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autobio 2023 : Hegemony and peripherality in autobiographical writings: texts, contexts, visibility


When Dec 5, 2023 - Dec 7, 2023
Where Rome
Submission Deadline Jul 15, 2023
Notification Due Jul 30, 2023
Final Version Due Jul 30, 2023
Categories    autobiography   biogaphy   litterarure   philosophy

Call For Papers

Hegemony and peripherality in autobiographical writings:
texts, contexts, visibility

XXII Symposium of the Osservatorio scientifico
della memoria autobiografica scritta, orale, iconografica

Academia Belgica, Via Omero 8
5, 6, 7 December 2023

Promoted and organized by:
Mediapolis.Europa ass. cult.

and by

Grupo de Investigación “Lectura, Escritura, Alfabetización” (LEA), Universidad de Alcalá
Seminario Interdisciplinar de Estudios sobre Cultura Escrita (SIECE), Universidad de Alcalá

Nowadays, great store is set on autobiographical – and more generally private – documentation. In the past decades, archives for the preservation of documents have multiplied, while it seems to us that studies aimed at examining their forms remain less satisfactory. However, the latter represent an essential aspect that helps us to understand not just the content of a document but the way of forging it, of forging a testimony, and how documents were made transmissible and comparable.
Some questions arise in this regard:
- Can the texts of authors and writers be subjected to the same methods of formal analysis?
- In what way does the concept of hegemony transpire in an autobiographical text?
- How can memory be safeguarded and given value?
- Can contemporary society be observed through a clear distinction between social classes? What kind of terminology should be adopted to classify them?
- How do the works of authors and writers interact?
- To what extent has the digital revolution expanded autobiographical practice and how does it transform it?

Submitting the various bodies of work to the same methodological criteria regardless of designation by content or social background appears to be a reasonable intent. The history of culture and science teaches us how the move from listing to classification in the 17th century, as illustrated by Foucault (1966: 137-176), made it possible to make scientific data comparable.
What follows are some points aimed at suggesting some of the possible outlines around which a line of research can be developed.

1. Recognizing oneself within a minority culture. The issue of hegemonies was addressed by Antonio Gramsci (1975). The observation whereby those who exercise hegemony tend to give conformity to language and every form of expression, therefore making them cohesive and comparable, contrasts with the plurality of minority cultures, which are less inscribable into formal constants. There is a vast body of documentation – illustrated and discussed by Antonio Castillo Gómez (2022), among others – on the many archival initiatives that developed especially at the beginning of the 20th century to preserve these sources, and on their now widely acknowledged importance. It is precisely the spurious origins of these sources that make a formal classification of the texts more difficult, at least at first glance.
Unlike authors, writers do not aim to pursue a style, as Barthes points out (1996: 153). Writers should not necessarily be understood as ordinary people. Leonardo da Vinci regarded himself as a writer and not as an author, “not a literary man,” as he defined himself writing to Ludovico il Moro in 1482. He did not know Latin very well, and for this reason he was not regarded as a man of letters.
The book Kafka. Toward a Minor Literature (G. Deleuze-F. Guattari, 1975) leads to foundational reflections on this issue, which should constitute a new alphabet for the very conception of the term ‘culture’. In this text Deleuze and Guattari highlight how being without roots, being de-territorialized, leads not to an impoverishment of thought and expressions, but rather to exploring from the margins, from the borders: a distancing that makes it possible to glimpse new lexical, conceptual forms that are open to exchange. Every minority culture (which today have multiplied thanks to the many languages that are circulating, to the multiple forms of coexistence that are necessary in a world in motion) can constitute the instrument required to prevent culture from being ossified into apparatuses.
Minority culture develops languages and a conception of space that is labyrinthine, de-confined, thereby suggesting new perspectives.

So, who feels legitimized to write? How can experiences that do not come from a canonical style be made well-rounded, rich? In this view, the archives and the written testimonies of ordinary people should not be regarded as mere hunting grounds, but as texts in the strict sense of the term. Chasse aux archives [hunting the archives] is the expression used by Philippe Lejeune to define the voracity for texts from minority and testimonial cultures: “The idea that, within some generations, your texts are tampered with in order to gain information on any subject, without knowing what they are about […] would be disgusting. In order to avoid these misunderstandings, I would strongly emphasize that ‘Hunting is prohibited’”. (Ph. Lejeune 2005: 120-121. The translation is mine).

