JFC 5129H

Performative Autobiographical Acts: Personal and Political Testimonials


Monday, 10 am to 13 pm


J. LeBlanc


Northrop Fry




“In my view, text and image complement, rather than supplement, each other; since reference is not secure in either, neither can compensate for lack of stability in the other. Because both media are located on the border between fact and fiction, they often undercut just as easily as they reinforce each other.” (T. Adams).

In the autobiographical and historiographic narratives chosen to explore the various ways in which text and image can interact with and reflect on each other, the writers use a highly metalinguistic discourse to discuss the problems of self-referentiality in language and in images in order to reflect on the use of images, paintings and sketches  in their visualizations and articulations of selfhood. Edward Ardizzone, Annie Ernaux, Frida Kahlo and Jacques Poulin, all express an awareness of the auto-bio-graphical self as decentered, multiple, fragmented and divided against itself in the act of observing and being. The use of paintings, drawings, figures of ekphrasis and photos (portraits and self-portraits), operate as visual supplements (illustrations) and corroboration (verification) of the autobiographical subjects and their narratives. The introduction or the description of images in autobiographical and fictional autobiographical texts problematizes the status of the autobiographical genre, the complexities underlining the referential, representational, mimetic relationships between self-images and life-writings, etc. The study of theoretical texts pertaining to autobiography and self portraiture (paintings, drawings and photographs) and the relationship between words and images will serve as a basis for our analysis of Ardizzone, Ernaux, Kahlo and Poulin’s autobiographical and historiographic narratives.

Primary texts:

Ardizzone, Ed. Diary of a War Artist. Fragments of this illustrated diary will be distributed in class. It will be studied in conjunction with the artistic production of E. Ardizzone conserved at the IWM in London. Copies of images will be distributed.

Ernaux, Annie. The years. Fragments of her illustrated diary published in Écrire la vie will enhance our study of Ernaux’s expansive use of photographic ekphrasis within her memoire.

Kahlo, Frida. Intimate Diary. English translation of her personal diary initially published in Spanish. This illustrated life-narrative will be studied in conjunction with Kahlo’s numerous painted self-portraits.

Poulin, Jacques. Volkswagen Blues. This illustrated text will be studied through historical documents pertaining to indigenous cultures referenced by Poulin

Theoretical texts:

* A more detailed theoretical bibliography will be provided.

  • Adams, Timothy D. Light Writing and Life Writing. Photography in Autobiography. University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
  • Doy, Gen. Picturing the Self: changing views of the subject in visual culture. London: I.B.Tauris, 2005.
  • Gombrich, E. H. Art and Illusion: A Study of the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.
  • Hughs, Alex and Andrea Noble. Phototextualities: Intersections of Photography and Narrative. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 2003.
  • Kim, Yeon-Soo. The Family Album. Bucknell University Press, 2005.
  • Lejeune, Philippe. Je est un autre. Paris: Seuil, 1980.
  • Louvel, L. (Jean-Pierre Montier, et.al.) Littérature et photographie. Rennes, PUR, 2008.
  • Mitchell, W.J.T. The Languages of Images. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.
  • Olney, James. Studies in Autobiography. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Sontag, S. On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1977.


One essay: 65%
One presentation: 20%
Participation: 15%

* Please note that students are invited to work on a corpus of their choice for their final essay and presentation.  However, a comparative study including one of the primary texts listed (Ardizzone, Ernaux, Kahlo, Poulin and Barthes) should be used if one chooses to use another text which is not featured in our list of primary texts.