IABA Europe 2023
Life Writing in Times of Crisis

5–8 July 2023
The Old Library, University of Warsaw, Poland

5 JULY (Wednesday)




10:00 AM - 11:00 AM OPENING Auditorium Hall

Alojzy Z. Nowak (Rector of the University of Warsaw)

Zygmunt Lalak (Vice-Rector for Research)

Zbigniew Greń (Dean of the Faculty of Polish Studies)

Paweł Rodak (IABA Warsaw 2023 Organizing Team)

Julie Rak, Craig Howes (IABA Executive Group)


11:00 AM - 12:30 PM KEYNOTE 1: MAŁGORZATA CZERMIŃSKA: The Autobiographical Triangle and What Comes Next Auditorium Hall


12:30 PM - 2:00 PM LUNCH


2:00 PM - 3:30 PM SESSIONS 1


PANEL Auditorium Hall

Alexander Williams (University of Groningen)

Whilst sites of genocide were experienced and narrated in different ways by differing victims, scant attention has hitherto been accorded to how victims of Nazi extermination camps – the most important people in the history of these sites – subjectively wrote about these spaces. A case in point is Sobibór where at least 170,000, mostly Jewish, victims were murdered. Despite the extremity of such events, how did those incarcerated within – coerced into helping the SS effectuate the genocide – experience their everyday reality? How did they write about their lives as prisoners? 

Frightfully little is currently known in this regard since the camp’s geography has traditionally approached in general terms, viz. as the sum of all material elements included within its barbed wire fence – devoid of any particularity or specificity. Yet, as Sobibór survivor Dov Freiberg relates in his testimony To Survive Sobibor, even an apparently negligible distance of a few meters within Sobibór had a significant impact upon spatial perception. When, for instance, working a few meters from the train’s arrival ramp Freiberg states that “despite being … a few meters from the platform … I would watch the boxcars entering the camp and the people descending from the car … but I [now] no longer identified with them, I was no longer someone who was going to die along with them.” 

Responding to an epistemic and ethical lacuna, this paper explores the narration of Sobibór space through Freiberg’s testimony. The writing of space, it shall be argued, is conversely the writing of life – the manner in which one’s harrowing predicament was experienced. Premised on the presupposition that Sobibór’s space was a multifaceted, often paradoxical entity whereby space actively mediated upon the perception of various (im)material aspects of the camp, the paper questions how spatial distance impacted the narration of experience.

Ernestine Hoegen (independent scholar)

This paper seeks to explore the spatial dimension of trauma as recounted in several diaries and memoires that have emerged from WWII Japanese internment camps. For six POWs imprisoned in Kamioka, Japan, their secret ‘crisis diaries’ (Lejeune 2009) were a relatively safe space where they recorded the pain and fear of being forced to work in a lead mine, an underground maze that was both potentially lethal and at the same time an ideal environment for trading in forbidden goods. For many, their experiences were also recorded by their mental and physical scars, the ‘imprints of the trauma on body, mind and soul’ (Van der Kolk 2014) that never left them, however far they distanced themselves geographically and timewise from the camp. Similarly, in a memoir written fifty years after the end of the war, a former sex slave writes how the daily fall of dusk, the drawing of curtains, and the act of going to bed in her house in Australia transport her back to the WWII brothel where she was imprisoned. The bedroom and the bed where the repeated rapes took place was a perilous and hated space, unless her secret protector ‘bought’ time with her, in which they temporarily turned into a safe haven. Months later, upon being sent to an internment camp, Kramat, Java, her traumatic experiences travelled with her through the camp gates, changing a space where she presumed she would be relatively safe into unknown territory.

In examining how these WWII survivors navigated the boundaries between ‘dangerous’ and ‘safe’ spaces, and how scale, distance and real and imagined divisionary lines changed the nature of these spaces, I will engage with the thesis that ‘the topography of trauma is recursive and shows no respect for borders’ (Jarvis 2008).

Babs Boter (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Diaries of the Second World War may tell stories of vast movements such as deportation (Ben-Amos 2020), but many also convey movements on a much smaller scale. Two diaries, one written in Amsterdam by Etty Hillesum (1914-1943), a Jewish writer who worked for the Jewish Council, the other written in The Hague by Mary Pos (1904-1987), a protestant Christian journalist, meticulously specify the war’s impact on (embodied and sensory) experiences of moving through the city. 

On a first, local level, the I-narrators register what they hear and see from their homes’ (sometimes broken) windows – metaphorical sites where ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ meet: marching and singing soldiers, sirens, bombings, trees being cut down, and citizens frantically moving around in search of food and fuel. On a second level, the diarists chronicle their own movements through the occupied city, on their bicycles, on foot and by tram. As they go to places to buy groceries, work, collect stories of war or take photographs, they note how bombardments, looting, and acts of expropriation, demarcation, and displacement have changed the cityscape. At the same time, this double self-inscription (Thrift 2004; De Certeau 1988), on paper and in the city’s streets, provides them with a specific form of agency, creating a sign of being humanly present. On a third level, strolling with friends and loved ones, bringing food to undernourished families, and presenting clandestine lectures at friends’ homes, they convey stories of familiar, intimate moments and geographical proximity in the city’s public space. They even feel connected with inhabitants of neighborhoods where they do not live, such as Amsterdam’s old Jewish quarter (Hillesum) and poor neighborhoods in The Hague (Pos). Finally, the I-narrators relate of existential moments at the outskirts of the cities, where restrictions seem to dissolve, and they feel in touch with another world.

Eveline Buchheim (NIOD Institute for War Holocaust and Genocide Studies)

Two days after the Japanese surrender, on 17 August 1945, Indonesian leaders Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed the Republic of Indonesia. The Netherlands refused to accept this because they wanted to re-establish colonial order, but Indonesians fiercely defended their independence. In September 1945 British troops arrived on Java, they did not allow Dutch troops to land on Java unless the Netherlands started negotiations with the Republic. The British troops’ task was to bridge the gap between the Japanese surrender and the arrival of Dutch troops that Sukarno had protested against in vain. 

This paper focuses on Bandung in West-Java where the British units tried to maintain peace and order in a dangerous power vacuum. Many Dutch and Indo-European refugees had arrived in the city in the hope of being protected. Instead, chaos and destruction reigned over the city and violent clashes broke out between Japanese soldiers, Indonesian militia, British troops and former KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army) soldiers. When the situation became untenable the railway was established as demarcation line that divided the city in a northern European part and a southern Indonesian part. In military accounts this line was presented as impenetrable, personal experiences give different views.

In this paper I analyse the connection between space and traumatic experiences in Bandung in 1945-1947 using the concept of ‘memory landscapes’ (Schramm 2011; Eickhoff et.al 2017) which emphasizes the importance of places and spaces in the formation of memory. On the basis of contemporary letters and diaries complemented with memoirs and oral history interviews from people that lived on both side of the demarcation line I look at the interaction between the actual space and the narratives in personal reflections.


SESSION I Room 105

Chair: Teresa Bruś (University of Wrocław)

Clare Brant (King's College London), Crisis for Corals: Life Writing, Climate Crisis and Voices of Mass Destruction

Human destruction of nature has been a significant subject for life writing for a long time. With climate change turning into climate crisis, scientists voicing alarm took up literary forms to convey increasing urgency about the destruction of coral, especially on the Great Barrier Reef. I propose to discuss a selection of life writings about coral, poster species for the effects of global heating, to explore processes of appeal – for attention, for care, for remedial action – and how they work in these texts, with the added twist that recent writers take up, which is that writing can’t be counted on to raise consciousness or rouse action. As crisis deepens, literary frustration increases. A language of threat to humans bases appeal on species self-interest – for example, ‘200 million people depend on coral reefs to protect them from storm surges and waves’, or ‘275 million people directly depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods and sustenance, but the IPCC predicts that 99% of corals will be lost under 2°C of global heating.’ Alongside such empirical data, coral scientists have written memoirs which describe ecological disaster through life writing. Drawing on literature including Charlie Veron, ‘the godfather of coral’, A Life Underwater (2017), Irus Braverman’s book Coral Whisperers; Scientists on the Brink of Despair (2018) and Callum Roberts Reef Life: An Underwater Memoir (2019), Peter F. Sale Coral Reefs: Majestic Realms Under the Sea (2021), Juli Berwald Life on the Rocks : Building a Future for Coral Reefs (2022), I investigate the poetics and practicalities of conveying the grim future of coral reefs. What role does life writing play in establishing coral crisis, and in pointing to ways out of it?

