Dissident self-narratives: radical and queer life writing

deadline for submissions: 
December 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Synthesis: an anglophone journal of comparative literary studies

Synthesis (14. 2021)


Abstracts of 300 words should be submitted to Aude Haffen at marie-aude.haffen@univ-montp3.fr and synthesisjournal2008@gmail.com by 20 December 2020.

Notification of acceptance will be delivered by 11 January 2021.

Accepted articles are to be submitted by 30 June 2021.

Final articles should be 6,000-9,000 words long and include an abstract of no more than 300 words.

 All enquiries regarding this issue should be sent to the guest editor, Aude Haffen, at marie-aude.haffen@univ-montp3.fr.


Life writing is often considered to endorse a universalist liberal humanist ethics that encompasses a broad spectrum that goes from a neoliberal emphasis on self-sufficiency to theories of care that highlight our common vulnerability and interdependence. This universalist humanist ethics, even in its most progressive forms, may blunt life writing’s radical edge and even participate in the silencing and oppression of subaltern beings that fall outside its scope. Thus, diseased, displaced, dissenting, dis-integrated autobiographical voices and life-writing’s dissident potential and radical, queer promises need to be reassessed and reclaimed.


This special issue aims to examine critical and anti-normative explorations of the self as they become manifest in contemporary but also older forms of life writing that have challenged hegemonic discourses shaping human subjectivity, the sexual order and the political status quo. For instance, Marguerite Yourcenar’s ecological decentering of the human race and deconstruction of heteronormativity might outweigh the more traditional elements in her autobiographical triptych. In order to yield its full radical and oppositional possibilities, life writing often embraces public and private chaos and shuns the poise of hindsight. For instance, Louis MacNeice or Klaus Mann write their autobiographies during the Second World War, to foreground, rather than resolve, trauma, madness and the death-drive. Marginality, diseased bodies and ubiquitous death are pervading themes in the autobiographical works of Hervé Guibert, Derek Jarman, David B. Feinberg and Guillaume Dustan, whose writings stand on the threshold between testimony and political activism. As they try to survive AIDS, while also facing the social stigma associated with queer sexualities, they take to task liberal, compassionate readers, and construct a subaltern counter-public of queer alter egos.  Earlier, Claude Cahun’s fragmented Disavowals or René Crevel’s “inner panoramas” have wreaked havoc in “the old logical-realistic attic” and challenged not only the confessional tradition but also the binary structure of rational discourse. Another form of critical and anti-normative exploration of the self can be found in the way Roland Barthes keeps at bay psychological narratives of healing and mourning. More recently, in his account of his F to M transition through rogue self-medication, Paul B. Preciado bypasses psychology in order to foreground the biopolitical dimension of subjects shaped and invented by media images and pharmaceutical molecules, but also to map out possibilities of micro-resistance. In the different context of North-American structural racism, John Wideman’s “black rage” and multi-layered writing eschew a personal linear narrative of self-made success and integration.


While foregrounding certain writers standing at the margins of the current academic literary canon, this special issue also draws attention to the more highly profiled writers who can also be read as voices of dissent that oppose the tenets of liberal humanism. We invite submissions that examine life writing that disrupts canonical autobiographical paradigms that are informed by the nineteenth-century Bildungsroman, which has often centered on a socially integrated narrator who looks back with retrospective wisdom, pride, regret or nostalgia, consolidating thereby an identity grounded in dominant conceptions of what a life, a self and a reading public should be like. We welcome contributions that discuss the ways by which life writing challenges hegemonic paradigms of self-knowledge, subjectivity and reader reception, by radically questioning gender, racial and class norms.