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The Medium Is the Message

Olivier Schrauwen’s Arsène Schrauwen beyond Expectations of Autobiography, Colonial History and the Graphic Novel

Benoît Crucifix and Gert Meesters

This article proposes a close reading of Olivier Schrauwen’s Arsène Schrauwen, focusing on the various cultural discourses that it engages with, and particularly its ironical self-positioning within the field of comics. First of all, Schrauwen playfully questions the entrenchment of autobiography in the contemporary graphic novel by presenting a wholly fantasised adventure as biographical family history. This play with generic expectations is continued through Schrauwen’s reliance on the tropes of the adventure story and its figuration of the voyage. Arsène Schrauwen also draws on stereotypical images of both Belgium and the Belgian Congo and integrates them into a grotesque narrative so as to question the supposed unicity of the individual and colonial bodies. Last but not least, the book displays a highly self-reflexive approach to comics storytelling, building on a legacy from Flemish comics in order to play with reading conventions, graphic enunciation and abstraction, thereby thematising the perception of the main character.

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Narratives of the Invisible

Autobiography, Kinship, and Alterity in Native Amazonia

Vanessa Elisa Grotti and Marc Brightman

Shamanic knowledge is based on an ambiguous commensality with invisible others. As a result, shamans oscillate constantly between spheres of intimacy, both visible and invisible. A place of power and transformation, the spirit world is rarely described by native interlocutors in an objective, detached way; rather, they depict it in terms of events and experiences. Instead of examining the formal qualities of accounts of the spirit world through analyses of ritual performance and shamanic quests, we focus on life histories as autobiographical accounts in order to explore what they reveal about the relationship between personal history (and indigenous historicity) and the spirit world. We introduce the term ‘double reflexivity’ to refer to processes by which narratives about the self are produced through relationships with alterity.

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Hazel E. Barnes

Since any autobiography is necessarily personal and since I have recently written one, I will rephrase the question in my title: “Who is the subject of my autobiography?” If I say, “Hazel Barnes,” the answer is unchallengeable but not illuminating. If I say, “I am,” we fall into a morass. To critique that “I am” would be to take on all of the problems of postmodernism. I wish that I had added a subtitle so that the whole would read, “Who is the Subject of Autobiography? A Sartrean Response.” Or better, “The Response of a Sartrean.” This way I would be on firmer ground, though many interesting questions would remain. Let us assume that I have done so.

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Imagine Reality

Negotiating Comics with David B.'s Epileptic

Jörn Ahrens

With Epileptic, French comics artist David B. presents a graphic novel as innovative in style as it is experimental in content. In the foreground, Epileptic is an autobiographical tale about his youth overshadowed by his brother's suffering from epilepsy, but it is also the illustration of a dream-world. David B. consequently entangles the levels of reality, autobiography and dreamlike fantasy. Emphasised by the interaction of clear graphics with hard black-and-white contrasts and the use of surrealistic and medieval quotations, David B. presents a unique combination of art, narrative and abstraction.

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Blogging the Resistance

Testimony and Solidarity in Egyptian Women's Blogs

Sophia Brown

Much has been written about the role the internet played during the Arab uprisings of 2011, with particular attention paid to social media, whether Facebook, Twitter or blogging, and the extent to which it contributed to organizing the mass protests. Another recurring theme of the analysis of the uprisings was the role played by women, with Western media in particular emphasizing their contributions and debating whether this marked a pronounced increase in women’s agency. My article seeks to respond to these issues through an analysis of two Egyptian women’s blogs. Instead of contributing to the well-known debate about the internet’s capabilities for facilitating action, I examine how blogs observe resistance, exploring this through notions of digital testimony and autobiography. I then consider the issue of solidarity and whether this is gendered, which is an important issue to consider in light of the focus placed on women’s roles during the protests. Ultimately I aim to demonstrate that these Egyptian women’s blogs offer us new and productive ways of thinking about the role the internet played during the Arab uprisings and the autobiographical act, leading us to acknowledge the complexities of both solidarity and articulations of selfhood.

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Personal Heritages

Politics and Gender in Autobiography and Correspondence

Kristina Popova

Monika Bernold and Johanna Gehmacher, eds., Autobiographie und Frauenfrage. Tagebücher, Briefwechsel, Politische Schriften von Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner (1884–1970) (Autobiography and the woman question. Diaries, correspondence and political writing by Mathilde Hanzel-Hübner (1884–1970), L’Homme Archiv 1, Quellen zur Feministische Geschichtswissenschaft, Wien, Köln, Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2003, 270 pp., €45.00 (pb), ISBN 3-205-77393-4.