Sam Meekings (Northwestern University in Qatar), Fragmentation and Reforging of Identity in Recent British Grief Memoirs

In the last ten years, the UK has faced a crisis of identity. Patricia Linville (1985) argues that our self-concept is reliant on our self-aspects, such as our relational roles (as parent, child, partner, sibling, citizen). When we suffer a loss (be it of a partner or parent, of an era-defining monarch, of a European identity after Brexit, or of old colonial ‘certainties’ about our interactions with the world), the self-concept is forced to adapt and yet frequently cannot escape the ‘ghost’ of the past. This haunting of the self-concept is dramatized in a number of recent British memoirs about grief and loss. The presentation will apply Linville’s self-complexity theory to such memoirs to shed light on how they perform this crisis of personal, inter/national, colonial, and communal identity, and the fragmentation that this incurs. It will also explore how each grief memoir offers a way of thinking about how fragmented identities can be made whole again through re-engagement with local (and national) histories.
The presentation will examine three recent British grief memoirs that contend with both personal and national identities. In H is for Hawk (2014), Helen MacDonald retreats from society in the wake of her father’s death but finds she cannot escape echoes of England’s past. In Grief is the Thing with Feathers (2016), Max Porter dramatizes how grief might be countered through engagement both with the literary ‘ghosts’ and intertextualities that form one of the keystones of English cultural identity. Finally, in The Salt Path (2019), Raynor Winn navigates loss through re-engagement with the British landscape. The presentation will explore how these memoirs contend with times of crisis through imagination and engagement with local histories, and examine how each one dramatizes a transitional ‘crisis’ period of bereavement where the narrator’s self-concept is remade.

Astrid Joutseno (University of Turku), Cancer and Grief in Diaries and Social Media

This paper examines life writing around young women’s long-term cancer life and dying. I ask what are the private and public faces of terminal cancer? What happens to journaling and diary keeping in the face of cancer as prolonged illness? What kind of life writing appears on social media platforms in this situation? What kinds of cancer selves are celebrated and mourned? I discuss the phenomenon of cancer influencers on social media platforms and present examples from my personal journals from the past 6 years of living with incurable metastatic breast cancer.

With the advancement of medicine, life with incurable cancer is becoming longer, often lasting for some years rather than months. Living with metastatic cancer consists of traumatic experiences, ruptures caused by reoccurring crisis moments, medical interventions and endless readjustments to new treatments, side-effects, and physical and mental losses. Yet, in the everyday, living with terminal cancer is often unremarkable and other aspects of life take the spotlight: for some it can be work, creativity, mothering, a new career or a passion––even fame acquired via life writing online.

Terminal cancer and the anticipation of death can be an elongated, boring, painful as well as life-filled and transformative experience. Instead of passive victims, “cancer thrivers” find it central to hold on to their agency via means of life writing. In the deluge of amounting non-death losses, grief becomes an everyday companion. Often its presence is ambiguous, or hidden. How then does this grief appear, is the main question of my presentation.


Chair: Eva Karpinski (York University)

Anna Poletti (Utrecht University), Reading for Our Lives: Getting Serious about Readers and Reading in Autobiography Studies

This paper proposes that readers’ accounts of memoir reading on social media have something important to tell us about how and why life writing matters in times of personal and collective crisis. To research accounts of memoir reading on social media is to analyse the life writing strategies social media users deploy when they identify themselves as readers of life writing, as well as examining their truth-claims about how and why reading life writing matters to them. What theoretical and methodological approaches are needed to examine this interweaving of life writing, which could be described as life writing about reading life writing?
In this presentation, I will introduce a new research project, Reading For Our Lives (R4OL) which brings together researchers from reading and life writing studies. Our intention with this paper is to start a conversation about how empirical research on readers raises new questions for the field of life writing studies. This shift towards taking seriously how non-academic readers use life writing represents an important step in the development of the field, particularly given life writing’s role in documenting and responding to crises, and its use by a range of audiences in making sense of crises as they unfold, both close to home and far away (Black 2011; Couser 2011; Fuller and Rak 2015; Jensen 2019; Jensen and Jolly 2014; Rak 2013; Whitlock 2007). However, in most studies, the reader discussed in life writing scholarship is an implied reader whose identity, motivations and experiences of reading are inferred via an expert interpretation of the text, its publishing context and reception in the media. How might we research the ways actual, embodied readers experience and use memoir reading? This paper will explore the very pragmatic question of what it means to bring reading studies approaches to life writing studies.

Małgorzata Litwinowicz (University of Warsaw), People in Literary Salons in the Times of the Great Depression: Around the Diaries of Peasants (1935–1936)              

The diaries of peasants, a selection of which were published in the two-volume edition of the Social Economy Institute, were widely commented in the 1930s and became an event of cultural life, the best proof of which is the "Wiadomości Literackie" (one of the most prestigious journals in interwar Poland) award for the best book in 1937. In my presentation, I would like to look at two issues : first: to what extent the texts around these diaries (introduction by Maria Dąbrowska, discussions and reviews accompanying the edition of the printed selection) created a new language of talking about the experience of the inhabitants of the Polish countryside, whether/in what sense can we see here a "new opening" in social relations, at least in the category-narrative layer, and signals of possible democratization of Polish society, which, however, entered modernity as a feudal society. The second issue is: to what extent the list of issues and topics suggested in the competition invitation provided space for an individual, differentiating story; or in other words: whether/to what extent the storytelling tactics of rural men and women escaped the order of the questionnaire and became something more than a "sociological source".

Anna Jaroszuk (University of Warsaw), Literacy Experience as an Experience of Discontinuity and Crisis in Polish Peasant Memoirs From the 1930s

Due to the high level of illiteracy that characterized Polish society during the interwar period, particularly in the peasant strata, and the literacy campaigns conducted in conjunction with the implementation of compulsory schooling, the experience of alphabetization and broader literacy was one of the central themes of memoirs written by peasants and peasant women at the time for memoir competitions. Alphabetization and literacy, as well as their experiences, have been interpreted in the literature primarily—particularly at the macro level—in terms of a paradigm that identifies literacy with development, modernization, and emancipation, on the one hand, and a perspective that highlights the oppressive nature of the state-organized incorporation of more individuals and social groups into the literate community, on the other. Not abandoning either of these models of interpretation, I would like to focus exclusively on the micro scale of the processes of literacy, i.e. within the individual biographical stories depicted in the contests, and then examine individual experiences of literacy (and participation in contests) - often being the first of their kind in a family of diarists - in terms of discontinuity, disruption of the previous order, disorientation, or, finally, crisis. I intend to investigate the crisis connected with this experience on at least a few levels, including cognitive disorientation, reconstruction of the value system, group self-identification, ties with the family or neighborhood group, and everyday rearrangement. I will analyze diary accounts collected in two, in many respects, contrasting competitions in the 1930s addressed to peasants and peasant women: the Competition for Peasants' Diaries organized by the Institute of Rural Management in 1933 under the direction of Ludwik Krzywicki, and the Competition for Biographies of Rural Social Activists organized in 1935 by Wladyslaw Grabski as part of the Institute of Rural Sociology of the SGGW.