2. Far from where?
In the case of autobiographical writing, it is possible to glimpse a feeling of being or not being part of a hegemonical entity in the position assumed by the subject as it shows itself to be or not be an integral part of a centre or of a periphery. This is not just about a marginality based on social grounds, but more cogently based on a vision of the subject’s own language and culture in their potential to be relevant within a context (Fabio Dei 2018).
How does an individual conceive of his or her centrality? Where, when, and how is it possible to circumscribe the position of a writer relaying his or her own life? How does the assumption of a certain stance define an autobiographical narration, legitimise it, structure it also in view of an external glance, of a real, imagined or searched visibility? How does the narrating ‘I’ adopt a perspective of introjection or of extimité, centripetal or centrifugal?
Lontano da dove is the title of a book by Claudio Magris (1989). It deals with the drama of thousands of people, their conditions at the time of the crumbling of the powerful Hapsburg Empire. It is a metaphor for the conception of centre and periphery, of hegemony and marginality, of exile as an essential condition. An idea that, starting from a political-cultural analysis, grows into a lexicon, into cultural models, it delineates individual destiny.
Magris’s Lontano da dove highlights the difficulty encountered by an individual who, not being part of the hegemonic culture, is observed/observes him/herself and is positioned/positions him/herself as a marginal body.

3. The semantics of the autobiographical text
The narrating ‘I’ manifests itself through expressions that testify to its sociocultural and topographical position, and that inscribe it into certain spatial-temporal categories.
As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson write (2004 [1980]) in their study Metaphors we live by (see the paragraph “The Me-First Orientation”), our way of narrating is modelled on modi pensandi. A whole cultural conception governs these forms of expression, in which the individual modulates self-narration and relates to the world around him or her.
Word order was studied by William Cooper & John Robert Ross (1975). Even the choice of the mother’s or the other’s language and its modelling are cues to the posture of the ‘I’, just as photographs and the ever-widespread selfies signal how self-representation is intended.
In other words, in adopting a written or audio-visual register, the ‘l’ allows us to understand how and where it positions itself. Photographic and video images define its autography.
Like every form of expression, language is a system composed of relations. In order to understand its meaning, a mapping is necessary, which can be delineated through contents or voids: analysing the use of languages proves to be a tool for outlining not just established but potential relations (L. Hjelmslev 2009). Iconographic expressions such as selfies and those found on the Internet (P. Sibilia 2008) follow the same pattern: showing or not showing reveals a willingness to not just self-narrate in the present but to envision what one would like to be. In the same passage, Hjelmslev argues that language forms itself into a tangle of empty places founded on a veritable difference in potential.

4. The position of the ‘I’ and the language referred to the body
An example: in psychiatric patients – who are quintessentially marginal – oral, written and graphic expressions are still closely anchored to the body, to physical actions.
Binswanger, a psychiatrist with long-time experience of dialogue with patients, writes:
“Out of the blue”, “being in seventh heaven” are expressions of our Dasein, our being. And even though myths and poetry allow us, though a universalizing metaphorical language, to share sensations, feelings and psychic experiences, the “I nonetheless remains the original subject of what raises or falls” (L. Binswanger 2012: 42. The translation is mine). Binswanger, who had inscribed his vision into Heidegger’s philosophy for a long time, gradually distanced himself from his ontological conception to immerse it into concrete cases. An entire vocabulary places the acts of the patient’s Dasein into space: vertiginous height, ascension, altitude, infinity, etc. (L. Binswanger 1971: 237-245). It is possible to suppose that the desire to evade, to disengage, in psychiatric patients determines its lexicon.
More generally, in autobiographical writings reference to the body as a vehicle of experiences that crossed it appears to be important.

5. The ‘truth”: what the ‘I’ shows or conceals. Transparency and obstruction
The truth is the foundational theme of every autobiography. It can be granted by the pact that the writer makes with the reader. Philippe Lejeune’s work docet (Ph. Lejeune: 1975).
The theme of truth powerfully crosses autobiographical writing. Writing about oneself and claiming that it is true implies a pact with a whole series of confirmations and complex manoeuvres.
Autofictions intend to escape this criterion.
Rousseau’s Confessions, a classic of autobiographical writing, is born as a form of self-externalization that makes uncertainties public in order to justify actions that, within the framework of one’s way of recounting, should be justified. Starobinski calls this attitude ‘transparency and obstruction’. “Rousseau desired communication and transparency of the heart. But after pursuing this avenue and meeting with disappointment, he chose the opposite course, accepting – indeed provoking – obstructions, which enabled him to withdraw, certain of his innocence, into passive resignation.” (J. Starobinski 1971 : 1. The terms in italics are in the original text). Every kind of writing – and, a fortiori, autobiographical writing – exposes and conceals realities that can nonetheless be glimpsed. In sum, this is Poppea’s veil, which lets us see and not see, thereby raising, demanding more questions than certainties (J. Starobinski 1961).
Resolving and understanding the distinction between truth and falsehood requires the use of many coordinates (N. Frogneux 2021); it cannot be submitted to an automatic judgement, either in the historical or in the autobiographical field (see: Carlo Ginzburg, Il filo e le tracce. Vero falso finto 2015).
Even adopting a codified language (as Lotman and Bachtin note: see infra) can be a concealment, or an illusion that you can judge a book by its cover.
Often, a strong determination to show that the truth is being told is also realized through reference to realia, to what is visible and concrete. In many autobiographies, writers include registry documents. With utmost precision, they mention dates and places in order to make their testimony more believable (B. Barbalato 2009).

