La relation entre 'pacte' en 'tabou' dans le discours autobiographique français (1750-1850). Essai de lecture pragmatique.
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AbstractMy PhD dissertation aims to gain an understanding of the manifestation of life writing in France at the turn of the Enlightenment, and more specifically of the discursive features and culturally anchored assumptions it exhibits with regard to autobiographical narration. In order to describe how French autobiographers negotiated the appearance of their private lives on the public stage, a discursive analysis of a wide range of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French autobiographical writings has been carried out. More in particular, I examined whether the scenography of death could have functioned as a discursive strategy that served both the purposes of legitimizing and accrediting autobiographical writings.Over the last decades, substantial research has been devoted to the subject of defining autobiography in relation to neighboring genres such as memoirs, diaries and other confessional narratives. However, there has been relatively little analysis of how autobiographical writings ego-documents, so to speak &#8722; actually function in their broader discursive context. In fact, would it not be useful to temporarily put aside an approach that strives to define autobiography as a genre corresponding to well-defined poetic and recognizable premises? Therefore, my dissertation aims to examine to what extent (early) modern autobiography is the result of a process of constant interaction and negotiation with the social, historical and discursive context in which it appears, in order to circumvent what I would like to call an autobiographical taboo . My initial hypothesis is that all those who strived to unveil their private lives to the eyes of the public in the French (pre)modern period had to negotiate their appearance on the public stage in order to circumvent a taboo that weighed heavily on discourses of the self. Hence, the approach taken in this article is pragmatic rather than essentialist. As opposed to an essentialist approach aiming to define autobiography, my primary concern lies with exploring the extent to which the sentiment of transgressive unveiling was entangled with private testimony. Regarding the fact that the eighteenth century is generally described as the key period of development of first-person literary texts, it may seem rather contradictory to state that in the field of French literature, the use of first-person narration was problematic at that time. Nevertheless, the very choice of writing stories in the first person without the purpose of religious edification implies a secular vision of the human condition that was not yet entirely established at the turn of the eighteenth century. As a result, personal narrative has been negatively connoted and deemed inappropriate over the centuries. The literary history of life-writing in France is thus one of conflict and upheaval in response to the overall domination of the public opinion (doxa). In order to circumvent this taboo , most of the (early) modern autobiographers tried to establish a pact with thereader that served the purpose of legitimizing the manifestation of their inner lives in the public arena. For that, they had at their disposal a vast arsenal of discursive strategies. It is precisely in the sense of a negotiation with the public that I will elaborate on the notion of a pact , in contrast to Philippe Lejeune s stricter definition of the term in Le pacte autobiographique (1975). Without diminishing the merits of this seminal work, I believe that the meaningful intensity of the notion of pact can be renewed by confronting it with its opposite: the autobiographical taboo . In other words, the purpose of the pact, elaborated through certain discursive strategies, is to legitimize and accredit the enunciation of discourses of the self, which means negotiating the emergence of this kind of discourse in the public sphere. This double preoccupation with the legitimation and accreditation of autobiographical discourse constitutes, in my opinion, the main axis of tension around which the very enterprise of enunciation of the self has been articulated for centuries. It is precisely the recurrence of certain discursive strategies which turns them into topoi and the argument they carry for accreditation and/or legitimation of the enunciation of the self, that constitute the response to an underlying tension in autobiographical discourse. In other words, the taboo manifests itself through the omnipresence of the accreditation and legitimation apparatus that has framed and accompanied the enunciation of the self for centuries. I believe that it is only in relation to this discursive context that autobiographical discourse itself, which lies at the center of this complex web of relations, can be understood.It is important to state that in no way do I claim to hold the truth of how the public interpreted and responded to the mentioned works when they were published. My objective is limited to circumscribing, from my own readings of the material, some potential strategies of autobiographical discourse concerning literary legitimation and accreditation. Moreover, my reading first looks to paratexts accompanying autobiographical productions (prefaces, postfaces, dedicatory letters, notes to the reader, etc.) and incipits, which, like paratexts, constitute truly strategic moments where the author communicates his meta-literary reflections and maps out the autobiographical project for the reader. Therefore it is precisely in these moments that implicit or explicit references to the existence of an autobiographical taboo are most likely to be found.