Chair: Paweł Rodak (University of Warsaw)

Mateusz Chmurski (CEFRES / Sorbonne Université), Paroxysm and In/visible Change: Central-European Post-War Diaries (1914, 1918, 1939)

Following recent developments on the representations of the World Wars in Central-European literatures as well as numerous full-text publications of 20th c. diaries, I propose to scrutinize the experience of sociopolitical, poetical, and existential change resulting from the conflicts as observed in Central-European personal diaries. However distant entries such as the famous Germany has declared war on Russia. Went swimming in the afternoon” noted by Kafka on the 2d of August 1914 may seem, diffuse yet certain conscience of the (post-)war dismantlement appears indeed between their lines. I intend to observe it by exploring the internal rhythm of an exemplary set of Central-European diaries and their uses by the authors (Broniewski, Csáth, Dąbrowska, Kafka, Klíma, Irzykowski…) to quantitively seize the variations in diary writing during chosen historical paroxysms” (Ingrao, 2021) of the period (1914, 1918, 1939). Questioning the role of diaristic practice as seismograph of in/visible change will also to the discussion of the entries testimonial and emotional (un)faithfulness facing the immediacy of events at turning points of history, as well as the matrix role they played both for the literary and existential trajectories of their authors. Further returns to the direct entries once put on paper, will finally be commented to argue that between enthusiasm, trauma and fear, Central-European writers occupy indeed a privileged” yet still insufficiently explored position vis-à-vis a set of issues at the center of the Modern” (Spector 2000: 67): not only in Prague, but also in numerous other territories. Hence, as they acutely observe and analyze r/evolutions happening before their eyes, Central-European diaries can be seen as seismographs of the numerous crises in the post-war years of uncertainty, inciting to sketch a paroxysmal diary poetics: between choc and its aggregation, testimony and its rewriting, self-discipline and self-preservation.

Lonny Harrison (The University of Texas at Arlington), Moralizing Terror: Life-Writing and Terrorism in Pre-Revolutionary Russia

This paper explores motives for political violence expressed in the memoirs, fiction, and personal correspondence of selected Russian revolutionary insurgents prior to 1917. Proceeding from the hypothesis that life-writing is a constructed representation of the self, it identifies discursive features inherited from the revolutionary tradition throughout the nineteenth century, in order to contextualize selected literary and autobiographical texts in Russia. In the works of representatives from groups such as The People’s Will (Narodnaia Volia) and the SR’s (Partiia sotsialistov-revoliutsionerov), it is found that an ideology of radical extremism contributes to the formation of a composite personality (lichnost’), which can be called a revolutionary persona. As such, the terrorist persona is a mask or mould to which individuals conformed, while each adopted and performed the role of revolutionary terrorist in his or her own unique way. This phenomenon is explored, in particular, in the memoirs of Vera Figner, Boris Savinkov, and Vladimir Zenzinov, among others, and in Savinkov’s novel Pale Horse (Kon’ blednyi). In these representative texts, which constituted a subgenre of life writing, a major concern of each writer is the moral question of terror. How each writer conceived of terror as a method of revolutionary struggle is both part and parcel of the ideology of the inherited revolutionary tradition, as well as an archetypal manifestation of the terrorist persona. While the moral question finds nuanced interpretations in the fiction, memoirs, and other personal papers under examination, revolutionary terrorism is found, in the end, to be a self-fulfilling drive, both the medium and the message, which informs the persona inhabited by the terror artist/writer with its own self-perpetuating logic in each respective case.

Valeria Taddei (University College Dublin), Writers' Diaries and the First World War: Preparing Modernism?

The Great War marked a dramatic watershed in European history, to the point of being taken by historian Eric Hobsbawm as the actual beginning of the 20th century. Those years are also a turning point in European literature, after which the mature season of European modernism began. Important future modernist writers kept a diary in the years of the war, which on occasions became their only form of writing. This paper proposes a transnational comparison between three such diaries, by the French André Gide, the English Virginia Woolf, and the Italian Carlo Emilio Gadda. The war affected them in different ways: Gide worked in a refugee centre on the Belgian Foyer, Woolf experienced the bombardment of London, Gadda fought on the Italian Front and was brought to Austria as a prisoner in 1917. Their literary career was also at different stages, but in all three cases largely to come; and their desire to bear witness to historical events was always accompanied by an awareness of literary expression as a professional challenge. Their diaries of the war period will be compared under three points of view: the portrayal of the clash between ordinary life and extraordinary circumstances; the style associated to the telling of war events (particularly as regards the interference of public rhetoric in private discourse); and their more or less explicit analysis of the impact of the war on their own personality and self-image. The conclusion will relate these traits to some features of literary modernism, trying to assess to what extent the exercise of writing life at a time of epochal crisis contributed to the development of their distinctive literary style.

Chair: Magdalena Ożarska (Jan Kochanowski University, Kielce)

Ioana Luca (National Taiwan Normal University), Life Narratives and Postsocialist Crises

The Colectiv club fire, a 2015 national tragedy in postsocialist Romania, brought about a wide range of life narratives about the event. These include postings in individual blogs/social media pages and Facebook groups documenting the on-going struggles of the survivors or honoring the memory of the departed; an incisive, multi-episode investigative journalistic inquiry; TV and feature documentaries; and, more recently, published memoirs. My paper has a two thronged purpose. First, it examines how life-narratives about and around the Colectiv fire have been instrumentalized for socio-political change, and government and judicial accountability. I inquire into the affordances of each set of life narratives, as well as their inter-mediality and convergence, so as to show the key role life writing in moments of crisis has acquired in the Romanian context. Second, I am interested in the limits the Colectiv life narratives have and the “dangers” they pose (Meretoja 2018, Mäkelä 2018; Meretoja and Davis 2018).While overall the Colectiv life narratives have had a beneficial civic role in contemporary Romania, a postsocialist context dominated until recently by apathy and lack of public engagement, and have functioned as a significant trigger for political change, increased accountability and individual civic responsibility, my paper argues that each type of narrative misses, obscures or commodifies key aspects of the disaster and its aftermath. Finally, I take the Colectiv life stories as an entry point about narrativizing crisis in the Romanian postsocialist context.

Bilyana Manolova (Utrecht University), Life Writing as Technology of Self-Construction for the Post-Socialist Subject

The fall of the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic States at the turn of the century produced a range of dramatic economic, political, cultural, and ideological shifts across the former Soviet Bloc. Since then, tropes such as the Russian ‘rowdy 1990s’ and the Bulgarian ‘Lukanov winter of hunger’ have circulated in the popular vocabularies of former socialist societies, capturing the political and economic crisis with which they grappled in the early transitionary years through a lens of intimately lived temporality. The collapse of socialism produced not only a need for new institutional models, but also for new systems of belief and self-understandings of the people that inhabited the former socialist world. In this paper I look at the post-socialist transition as an intimately registered time of crisis that re-arranged models of subjectivity and produced a need for individuals to re-articulate their selves and their place in history in a radically transformed world. The proliferation of life narratives in post-socialist countries since the 1990s is part of this effort for articulating an emerging subjectivity. I thus approach post-socialist life writing as a cultural practice that does not only respond to a transformation of traditional self-understandings but is also an integral part of it. What sense of self emerged amidst these changes, and does it differ across separate post-socialist contexts? What aesthetic strategies do life narrators utilize to articulate their position and agency as post-socialist subjects? In this paper, I analyse the construction of post-socialist subjectivity in Russian writer and director Nataliya Meshchaninova’s Stories of a Life and Ukrainian writer Oksana Zabuzhko’s Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex. I argue that life writing in these works constitutes an act of agency where narrators negotiate the social conventions of the post-socialist world through a radically intimate reveal of life post-1989.

Katarzyna Stańczak-Wiślicz (Polish Academy of Sciences), Narratives of Crisis: Autobiographical Self, Great History and New Emotional Regimes in Polish Memoirs of the 1980s

This paper will be based on the analysis of the diaries and memoirs written spontaneously and for contests announced by both official media and by underground magazines during the 1980s. in Poland. Most of them are left in manuscript in the collections of the KARTA archive and Central Archives of Modern Records in Warsaw. In this paper I will consider the authors’ relationship with (the) history, and examine how they situated themselves and constructed their narrative selves in the context of the events they described. Thus, I will ask how the new emotional regime, that emerged during the 1980s. shaped narrative strategies employed by memoirists, how they provided the framework for describing current events and unpredictable everyday life. I understand emotional regime according to William Reddy as a mode of emotional expression and thought dominant in a particular time period and cultural context. During the 1980s in Poland it was developed on the basis of the critique of late socialism, and shaped by dissent and foreign discourses about economics, human rights and democracy, as well as by martyrological national messianism and Romantic imaginarium. My preliminary research show that the memoirists, regardless of their gender, prioritized collective identity over individual one, constructed their narrative selves as eyewitnesses to the great history. In many cases the crisis- understood as a great change, became a major factor that made them write.