6. How writers conceive of hegemony by adopting certain codified forms
Lotman writes that a great man or a bandit must find a good reason for regarding himself as an individual who has the right to biography (J. Lotman 1985: 194). Writing life stories, both biographical and autobiographical, requires a formal choice. For this reason, Lotman asserts that a peasant’s opportunistic use of the language of the church or of bureaucracy allows him to inscribe himself into a legitimacy. Also, think of what Bachtin (103) says about unsophisticated culture, about the peasant who, living in an isolated context, believes that every language corresponds exactly to the reality that he wants to designate.
The same conviction is shared by André Gide, who asserts that often unsophisticated sources formally represent a copy of the copy (A. Gide 1997 [1926-1950]: 572). Gide dispels the misunderstanding of the authenticity of the document of ordinary people. No writing is spontaneous, let alone the authenticity of those who do not practise writing. The codes to which one resorts can be regarded as a passepartout for the legitimization of one’s own narration and conception of truth, which is thus validated (see A. Castillo Gómez 2016 and V. Sierra Blas 2018).
Another important observation by Bachtin concerns the diversity in conceiving and observing a life path today and in antiquity. In antiquity, public and private space was conceived of as one and the same thing. In self-representation there was no difference between an internal self and an external one. The topos was the agora (Ibid.: 279-282).

This call for papers invites proposals aimed at examining writers’ and authors’ ways, forms and goals of self-expression, and it intends to investigate mutual contaminations and interferences.
Besides what has already been said, particular attention is to be paid to how self-narration presents itself as opening towards the future, how it lets its expectations transpire. In writings there is a quid, a void whose contours, whose latencies are difficult to intercept but nonetheless exist. Wishes are not always openly expressed; often they can be glimpsed between the lines of a text. As Binswanger writes, writing about oneself is a way of letting the future come to oneself. (1971: 261). How can this aspect be interpreted, understood?

Michail BACHTIN 1979 [1975- Mosca 1955]:1975], “La parola nella poesía e la parola nel romanzo”, 83-108, “La biografía e l’autobiografia antica”, 277-293, in ID., Estetica e romanzo, transl. by Clara STRADA JANOVIC, Torino, Einaudi.

Beatrice BARBALATO (2009), “L’ipersegnicità nelle testimonianze autobiografiche”, 387-400, in Silvia BONACCHI (ed.), Intr. Anna TYLUSIŃSKA-KOWALSKA, Le récit du moi: forme, strutture, modello del racconto autobiografico, in Kwartalnik neofilologiczny, Polska Akademia Nauk, Warsaw 29-30 April 2008. editor: Franciszek Grucza.

B. BARBALATO-Albert MINGELGRÜN (eds.) 2012, Télémaque, Archiver et interpréter les témoignages autobiographiques, Louvain-la Neuve, Presses Universitaires de Louvain.

Roland BARTHES 1998 [“Tel Quel”, 1964], “Écrivains et écrivants”, in Essais critiques, Paris, Seuil.

Ludwig BINSWANGER 1971 [1947], “Le sens anthropologique de la présomption”, 237-245, in ID., Introduction à l’analyse existentielle, translated from the French by Jacqueline VERDEAUX and Roland KUHN, preface by R. KUHN and Henri MALDINEY, Paris, Éd. de Minuit.

- Rêve et existence 2012 [1930] translation and introduction Françoise DASTUR, postface by E. BASSO, Paris, Vrin.

Antonio CASTILLO GOMEZ 2022, “Voix subalternes. Archives et mémoire écrite des classes populaires”, 117-135, in S. PEQUIGNOT and Y. POTIN (dir.), Les conflits d’archives, France, Espagne,
Méditerranée, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes.

Daniele COMBIERATI 2010, Scrivere nella lingua dell’altro, Bruxelles, Peter Lang.

William COOPER & John Robert ROSS 1975, “World order”, 63–111, in R. E. GROSSMAN et AL. (eds.), Papers from the parasession on functionalism, Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.

Fabio DEI 2018, Cultura popolare in Italia da Gramsci all’Unesco, Bologna, il Mulino.

Gilles DELEUZE and Félix GUATTARI 1975, Kafka. Pour une littérature mineure, Paris, Éd. De Minuit.

