. (Eds.) Testimony: Contemporary Performance and Force Entertainment. London: Routledge, 1999.

Gusdorf, Georges. “Conditions et limites de l'autobiographie.” Formen der Selbstdarstellung. Berlin: Duncker und Humboldt, 1956.

---.  “De l'autobiographie initiatique à l'autobiographie genre littéraire.” Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France, no 6, November-December (1975): 957-1002.

---. Auto-bio-graphie. Lignes de vie 2. Paris: Editions Odile Jacob, 1991.

Heddon, Deirdre. Autobiography and Performance. New York: Palgrave, 2008.

Kazin, Alfred. “Autobiography as Narrative.” The Michigan Quartely Review. Vol III, no 1 (1964): 210- 216.

Lejeune, Philippe. L'Autobiographie en France. Paris: Armand Colin, 1971.

---. Moi aussi. Paris: Seuil, 1986.

Olney, James (Ed). Studies in Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Parker, A. and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (Eds.) Performativity and Performance. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Ramon, Fernandez. “L'Autobiographie et le roman.” Messages. Paris: Gallimard, 1926.

Feminist Theories of Autobiography: “selection”

Didier, Béatrice. L'Écriture-femme. Paris: Gallimard, 1981.

Garcia, Irma. Promenade femmilière: recherches sur l'écriture féminine. Paris: Éditions des Femmes, 1981.

Gilmore, Leigh. Autobiographics: A Feminist Theory of Women's Self-Representation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Smith, S/ and J. Watson. (Eds.). Interfaces. Women/Autobiography/Image/Performance. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

Stanton, Donna (Ed.). The Female Autograph. New York: New York Literary Forum, 1984.

Theories of Performativity: “selection”

Austin, J. L. How to Do Things with Words.

Carlson, Marvin. “Invisible presences - performance intertextuality. (Performance Analysis)”. Theatre Research International no 19, Summer 1994.

Halfter, Joy. Performatives: What They Are and What They Mean.

Kadar, Marlene. Tracing the autobiographical.  Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005.

Langford, Martha. Suspended conversations: the afterlife of memory in photographic albums.  McCord Museum of Canadian History, Illustrated Edition. Montreal: McGill-Queen's Press, 2010.

Récanati, F. Meaning and Force: the Pragmatics of Performative Utterances.

Smith, S/ and J. Watson. (Eds.). Interfaces. Women/Autobiography/Image/Performance. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2002.



[1] S. Egan and G. Helms, “Autobiography and Changing Identities: Introduction,” Biography, 24, 1 (Winter 2001), p. IX.