3:30 PM - 4:00 PM COFFEE BREAK


4:00 PM - 5:30 SESSIONS 2


PANEL Auditorium Hall
Hannah Holtschneider (University of Edinburgh)
Sheila Jelen (University of Kentucky)
Gabriel Finder (independent scholar)
Christoph Thonfeld (Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site)
Peter Davies (University of Edinburgh)

In ‘Traumatic emotions’ Jeffrey Blustein draws on psychoanalytic research positing that in order for victims of trauma to ‘get on with life’ they need to mourn their losses and transform disruptive traumatic memories into narrative memories that are assigned a place in a coherent autobiography (Blustein 2018, pp.6f. & p.22). This process involves addressing significant emotions and a survivor (re-)establishing agency over their life. I propose to analyse how, in both her testimonies (Five Chimneys 1947 and Shoah Foundation 1998), Lengyel gives shape to her emotions and establishes agency over her experiences and their meaning. The very different appeal to her readers and listeners in her written and oral testimony given fifty years apart are the starting point for an in-depth emotional reading of Lengyel’s testimonies. Sara Ahmed suggests in The Cultural Politics of Emotion that we think of emotions as agents, so we can trace ‘how emotions circulate between bodies’, that is, what emotions do and how particular relationships are constituted through emotions (Ahmed, 2014, p. 4). Ahmed proposes a ‘model of sociality of emotions’, whereby emotions are effective in determining people’s response to something or someone, and that response in turn has an effect on the person themselves. I will apply her insights about the trajectory of emotions that act as forces between subjects, because of how they are understood, directed, perceived and effective, to the micro-historical context of one person’s testimony, and contrast with psychoanalytic models of thinking about emotions.

SESSION I Room 105
Chair: Jeremy Popkin (University of Kentucky)

Helga Lenart-Cheng (Saint Mary's College of California), Eastern European Covid Diaries: Harnessing the Prosocial Potential of Collective Diaries Without Building a Surveillance State?

As I show in my 2022 book, Story Revolutions: Collective Narratives from the Enlightenment to the Digital Age, in 21st century participatory democracy, we rely on a multiplicity of aggregated autobiographical stories (#metoo, The Moth, StoryCorps, Covid diaries) to define our sense of community. The story products of social media companies celebrate the idea of collective intimacy, while algorithmically reinforcing social divisions based on intimate, personal stories. Focusing on the role of personal stories in building democracy, this paper proposes an approach that balances top-down and bottom-up perspectives: on the one hand, crowd-sourced personal stories can indeed strengthen communities by offering data-driven insights based on lived experiences, and more opportunities for bonding, which enable a more personalized understanding of my democracy.” On the other hand, we need to be cautious about naïve celebrations of building community via empathy, and recognize the danger of automated, algorithmic aggregations that silo us into prefabricated communities.
To demonstrate the relevance of this approach, I will analyze Covid diaries from Eastern Europe. Case studies will include the "Pandemic Diaries" competition in Poland, built on a rich, Polish tradition of similar diary competitions that started in the early 20th century; and similar collections from Russia, Hungary and Romania. Pandemic diaries have clearly shown that story-sharing is a crucial form of social and political imagination. Story collections have a significant prosocial, productive potential which can help reimagine collectives. Meanwhile, aggregating personal stories also has harmful and even dangerous downsides, as demonstrated by contemporary data-extraction and surveillance practices. The question is: can we harness the prosocial potential of collective diaries without building a surveillance state?

Marleen Rensen (University of Amsterdam), “Eighteen Years in Quarantine”: Corona Crisis and Communism in Nausicaa Marbe’s Memoir Waiting for the West

This paper will discuss the recent memoir 'Wachten op het Westen/ Waiting for the West' (2022), by Nausicaa Marbe, a Dutch writer who grew up in Romania and migrated to the Netherlands in 1982. It will examine how Marbe narrates the story of her childhood and youth in communist Rumania through the prism of the corona crisis. The pandemic —the fear and uncertainty, the closed borders, the freedom restrictions and the shop queues— triggered memories of her life behind the Iron Curtain and drove her to compare the two life experiences. Surely, she emphasizes, the corona measures of the Dutch government are fundamentally different from the orchestrated terror of Ceausescu’s dictatorship, but the sense of crisis and the coping mechanisms involved bear some resemblances. This paper will look into the way Marbe casts her communist experience as ´eighteen years in quarantine´ in order to come to terms with crises both in the past and the present, in the East and West part of Europe. Looking closely at the ´agency´ and ´audience´ addressed, it will argue that her story not only calls attention to the differences between East and West, it also loosens the divide between the two ‘halves’ of Europe. For ultimately, Marbe wants to tell an inspiring and hopeful story for all Europeans faced with challenging circumstances.

Katja Herges (University of Wrocław), Affective Politics and Digital Publics in Collective Life Narratives of Covid-19

Public debate and health policies about Covid-19 have been largely based on epidemiological discourses about incidence rates and mortality data. However, a large number of patients, in particular women, who have officially recovered from Covid-19 are still affected by a wide range of debilitating symptoms months after they were infected with the virus. Longcovid is the first patient-named pathology and has come to constitute a clinical and public health phenomenon in many countries. Based on patients’ experiences and their (dismissed) needs for care, an international activist movement emerged on social media platforms where patients, artists and activists attempt to increase visibility and lead citizen-science alliances for Long Covid. As part of this health activism, multi-media websites and virtual exhibitions have been released, which feature multiple individual narratives and testimonies about experiences with Covid-19 in written, oral and visual formats in addition to medical information. These projects are often created in collaboration between artists, patients and health care professionals. This presentation will focus on examples of these activist projects from Germany, the US and the UK. Drawing on scholarship in affect theory and feminist cultural and media studies, I will analyze the role of affect and relationality in the aesthetics and politics of this new practice of life writing. In doing so, the article examines 1) the affective politics that are created through the projects (for instance through Lauren Berlant’s notion of “the intimate public sphere”) and 2) the visual, rhetorical and narrative strategies that the projects use (for instance intermediality, intertextuality) to create such a public. Taking Long Covid as a case study, the article engages with the role and mechanisms of affects in the construction of illness politics and contemporary illness narratives more generally.

Chair: Elżbieta Klimek-Dominiak (University of Wrocław)

Ilana Blumberg (Bar Ilan University), Ordinary Crisis: Helping Students Write Lives of Ongoing Struggle

My interest in this paper is times of crisis that are so protracted and so entrenched as to feel no longer like crisis, but like ordinary experience. More specifically, how can teachers of life-writing serve student groups (from elementary school upward) who have never been prompted to consider that living in conditions of extreme poverty, for example, or living in contested and war-torn regions, may be both “ordinary,” but also worthy of attention as a crisis? Should we and how might we offer such students literary texts that model an insistence on the surreality of protracted crisis conditions? How does the very term “crisis” catalyze new modes for young people of limited experience in time and space to understand one’s environment critically and to begin to articulate the human rights due to all people? How might playing with the paradox of the “ordinary crisis” itself underscore the unacceptability of social and personal norms and assumptions about what sort of life we might all deserve to expect? Finally, how can fantasy play a role in imagining life experience that would not be shaped by crisis? In other words, how might life-writing about the life we wish for be another way of responding to ordinary crisis? In order to consider these questions beyond the theoretical, I will draw upon examples from the life writing of urban American middle-school students (pre-pandemic) who reflected on their reality living in intensely violent, threatening environs when I led them in short-term reading and writing workshops. From this particular example, I will propose a few related possibilities for teaching on the university level and consider, too, what sort of classroom dynamic can hold the writing and reading of such painful, but often immensely important, documents.

