Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Women's Biographies and Autobiographies: A Political Project in the Making

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Women's Biographies and Autobiographies: A Political Project in the Making

Article excerpt

In the reciprocal shifting of subject positions in the communicative exchange of writing or telling a biography or autobiography, the relationship between writer and reader is critical in producing the critical space for "feedback effects" to create the work as a political project. Telling and listening are both required to inscribe the subject within the social.

Lors d'un echange d'ecriture ou de paroles biographiques ou autobiographiques, la position du sujet est en etat constant de transfert; le rapport, donc, entre auteure et lectrice est d'une importance critique dans la production de "feedback" destine a rendre politique le projet. Afin d'inscrire le sujet dans le domaine social, le dire ainsi que l'ecoute sont tout aussi necessaires l'un que l'autre.

One could look at life as a narrative process, the making of a story which is narrated in its experiential development and created in its narration; so that a life truly exists, becoming both visible and -- most important -- valuable, only when it is signified for others, and is in turn recognized, reinterpreted, used by others. Signified in the act itself, already offered to their reading/s, and, even more, textualized in the communicative exchange. Narrated and represented: in its experiential roots, but also transcending experience in order to enter symbolic construction.

Just as it happened, for example, in the feminist practice of autocoscienza in Italy, and elsewhere in consciousness-raising groups.(f.1) It was there that for many women the seeming senselessness of their individual lives could find a meaning, also becoming a political project:

the small autocoscienza group was for many women the social place where they could for the first time talk openly about their experience; where this kind of talk was acknowledged as valuable. Before, it was an invisible and dispersed human matter which the social body consumed almost unknowingly; a matter which having no value was devalued and scorned (Libreria delle Donne di Milano, 1987, p.33).

A previously invisible matter could find a form and a value through the process of narration, through the discovery of an infinite echo which modified both the narrating self and the self of the addressee of the narration; the exchange and coincidence of these roles was in that situation a constituent part of the processes of signification and sense production. The signifier "woman," where all those selves met in the discovery, was also questioned, investigated and modified -- an ongoing modification, still involving experience and narration, which will be taken up later.

The example means taking up and declaring a position in writing, as well as asking for a specific mode of reading; it is in the highly contextualized perspective evoked by that illustration that these brief considerations on women's biographies and autobiographies are written and should be read. They are the mere beginning of a discourse. I will rapidly outline the complex question of the identification of the narrative forms of biography and autobiography, both in general and when they concern women's lives, touching upon the terms of the problem without accepting or proposing an answer.(f.2) Then I will address the peculiar relationship that women's authored biographies and autobiographies can establish with the (woman) reader in the process of fruition. The frame of reference is feminist criticism, but even more feminism/s as a political movement, as a closely knit texture of theories and practices. Especially, though not exclusively, the Italian feminism of sexual difference; so that by "practices" I mean of course "political practices," in the sense in which this phrase is used in Italian feminism, where it points to a fundamental and well understood notion. As Ida Dominijanni has written:

It refers to the forms the relationship between/among women has taken through the years. …

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