CFP: Biography versus Fiction: the Value of Testimony (4/1/04; e-journal issue)

full name / name of organization: 
Renee Dickason

LISA E-Journal is inviting contributions to an issue on Biography versus
Fiction: the Value of Testimony to be published in June 2004. This theme of
reflection focuses on the value and authenticity of historical testimony
when it is conveyed by any kind of subjective literary form, whether it be
the autobiographical genre stemming from personal experience or the
subjective interpretation of this testimony through fictional literary
works. The field of study discussed is that of American XIXth and XXth
century cultural studies, directly linked with minorities and written
testimonies coming from ethnic groups. In this domain, more than in any
other, memory and individual testimony are the only warrants for the
permanency of historical knowledge as well as the protection and
perpetuation of a cultural identity.

I. We will first concentrate on the XIXth century. It will be interesting to
observe how these minorities express, in a direct or indirect way, their
intimate historical traumas, and how their voice can be conveyed - or even
betrayed, and we shall see why and how - often by the fictional voice of a
third person, detached from the group. Using a comparative analysis, we may
wonder - though it is just one example among others - in what way the slave
narratives, when used as a basis for the writing of abolitionist texts,
actually offer an illustration of this interplay between authentic testimony
and "reported" testimony. We may also consider the biographical or
autobiographical texts produced by some Indian Chiefs testifying to the
realities of their political and economic situation at the end of the XIXth
century, but also about the interpretation given by some biographers who
rewrote those oral testimonies to turn them into books destined to be sold
as autobiographies . Is this "reported" voice, once transcribed, the same
testimony, and does it have the same "value" as direct expression?

II. The theme of "minority" groups expressing themselves - and the words
"minority" and "minor" should be defined in the context of the United States
and put into perspective - whether it be in a direct or indirect way, is
still valid in the XXth century. The writers descending from minority groups
have inherited the memory/ies of their ancestors: fiction thus becomes the
ideal medium for many Black or Indian writers (we may also consider other
minorities) willing to pass on this preserved Memory. Once again, the
intimate relationship between "direct" and "indirect" testimony - inside the
same community this time - is at work. Its aim, however, is different : it
might be the survival of an ancestral and timeless cultural patrimony (the
memory of Africa, of slavery, of the original tribal life, of the Great
Plains, the transmission of the oral tradition and so on). We will then try
to unveil the mechanisms used to ensure this transition between past and
future and the literary modes which seem to be effective in the preservation
of this cultural identity.

All contributions (in French or English) should be submitted by 1 April
2004. Illustrations can be provided on the express condition that no
copyrights are to be paid. Proposed contributions to this project will be
examined by at least two reviewers and may be accepted only on the
understanding that the materials have not been submitted to and accepted by
another journal. All submissions should be double-spaced, and conform to the
MLA style. For other details, please check on LISA e-journal's web-site:
Contact: Anne Garrait-Bourrier (

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Received on Wed Jul 09 2003 - 21:57:15 EDT