Agnieszka Sobolewska (University of Warsaw), Between Rage and Fatigue: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth (1937–1939) in the Light of Life Writing Strategies and the History of Emotions

My presentation aims to examine the close relationship between writing about one’s life and the crisis situation related to anti-Semitic violence, the expansion of totalitarianism in Europe, and the outbreak of World War II. My analysis will be based on selected autobiographies written by Jewish Youth in the framework of the three Competitions for Memoirs of Jewish Youth (1932, 1934, 1939). By concentrating on the last competition (1939), I want to shed light on the influence of difficult social and political processes on autobiographical strategies developed by young authors who had decided to take part in the Competition. The cultural, social, and political context of their memoirs will be considered crucial: increasing anti-Semitism in Poland, the specter of impending war, and, finally, the outbreak of WWII. The close reading of three selected autobiographies written between 1937 and 1939 (signed as: "Abraham Harefuler”, "J. Duda”, and "Nobody”) in Warsaw, currently kept in The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York will allow me to analyze: first, the strategies of writing one’s life, and second, the emotional dimension of experiencing the crisis (i.e. in personal, collective life). The methodological scope of my presentation is oriented on the category of emotion understood in the broader scope of the history of emotions. What I want to propose is a reading of the selected autobiographies of young Jewish authors in light of psychological phenomena such as emotional crises, emotional outbursts, and the suppression of emotions. I will also relate to the broader context of memoir-writing competitions in Poland in the interwar period - an important phenomenon not only in Polish history but also, more generally, a phenomenon closely related to the progressive individualization, psychologization, and personalization of the individual in the history of western modernity and modernization.

Sergio Barcellos (UERJ – Rio de Janeiro State University), When Facts and Affects Collide: Diary Writing as a Historical Fact and Political Move

Subjectivity when a synonym of sensibility has been a reason to discard diary writing as a historical or legal document. However, several examples of successful diaries have proven this dichotomy wrong. Carolina Maria de Jesus's diary kept for a few months in 1955 strongly impacted the reporter Audálio Dantas, when, in 1958, he had his first contact with De Jesus’ writings. The reporter urged her to resume her diary writing; years later, the diary turned out to be an international bestseller. Due to her pungent narrative and inside point of view, the miserable life in the slums became known and impossible to ignore. Her narrative had a great and positive impact on public housing policies and a bittersweet effect on her life. Out of the slum, De Jesus came to know the different ways society rejects and discriminates and above all the totalitarian language of the cultural and, particularly, the literary establishment. The first volume of her diary reported her struggles to survive scavenging the dumpsters of São Paulo had great acceptance by victimizing her. The second volume, when she describes her incursion in the literary métier, had no appeal to the readership and marked the beginning of her public ostracism. The present paper aims to revisit this public trajectory of Carolina Maria de Jesus through the concepts of “faits d’affects”, of Didi-Huberman.

Chair: Aneta Ostaszewska (University of Warsaw)

Natalia Panas (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań), Bolnica Stobart: Three Autobiographical Herstories About the Great War in Serbia and Their Position in Serbian Cultural Memory

Stobart Hospital is the setting that inspired at least three egodocuments - "My Diary In Serbia" (1916) by Monica M. Stanley, "Letter From A Field Hospital" (1915) by Mabel Dearmer and "The Retreat from Serbia. Through Montenegro and Albania" by Olive M. Aldridge. These are three autobiographical narratives, albeit with different genres - we are dealing with a diary, letters and memoirs, created on an ongoing basis, and three different perspectives on the same historical event: arrival in Serbia at the beginning of the Great War (1914-1918) and humanitarian work of British The Serbian Relief Fund. Originally, the texts were published separately in Great Britain, but after more than a century, the city of Kragujevac (Serbia), where the Stobart Hospital operated and where the authors worked, combined the memoirs into a single polyphony: "Bolnica Stobart" (The Stobart Hospital). This edition is an element of the reconstructed Serbian cultural memory of women about this event, and in this methodological key I will examine these hitherto little-discussed texts. British authors' external view of Serbian wartime everyday life, motivations for humanitarian work in war-torn Serbia, were the reason for writing down the memory of these often difficult, brutal and traumatic events. Cultural and gender differences commented on by the authors will also be important to me. The subject of the study is, therefore, British ego-documents written by women in the common frame of Serbian cultural memory, their image of war and echoes of the contemporary reception of autobiographical texts in Serbia.

Hélène Martinelli (ENS de Lyon), Women Drawing (during) the World War II

We know from numerous diaries telling the daily life of women in occupied countries and bombed cities how World War II affected the civilians. Moreover, when writing about the Spanish war in Three Guineas (1938), Virginia Woolf already pointed out what photographs of “dead bodies and ruined houses” that were published in the newspapers changed about the visibility of the war, even for those who were further away from it.
Focusing on women drawing during World War II can also help us visualize the “womanly face of war” (in reference to Svetlana Alexievich’s, The Unwomanly Face of War [У войны не женское лицо, 1985] as an exhibition of the same name about Ukrainian women and their experiences of the war in Cape Town in August 2022).

The Czech surrealist painter and illustrator Toyen (born Marie Čermínová, 1902-1980) deals with it in her series of drawings from the 1940’s, entitled Hide, War! [Schovej se, válko!, Prague, 1944] or The Shooting Gallery [Střelnice, Prague, 1946]. In her “unposted letters” to her husband (which eventually turned out to be published drawings in Forty Drawings for Friends, London, 1943), the Polish Jewish artist Franciszka Themerson (1907-1988) also represents herself alone in London, having followed the Polish army in Exile. The German Jewish painter Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943) fled from Nazi Germany and, when in France, painted and wrote her life in a unpublished book [Leben? Oder Theater?, 1941-1943] she considered as “all [her] life”.

What do their series of non-realistic drawings can show us about their life during the war? Can we see the cycles of drawings as a discontinuous narrative structure? What about the accompanying texts — be it letters, titles, introductory poems or a personal story literally written on the drawings?


Anna Seidl (University of Amsterdam), Crises, Affects, and Relationality in Katja Petrowskaja’s The Photograph Looked Back at Me (2022)

Kyiv born German writer and journalist Katja Petrowskaja’s new publication "The photograph looked back at me" (2022) is a collection of photo columns that date from 2015 to 2021 and is witnessed by war. It depicts a profound chronicle of historical moments, motivated by the contemporary crises in the Ukraine. Petrowskaja uses images that originate from various sources, such as, newspapers, exhibitions and flea markets, from friends, the internet, and her family archives as a starting point for her (self-)narration and engaged contemplation. Rather than adopting the gaze of a spectator and looking at others’ pain, Petrowskaja remains potentially implicated in the worlds she describes. Being affected by the images means exposing herself to the effect of a significant other which results in intimate moments of consternation that become charged with her lived memories and own living story webs (Boje 2012). 

I argue that writing about those images makes them her own in the sense that her engagement and involvement affects the interpretation of what her narrative voice makes of the pain of the significant other in relation to her rhetorical “I”. Affects and relationality shape the narrator’s subjectivity and sensibilities concerning the quality of existential situations of crises. Adopting concepts from affect theory (Ahmed 2004; Berlant 2019; Wehrs 2017; Seigworth 2010), life narrative (Smith/Watson 2010), and the category of similarity (Bhatthi/Kimmich 2015, Koschorke 2015), I discuss the potential of relationality and engaged contemplation for the absorption of alterity and crises into one’s own living story web.






6 JULY (Thursday)

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM SESSIONS 3

ROUNDTABLE Auditorium Hall

Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle (The College of New Jersey)
Kate Douglas (Flinders University) (on-line)
Leena Käosaar (University of Tartu) (tentative)
Eva Karpinski (York University)
Marina Deller (Flinders University) (on-line)
Elizabeth Rodrigues (Grinnell College)

This roundtable gathers women life writing scholars who are contributors to the forthcoming Routledge collection In the Spaces Provided: Career Narratives and Academic Womanhood (2023). They represent not only a variety of sub-fields in life writing, but also stages and roles of the profession. Participants are chosen specifically to expand on considerations of crisis in their essay chapters, including institutional precarity, natural disaster, and the global COVID 19 pandemic. Presentations will explore how immigration, parenthood, gender and sexual identity, and professional policies/practices, have shaped ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­their ability to navigate crisis at pivotal junctures in their academic careers throughout the world. Questions will prompt speakers to theorize how their specialization in auto/biographical studies has promoted their ability to articulate the conditions of crisis from overlapping personal and professional perspectives. Following a brief introduction by the moderator, 6 scholars and administrators from across three continents will share brief presentations of 5-7 minutes in response to questions shared with them ahead of time on the topic of women and crisis in academia. 

