UPDATE: Biography versus Fiction: the Value of Testimony (3/15/04; e-journal issue)

full name / name of organization: 
anne garrait
contact email: 


    LISA E-Journal is inviting contributions to an issue on "Biography versus Fiction: the Value of Testimony" to be published in June 2004.
    All contributions (in French or English) should be submitted by March 15, 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 (anne.garrait_at_wanadoo.fr)

     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 effectiv
e in the preservation of this cultural identity.

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Received on Thu Oct 09 2003 - 15:45:55 EDT