„Transkulturelle Biographik und Kulturgeschichte“
Internationales Archiv für Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur
38, no 1 (2013): 121–171
This remarkably erudite article by Pr Thomas Keller, of Aix-Marseille University (ÉCHANGES E.A 4236), examines the particular case of transcultural biographies, especially in the context of German/French cultural transfers. Keller focusses on the life stories of migrants, exiles and other intermediaries who bridge the gaps between the two cultures. In the process, he defines the ‘biographical pact’, thus underlining the specificity of biography relatively to autobiography and other forms of life writing. This is only one of the several thought-provoking operative concepts he coins, which are most likely to prove seminal for the advancement of biography theory. Among these, one of the most arresting aspects of Keller’s theoretical thinking is his reflection on what we could call the idea of emplotment, or, in other words, the shaping influence of discourses and other narratives and mythological models, close to what Émile Durkheim (after Francis Bacon) called ‘pre-notions’ (‘prae-notiones“), intervene not only in the writing of biographies, but already in the ways in which the subjects lead their lives, especially the pluri-/trans-cultural life courses or life stories that he analyses here with entomological precision. These frontier-zone personalities, he says, who are not so much individuals as ‘dividuals’, inhabit fully neither the one cultural area nor the other, but develop a third space, a contact zone of their own, in which they exist by a kind of continual role-playing and role-shifting, or ‘role rotation’, chameleon-like, evolving in the midst of ‘plurivocal archives’ of their one making, which create special challenges for their biographers. Keller’s argument is backed by a plethora of references to biographies in the French-, German- and English-speaking worlds, in the brilliant, pragmatic, no-nonsense tradition of Literatuwissenschaft: just the type of sturdily effective work that is needed to trigger breakthroughs in Biographieforschung, i.e. academic Biography Studies.
January 11, 2018
Joanny Moulin, membre senior de l’Institut Universitaire de France
Aix Marseille Univ, LERMA, Aix-en-Provence, France.