Broken contract : the autobiographical performance or producing 'self' in the act of writing a life
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Taking as its starting point the definition of autobiography proposed by Philippe Lejeune in his essay 'The Autobiographical Contract', this study uses performance-based research to instigate a number of theoretical propositions which aim to test the boundaries of what is understood as autobiography. While the area under investigation is tightly focussed on the margins of autobiographical practices, examples and case studies range across literature (including J. M. Barrie, Marcel Proust and W. G. Sebald), performance practice (including Marina Abramovic, Tim Etchells and Zhu Yu), popular culture (including Blind Date, Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe) and philosophy (including Giorgio Agamben, Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida). The main body of the study is divided into three chapters, each of which deals with a separate instance of resistance to Lejeune's definition. Chapter 1: Disinter/est: Digging Up Our Childhood uses an archaeological methodology to determine a model for an autobiography of infancy. Chapter 2: Namesake investigates how personal proper names signify beyond their referent. Chapter 3: The Crystal Ball explores the potential for an autobiography of the future. In each case the conventions of the rules outlined in 'The Autobiographical Contract' are challenged. The thesis does not aim to redefine autobiography in terms of a new (or better) set of rules but rather exploits the ontological slippage which is inherent in the autobiographical subject. Lejeune's definition is used (as he himself suggests in his essay) as a subject for study in itself: as a departure point. This thesis proposes that 'the contract’ which Lejeune defines is in many instances 'the performance' of autobiography- the autobiographical performance- the way in which 'self' is produced in the performance of writing a life; that autobiography is manifest through an enactment rather than bound by an agreement. lt is a cultural performance. The autobiographical performance asks us to engage, as writers and readers, as creators and interpreters, with the open-endedness which is at the heart of the meaning of performance itself: as process. Performance is also that which gives rise to the methodology, structure and case studies in the thesis. Each of the three chapters take their name and their point of inception from a performance project. While performance practice is not the dominant subject under investigation, it is, more fundamentally, the way into each of the chapters of this study. lt is performance which provides the framework and leads to the selected case studies. Performance is thus an epistemology in and of itself but also acts as the precursor to other kinds of knowledge. The autobiographical performance, which is the performance of the autobiographical act, is therefore proposed as one example of the way in which performance operates (not simply as cultural performance for an audience of spectators, but including and often more importantly, organisational performance, technological performance and linguistic performance). Writing about the autobiographical subject necessarily includes the writing self. lt is the investigation of my childhood, my name and my future, which leads to a wider discourse on the relationship of the writing self to these particular areas of research. In this way the writing always returns to the process of writing itself, to the writer's 'stake'. lt is these narratives which give rise to a multiplicity of texts, sources which range from literary classics to contemporary cultural phenomena.
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