Christa Hämmerle and Edith Saurer, eds., Briefkulturen und ihr Geschlecht. Zur Geschichte der privaten Korrespondenz vom 16. Jahrhundert bis heute (Letter cultures and their gender: on the history of private correspondence from the sixteenth century until today), L’Homme Schriften 7, Reihe zur Feministischen Geschichtswissenschaft, Wien, Köln, Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2003, 316 pp., €35.00 (pb), ISBN 3-205-99398-5.

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Ramona Wray

Locating evidence of early modern women’s reading habits is notoriously difficult. Beyond passing allusions in popular ephemera, brief prefaces and stylised dedications, there is little concrete information about how and why reading by women was conducted in the period. Conventional sources of evidence – such as marginalia (written comments or signatures penned in books and pamphlets) or library inventories – are scanty. Women do not tend to inscribe themselves in the margins, and those who catalogue their books are small in number. Even then, as Heidi Brayman Hackel has argued, because an unstable and uneasy relationship obtains between textual consumption and reading practice, records of book ownership cannot always be closely tied to the reading act. The dictates of conduct literature manuals, and the appeals and addresses contained in ballads and broadsheets, offer clues about assumptions relating to gendered modes of consumption, yet they tell us little about the ‘material reality’ of what women actually read (as opposed to what they were supposed to read). In such circumstances, autobiography (diaries, memoirs, letters and conversion narratives), might seem a privileged place to look for evidence of reading habits.

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Re-membering the Future

Doris Lessing's 'Experiment in Autobiography'

Aaron S. Rosenfeld

Doris Lessing's The Memoirs of a Survivor (1974) straddles various genres typically shunted off into the category 'science fiction' or 'speculative fiction'. Partly a dystopia, partly an apocalyptic text, and partly, in her own words, 'an attempt at autobiography,' the novel is difficult to classify. Indeed, the novel sparked disappointment and confusion upon its initial publication in 1974, with critics taking Lessing to task for exchanging the realist rigor of her earlier works for vague mysticism, and for producing a confusing work that alienated the reader. In fact, to call it a novel at all is something of a contradiction. Speculative fictions do not address the new; they address the future - the 'proleptic analepse of future history,' in the words of Bernard Duyfhuizen. And yet in the twentieth century we have embraced a number of future histories - from Zamiatin's We (1924) to Orwell's 1984 (1948) to Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (1963) to the experimental postmodern fictions of J. G. Ballard - as landmark novels. At the simplest level, these texts offer a critique of how we live and who we are now. Though they may not exactly be novels in the technical generic sense, we recognize that they speak in and to the present, if not of it.

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Mark McKinney and Hervé (Baru) Baruleau

This is the second portion of an interview with Hervé Barulea, or Baru, one of the most accomplished French cartoonists living today, conducted at his home in France on 15 July 2011. The first part of the interview was published in European Comic Art 4.1 (fall 2011), 213-237. Baru talks here about a broad range of important topics, including autobiography, the roles of work and leisure in his comics, boxing (his focus in two comics), the society of the spectacle, representations of women and minorities in comics, the heritage of classic French and Belgian comics (series such as Tintin, Yves-le-Loup ['Ivan-the-Wolf'] and Spirou) and the clear-line drawing style, experimentation by Oubapo, space, his drawing style and techniques for making comics, his current and future projects, his former teaching position in the Ecole des beaux-arts in Nancy, and the relationship of comics to fine art.

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Zeina Abirached

Zeina Abirached, born in 1981 in Beirut, is a cartoonist who studied at the Académie libanaise des beaux-arts [Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts] (ALBA) in Beirut and the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs [National Graduate School of Decorative Arts] in Paris, France. In this artist's statement, originally written for a keynote lecture given at the American Bande Dessinée Society conference held at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) on 3 November 2012, she presents her four comic books published to date, all of them autobiographical: [Beyrouth] Catharsis [(Beirut) Catharsis] (2006), 38, rue Youssef Semaani [38 Youssef Semaani Street] (2006), Mourir, partir, revenir: Le jeu des hirondelles (2007), published in English as A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Live, To Return (2012), and Je me souviens: Beyrouth (2008), published in English as I Remember Beirut (2014). She focuses especially here on the dimensions of time and space, history and geography, and memory and autobiography in her work. She also discusses the influence of OuLiPo, and especially the writings of Georges Perec, on her comics.