Michel FOUCAULT 1966, “Classer”, 137-176, in ID, Les mots et le choses, Paris, Gallimard.
Nathalie FROGNEUX, “Une phénoménologie de la vie mensongère”, in Le Phénomène humain. Revue Philosophique de Louvain 118(4), 2021, 573-591. doi: 10.2143/RPL.118.4.3290142.
André GIDE 1997, Journal 1926-1950, Paris, Gallimard, vol. II.

Carlo GINZBURG 2006), Il filo e le tracce. Vero falso finto, Feltrinelli, Milano.
Louis HJELMSLEV 1975, Résumé of a Theory of Language. Travaux du Cercle linguistique de Copenhague, vol. XVI. Copenhague: Nordisk Sprog- og Kulturforlag.

- (2009), Teoria del linguaggio. Résumé, = TLR, Vicenza, Terra Ferma, Vicenza.

Antonio GRAMSCI 1975, Quaderni del carcere, 3, Quaderni 12-29, critical edition of the Istituto Gramsci by Valentino GERRATANA, Torino, Einaudi.

Georges Lakoff, Mark Johnson, 2003 [1980], Metaphors We Live By, Chicago-London, The University of Chicago Press.

Philippe LEJEUNE 1975, Le pacte autobiographique, Paris, Seuil.

- “Je ne suis pas une source”, Entretien de Ph. Artières, 115-137, in ID., Signes de vie – Le pacte autobiographique 2, 2, Seuil 2005.

Ronan LE ROUX, « De quoi jouit l’archiviste ? Méditation certalienne sur le ‘vol d’âme’ », in Elodie BELKORCHIA, Georges CUER, Françoise HIRAUX (dir.), Du matériel à l’immatériel, La Gazette des archives n°262 (2021-2).

Jurij M. LOTMAN 1985, “Il diritto alla biografia”, in ID., La semiosfera-L’asimmetria e il dialogo nelle strutture pensanti, edited and translated from the Russian by Simonetta SALVESTRONI, Venezia, Marsilio.

Claudio MAGRIS 1989, Lontano da Dove, Joseph Roth e la tradizione ebraico-orientale, Torino Einaudi.

Paula SIBILIA 2008, O show do eu: a intimidade como espetáculo, Rio de Janeiro, Nova

Verónica SIERRA BLAS 2016, Cartas presas. La correspondencia carcelaria en la Guerra Civil y el
Franquismo, Madrid, Marcial Pons.

Jean STAROBINSKI 1961, “Le voile de Poppée”, 7-27, in ID, L’oeil vivant, Gallimard, 1961.

- Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction. Trans. by Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Judging panel:
Beatrice Barbalato, Mediapolis.europa ass, cult., Université catholique de Louvain
Antonio Castillo Gómez, Universidad de Alcalá
Nathalie Frogneux, Université catholique de Louvain
Verónica Sierra Blas, Universidad de Alcalá

Symposium organized by:
Mediapolis.Europa (Irene Meliciani: managing director)
Mnemosyne o la costruzione del senso, Presses universitaires de Louvain

Grupo de Investigación “Lectura, Escritura, Alfabetización” (LEA), Universidad de Alcalá
Seminario Interdisciplinar de Estudios sobre Cultura Escrita (SIECE), Universidad de Alcalá

This symposium is part of the research project Vox populi. Espacios, prácticas y estrategias de visibilidad de las escrituras del margen en las épocas Moderna y Contemporánea (PID2019-107881GB-I00), financed by the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación and by the Agencia Estatal de Investigación (Spain).

Suggestions for sending proposals

The languages admitted for submission are: Italian, Spanish, French, English, Portuguese. Everyone is allowed to write in one of these languages. There will be no simultaneous translation. A passive understanding of these languages is desirable.

A) Deadline for submission: 15 July 2023. The abstract will be composed of 250 words (max), with citation of two reference sources, and a brief CV (max: 100 words), with possible mention of two of one’s own publications, be they articles, books, or videos.
The judging panel will read and select every proposal, which is to be sent to,

For information:,,
The authors of the accepted proposals will be notified by 30 July 2023.

B) Regarding enrolment in the colloquium, once the proposals are accepted the fees are:
Before 30 September 2023: 150.00€
From 1 to 30 October 2023: 180.00€
Enrolment fee cannot be accepted in loco

For graduate students:
Before 30 September 2023: 100.00€
From 1to 30 October 2023: 90.00€
Enrolment fee cannot be accepted in loco

Once the programme is established, no change is allowed.

For activities related to this topic at the University and cultural centers in Spain see the sites

For information on the symposia organized in previous years by the Osservatorio della memoria autobiografica scritta, orale e iconografica, visit the site:

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