SESSION I Room 105
Chair: Maria Isabel Duran Gimenez-Rico (Complutense University of Madrid)

Carol Acton (St Jerome's University at the University of Waterloo), Intimacy as Emotional Survival: Letter Exchanges Between Couples in the First World War

The First World War may have been a political and social crisis for Europe and beyond, but for those who were compelled to fight and those they left behind it was a very personal crisis. This discussion examines the published and unpublished correspondence of young couples to show how they used love letters to manage the personal trauma of separation and fear of death. Since, as Stanley (2004) insists, letters are dialogical, looking at both sides of the correspondence is crucial not only in moving beyond the male-centred privileging of ‘letters from the Front’, but in allowing us to enter the shared subjective experience where the construction of a romantic narrative offered these couples a space into which they could temporarily escape. Each correspondent in the relationship employs letters to enact romantic desire, where both the erotic and the mundane affirm the value of the other and offer the comfort of emotional support. After his involvement in an attack where he is the only surviving officer, one combatant tells his fiancée, ‘I am awfully glad about your feeling I was so near to you . . . – I had you in my arms and kissed you and could feel your face on mine.’ Engaging in narratives of such intimate corporeal connection allows couples to negotiate and transcend their physical separation. In addition, writing in the context of possible death or injury to the body reinforces the awareness of the corporeal, so that the body becomes especially important not just as an erotic site, but as an affirmation of life. Defying the traumatic experience of upheaval and separation as well as combat, letter exchanges attempt to maintain emotional security and stability, even as both sides are aware of the precarity of this constructed space in the face of war.

Maarja Hollo (Estonian Literary Museum), Nostalgia in Kurt Eiskop’s Letters to His Wife in 1940–1941

Letters gain a special meaning in peoples’ lives during the war. Jenny Hartely has claimed that during the Second World War more letters were written, sent and received than ever before because letter were often the only possible form of communication. It was not less important that during the war, when people felt themselves insecure, endangered and vulnerable, the letters offered an opportunity to create an alternative and safe space. One of possibilities to create this space was nostalgic retrospects to the time before the Second World War. The safe space created in letters was especially important for the recruits and for the soldiers on the frontline that constantly faced the death. In my presentation I analyze the manifestations and functions of nostalgia in Kurt Eiskop’s (1919–1944) letters to his beloved Edith Eiskop (1919–1991). Kurt Eiskop started to serve time in the armed forces of the Republic of Estonia in spring 1940. On 17 June the same year the Soviet armed forces (approximately 100 000 soldiers) occupied the Republic of Estonia. In this connection the fate of Estonian military men became very unsure. Eiskop describes the moods of that time in his letters, expressing uncertainty and fear for his life, the future and the war. His first preserved letter was written in 1937 and the last one in June 1941. Kurt Eiskop was killed in 1944 when he fought Russians on the German side.


Monika Kopcik (University of Warsaw), ‘Je ressemble à un jouet inutile’: Self-Examination in Karol Szymanowski’s Elisavetgrad Letters

The aim of the presentation is to analyse modes of self-examination and self-creation employed in Karol Szymanowski’s correspondence and some of his literary sketches written around the time of the World War I and the October Revolution. The main focus will be on a body of letters written during so-called ‘Elisavetgrad period’ (dated ca. 1917-1919). Following the revolution, the composer was forced to leave his family mansion house in Tymoshivka and moved to Elisavetgrad, a city he considered provincial and isolating due to lack of contact with Western musical world. In the letters (exchanged with Nathalie Davydoff, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz and Stefan Spiess) Szymanowski reevaluates his status as an artist, shares his thoughts on Shestov's philosophy and hints at his own vision of history. During the time of isolation in Elisavetgrad he does not compose but, as he himself remarks in the letters, instead begins working on a novel ‘Ephebos’ (Efebos), known today only in scarce fragments (the only chapter that survived in almost complete form is based on Plato’s ‘Symposium’). Szymanowski's Elisavetgrad writings thus raise questions about strategies of self-creation and also self-criticism engendered by sudden change of sociopolitical context. In the presentation is argued that the construction of epistolary subject (Cysewski 1997) in Elisavetgrad letters marks the beginning of Szymanowski's departure from decadent mode of self-perception towards the modern vision that will later mark the final Nationalistic (or barbaric) period of his oeuvre. It is also contended that Szymanowski’s literary sketches involve Genettian transtextual strategies, employed both in aforementioned Platonic chapter and some of his earlier works (e.g. memoir about his father inspired by Leonid Andreyev’s short story ‘Silence’ (Milczenie)), therefore embedding the 'self' in the words (or imaginaries) of others.


Chair: Agnieszka Sobolewska (University of Warsaw)

Max Casey (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), ‘Dead skin was my real skin’: Flat affect and the intimate impersonal in Esmé Weijung Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias

This paper will discuss the importance of flat affect as a writing style to contemporary illness autotheory. Since Anne Boyer’s The Undying, autotheory has become a popular approach within illness writing that attempts to undermine the centrality within that genre of the “self-made hero” (Fernandez 36) constructed through “neo-liberal self-management” (Boyer 9). Illness autotheory can bear witness to the processes where subjects are (de)constructed through illness, as well as the social and economic systems that surround it.

In their article about flat affect, Lauren Berlant argues that “this esthetic performs a desire to capture the present’s multiple, magnetizing scenes in their noisy proximity, tiltedness, and oscillation” (3). Flatness foregoes the singularity of melodramatic and evental styles in favour of an approach that “foregrounds the obstacles to immediate reading” (3). This style would seemingly be useful for illness autotheory, which deliberately attempts to undermine the narrative framework of the self-made, agential hero. At what point, though, does flat style move from signalling a trembling in response to the present’s multivalence to instead creating a sense of impartial rationality? At what stage does the “freedom of the impersonal” (Berlant 19) resemble less uncertainty and more another way to construct the ‘self-made hero’ who can always remain above events? This paper will analyze the use of flat affect in Esmé Weijung Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias, to think about how Wang’s use of the form enacts the failure to resolve the tension between individual flourishing and collective precarity. This paper will further relate the concept of flat affect in cultural studies with its position in medical discourse as a symptom of schizophrenia, and specifically it’s relation to Anderssein, or difference without relation (Nagai). Flat affect becomes a way to understand the sense that, as filmmaker Marina de Van describes, “your body does not belong to you” within discourses of neo-liberal self-management.


Katarzyna Bronk-Bacon (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan), “I Have Not the Assurance to Assert That I Am Alive”: Epistolary Accounts of the Crisis of Ageing into Old Age

Ageing into old age, or growing old, involves a series of crises, experienced both on an individual and social level. Most of the crises result from the incompatibility between actual ‘embodied experience’ of ageing and ‘the imagined old age’ scenarios developed in youth and due to what Michael Mangan (2013: 5) called ‘gerontideology’. The accounts of such age-related crises, ones affecting new social identities as well as the quality of self-perception, were often narrated in familiar letters, and those in the Long Eighteenth-Century in particular. The Enlightenment offered a new perception of ageing into old age as manageable, a condition to be treated and controlled, and yet, as this presentation will show, the intimate conversations found in the letters of individuals such as Horace Walpole, Mary Wortley Montagu or Mary Berry – all well versed in the ideology of successful ageing and with access to the best doctors – prove that it is still unpredictable. This presentation will focus on the psychosomatic transformations, emotional rollercoasters, attempts at empowerment and admittances of failure in the letters of some of the most well-known public figures of the Long Eighteenth Century, to offer an unfortunate confirmation of Thomas R. Cole’s (Cole 1987: 5) opinion that “[a]ging, like illness and death, reveals the most fundamental conflict of the human condition: the tension between infinite ambitions, dreams, and desires on the one hand, and vulnerable, limited, decaying physical existence on the other”.

Magdalena Staroszczyk (University of Warsaw), Remembering Kim Lee: Performative Biography and Queer/COVID Mourning

This paper is an (auto)ethnographic analysis of mourning and biographical commemoration practices of Warsaw’s queer community following the death of Kim Lee in 2020, caused by COVID-19. Exuberant, campy, radiant, Kim was the stage persona created and performed by Andy Nguyen, Poland’s most famous drag queen, organizer of drag queen competitions, beloved friend of many queers and feminists. During the last two years his/her life became the subject of textual, visual, archival, curatorial and performative practices, among them the unpublished, over 1000 page long auto/biographical text by his/her partner Remigiusz Szeląg, photographic project by Agata Zbylut and Pat Mic, and an exhibition at Museum of Wola, curated by myself. These varied forms of biographical activity will be examined in my presentation. My aim is to explore the uncanny connection between queer death and pandemic death, and the grief and mourning following both. My paper draws inspiration from J. Halberstam’s Queer Art of Failure (2011) and recent efforts to initiate queer death studies (Radomska, Mehrabi, Lykke 2020). It reflects on how Kim Lee’s death revealed the limits of his/her transgressive artistic practice. It asks what we mourn when we mourn Kim Lee – could it be a now defunct dream of a diverse and openminded Poland? Could it be life before the pandemic?

Chair: Aleksandra Bednarowska (Pedagogical University of Kracow)

Laura Schlosberg (Stanford University), Recrafting a Life After Crises: Some Examples From Zinaida Volkonskaia's Archival Documents

Princess Zinaida Aleksandrovna Volkonskaia (1789-1862) was a woman whose life intersected with pivotal nineteenth-century European events. The daughter of an ambassador, she crossed paths with many of the greatest European artists, authors, and political figures through her family and her own position in the Russian Imperial Court. An extraordinarily well-educated writer, singer, salon hostess, artist, philanthropist, and patron, Volkonskaia’s own creativity reflected her appreciation for beauty and the arts. Many works about the Princess highlight these aspects yet overlook the crises that shaped her life writing. Volkonskaia’s private pains resonate across time – from experiencing the Napoleonic war, epidemics, and exile to grieving her relatives’ early deaths and worrying about money.

This paper will look at two notable periods. In 1814-15 near the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Volkonskaia’s second son died soon after his birth in December 1814. This tragedy motivated Volkonskaia to make a significant change. She relocated to Italy, distancing herself from the Russian Court and her husband. Her archived notebook of writings included diary-like entries and poems capturing her grief alongside hope. Parallel to these writings, Volkonskaia commissioned a series of portraits. Together, these works introduced her as a woman who used art to refashion a new independent creative identity. In the 1850s, the Princess again recrafted her life, but through a Catholic values lens. Her earlier conversion to Catholicism led to her exile from Russia. An unpublished notebook of spiritual writings and a biography dictated to her confessor Father Giovanni Merlini presented a woman in Rome who acted publicly with compassion, charity, and virtue. Privately, she struggled financially and emotionally with her failure to achieve her goals of supporting girls’ education and women’s healthcare in Rome. This paper uses a feminist lens to analyze how Volkonskaia intentionally recrafted her life narrative in response to crises.


Joanna Jeziorska-Haładyj (University of Warsaw), Second Person Autobiography and the Identity Crisis

The aim of the paper is to examine second person autobiographies in the optics of identity crisis. It is an unusual and somehow unnatural form, having no explicit equivalent in everyday communication acts. Contrary to the common belief, second person narratives are not restricted to fiction. Unlike in novels, where the narrator is usually a vague, mysterious voice addressing the ‘you’ protagonist, in autobiographies both the narrator and the narratee are parties to the referential pact and the narrating voice is a flesh-and-blood person. The oldest example of second person autobiographical text dates back to the 17th century when the memoirs of Maximilien de Béthune, duke of Sully (a statesman and counselor of king Henry IV of France) were published under the title "Les oeconomies royales".
Second person gives the autobiographical enterprise a specific dimension: the subject needs to combine the roles of both the narrator and the addressee. It also creates the feeling of discrepancy between the narrating and narrated ‘selves’, a distance that is often used to dwell on the problems of identity. It also evokes the problem of anamnesis (in Paul Ricoeur’s understanding), the discordance between the contemporary and past image of the self. The dialogization between the multiple versions of the disguised “I” is further complicated by the natural tendency of the recipient to identify himself or herself with the narrative ‘you’ (David Herman’s notion of double deixis). This creates a complex communicative framework, different in each case study. In my argument I focus mainly on Nathalie Sarraute’s “You” and Marya Hornbacher’s "Wasted" with occasional references to Paul Auster’s and Christa Wolf’s prose.

Vanessa Berry (University of Sydney), Continuity and Rupture: Crisis in Lifelong Autobiography with Christa Wolf's One Day a Year

For over fifty years Christa Wolf sustained an autobiographical project, writing a detailed annual account of her experiences on the 27th September, every year from 1960 to 2011. Initially not intended to be published, then released in 2003 and 2013 under the title One Day a Year, these accounts record the texture of Wolf's personal, professional and political life, anchored in specific daily details. For Wolf, this work acted as both a form of remembrance and an experiment in authentically presenting a 'testimony of the times' through personal experience. Wolf's calendrical framing, and the long span of her project, puts forward a mode of autobiography that is at once structured and open to chance, and captures personal and political emergencies. Her yearly accounts which coincide with major upheavals provide illuminating examples of the significance and challenges of autobiographical writing in times of crisis. In the wake of critical events - such as the fall of the GDR in 1989, and the September 11 attacks in 2001 - Wolf's accounts take on an increased urgency of tone. They shift in attentive focus and relationship to everyday detail as Wolf grapples with rapid unfolding change and the difficulties of writing with and through crisis. The immediacy and intensity of crisis impacts upon Wolf's expression, forcing a reckoning with her literary and personal intentions for the project and autobiography more broadly. A study of these accounts highlights the capacity of long-term autobiographical works to reflect upon and respond to crises and present their impact upon everyday material lived realities, and how and what it is possible to write in times of acute challenge and change.


Chair: Marleen Rensen (University of Amsterdam)


Alexander Williams (University of Groningen), “Ghosts Inside the Fence”: Exploring Life within the Nazi Extermination Camps Sobibór and Treblinka

With over one million victims, the Nazi extermination camps Sobibór and Treblinka are synonymous with the deaths they inflicted upon so many. Often overlooked, however, is that throughout their seventeen-month existence hundreds of Jews were forced to live within the camps’ borders – violently coerced into effectuating genocidal aims of the SS. Having to toil perpetually under the shadow of death, with their own certain demise looming ever-present, the term ‘living,’ is therefore not entirely appropriate. As Treblinka survivor Richard Glazar notes in his testimony, “we exist no longer, we’re dead, in some way dead.” Somehow, extermination camp inmates experienced their state of being as unable to conform to a life/death distinction. Such perceptions were shared by many in Sobibór. Within the camp’s fence, survivor Dov Freiberg writes, one was neither alive nor dead. Rather, akin to ghost-like or, spectral figures, each prisoner “hung” somewhere “between life and death.” But why is this so? Based on Glazar’s and Freiberg’s testimonies, this paper asks what these paradoxical ontological comments suggest about how extermination camp prisoners experienced their harrowing plight and, moreover, the space wherein it occurred. Despite testimony’s potential to expand our understanding, inquiry into the subjective experiences of those incarcerated within such camps – i.e. the most important actors in these events – has been largely absent. Responding, thus, to these epistemological and ethical needs, a spatiotemporal analysis shall first be undertaken to examine how an extermination camp’s physical environment laid the groundwork for these ghost-like perceptions. Secondly, through the framework of spectrality – the metaphor of the ghost as a conceptual tool – the implications of these ‘liminal ontologies’ are explored. This paper thereby not only responds to a lacuna within Holocaust Studies but, moreover, contributes to an understanding of how these exterminatory environments were experienced by those within.

Anita Jarczok (University of Bielsko-Biala), Ration by Ration – Time and Hunger in Holocaust Diaries from the Ghetto

“The last portion of soup – yesterday at twenty to one. The next will be – today at the same time. The longest half, already endured. How much longer to go? Eight hours, though you can’t count the last hour from noon on." The above fragment taken from Leyb Goldin’s "Chronicle of a Single Day" captures something that is noticeable in many personal narratives written during the Holocaust, namely the close connection between time and hunger. In my essay I wish to argue that in certain Holocaust diaries references to food rations, the lack of food, and hunger become an organizing principle of many entries, especially as the war progresses and the closer to 1942 we get. Time seems to be measured by meager food rations, which is particularly visible in Dawid Sierakowiak’s diary which captures his coming of age during the war and the changing focus of his entries which become increasingly concentrated on food and his failing health. The paper will be divided into three parts. In the first one, I will provide a socio-historical background to hunger in the ghettos. The second part will focus on the temporal dimension of Holocaust diaries. Many scholars, including Batsheva Ben-Amos and Amos Goldberg, admit that the temporal dimension in Holocaust diaries is very particular and determined by their authors’ contemporaneous circumstances. For Goldberg trauma suffered by the people who experienced the atrocities of the war disrupts the continuity of time, placing people in the static present, and thus contributes to the disruption of the continuity of the self. The final part will be devoted to the analysis of the interrelation of time and hunger in the diaries from the Łódź ghetto: Irena Hauser’s, Dawid Sierakowiak’s, and the diary of an anonymous girl which is included in Alexandra Zapruder’s "Salvaged Pages."

Anna Pekaniec (Jagiellonian University, Cracow), 'I' in the City and History: Renia Spiegiel's Diaries 1939–1942: Everyday Life in Wartime Przemyśl

Renia Spiegel's diary (published in 2016) is a unique document of wartime and Holocaust reality, compiled by the teenage author, a Jewish girl living with her grandparents and her sister, Ariana (she emigrated to the USA with her mother) in south-eastern Poland. Born in 1924 in Uhryńkowce (today's Ukraine), she spent almost all of her (short) life in Przemyśl; when she was 15 she started keeping a diary, which - after the author was shot by the Germans - was kept by her friend Zygmunt Schwarzer (who gave it to Ariana in the 1950s). In the proposed presentation, I want to focus on several issues that are combine with a constant sense of danger - the war, the forced separation from her mother, the ghetto, the Holocaust. Firstly, the issue of the diaristic strategy, developed by Renia in a text with a considerable autothematic charge, highly dialogical, combining features of a diary, a memoir, a confession, a prayer, but also an artistic sketchbook (it included her poems). Secondly, the portrayal of the city in Spiegel's diary as an ambivalent space, characterised by opposing emotions, additionally increasingly claustrophobic and dangerous. The familiar place in the diarist's notes becomes a domain of constant danger from which she fenced herself off with diary notes. Thirdly, I want to look at the ways in which she jotted down remarks about history, politics, comments on the political or economic situation. Using the theoretical findings of Aleksandra Ubertowska, Paweł Rodak, Justyna Kowalska Leder, Phillipe Lejeune and Leigh Gilmore, I will reconstruct the teenage author's perception of everyday life with her factual, expressive, emotional notes (similar to those of Reni Knoll or Rywka Lipszyc), additionally reflecting on Spiegel's motivations for taking exceptional care of the continuity of her crisis notes and their idiomatic genological formula.

11:00 AM - 11:30 AM COFFEE BREAK

11:30 AM - 1:00 PM KEYNOTE 2: MONICA SOETING: ‘Silence Remains, Inescapably, a Form of Speech’: The Things That Are Not Mentioned in Life Writing Auditorium Hall

1:00 PM - 2:30 PM LUNCH

2:30 PM - 4:00 PM SESSIONS 4

ROUNDTABLE Auditorium Hall
Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle (The College of New Jersey)
Alfred Hornung (Obama Institute, University of Mainz)
Julie Rak (University of Alberta)

Kate Douglas (Flinders University) (on-line)

Edith Hill (Flinders University) (on-line)
Ioana Luca, Helga Lenart-Cheng (NTNU & Saint Mary’s College of California)

This roundtable brings the fields of world literature and life writing together to explore social, economic and ideological contexts informing the circulation, translation and reading of auto/biographical texts. Redefinitions of world literature highlight the “effective life” of works “within a literary system beyond that of its original culture” (Damrosch 2003) or underscore that literature now “is unmistakably a planetary system” (Moretti 2000). Similarly, scholars in life writing emphasize the role of narrated lives for “contemporary imaginaries” (Smith 2011), challenge the national and monolingual categorization of autobiographical texts, reveal the pitfalls of worldwide circulation (Whitlock 2007), the imbrications between autobiographical practices and markets (Rak 2013), the role of personal narratives in human rights (Smith & Schaffer 2004, Jolly 2014), and the relevance of life narratives as forms of testimonial acts (Gilmore 2017). Our round-table investigates how life writing and world literature converge. Why do some personal stories get “picked up,” translated, circulated, taught in classrooms, while others remain moored in national waters? Do autobiographical stories that travel widely have something common about them? Or is it the other way around, is it our notion of “world literature” that imposes uniform expectations on these diverse texts? To understand how and why some personal stories enter global circulation, the roundtable participants inquire into translation, market mechanisms and circulation patterns. They investigate the political purchase of autobiographical narratives, while also discussing the affordances of new media and the significance of different materialities when recording contemporary lives.

SESSION I Room 105
Chair: Paulina Pająk (University of Wrocław)

Aleksandra Grzemska (University of Szczecin), Literary Autoethnographies in Crisis

Contemporary reflections on the category of autoethnography refer to a wide range of research and writing practices. Autoethnography can be understood as a research/writing strategy of experiencing, knowing, locating and engaging in the mechanics of producing humanistic knowledge and emotions. This is related to critical reflection on the neutralization of knowledge, research practices and the writing formula, as well as one’s own location in the field of literature or the space of the academy, and with a personal relationship to these communities. It is also an important strategy for creating the humanities in times of crisis in many of its aspects: methodology, knowledge, interpretation, authority, values, etc. Autoethnographic symptoms can be found in academic and literary autobiographies, full of metatheoretical or metaliterary inquiries. Autoethnography influences personal and professional writing, private and professional reading. Its dimension is individual and communal, which is why ethical self-awareness plays an important role. It is part of the creative process and is associated with the performative aspect. Also important is the aesthetic value, which is subject to literary criteria and shapes (un)conventional writing forms. However, autoethnography can also be understood primarily as autobiographical ethnography,
autobiographical ethnopoetics, anthropology of oneself. It can be described as building relational inter- and intra-actions with literature, archives, academic text immersed in academic habitus, with representatives of academic, critical, writing and reading communities. Autoethnography can be treated as a process of thinking, collecting, telling, acting not only structurally and contextually, but also identity, conditioned by research and writing ideas, observations, intuitions, motivations, ambitions, doubts, anxieties, crises.

Elizabeth Jansen (York University), Reclaiming Identity: Carrying Ancestral Wisdom Across Time and Place

In the early 1920s, 20,000 German-speaking Russian Mennonites, known as prized agriculturalists, had won authorization to emigrate from what had been their homeland in imperial Russia, now Ukraine, for more than a century. They were awaiting speedy removal following revolution, anarchy, epidemics, a brutal civil war, and famine. However, a 1919 Canadian Order-in-Council specifically forbade Mennonite immigration. Although public sentiment would remain against them, the Order was repealed in 1922 and allowed my grandparents to arrive in Canada in the mid-1920s. Approaching age sixty, I realized that in order to know my potential and make the most of my life, I needed to understand how stories my ancestors had rarely spoken of lived in me. I embarked on a quest, via motorcycle, to visit the farmlands in Western Canada where they made repeated attempts to start anew. A devastating crash delayed my trip but provided time to review material records and consult with elderly relatives. The resumption of that almost 6,000 km trip two years later included archival searches and meeting descendants of those who had helped them get established. My memoir Crash Landing, published in 2019, recorded those experiences of awakening, reclamation, and reconciliation. Becoming reacquainted with ancestors also strengthened a desire to reach further into history, which led to enrollment in graduate studies at York University, Toronto, Canada. My studies allow me to examine in more detail how my ancestors related to the lands they lived on and those they shared it with, and how they adapted as their world became unrecognizable, in order to extrapolate how the wisdom derived from those times can inform intercultural and ecological relationships today. An autoethnography sharing these results will augment my written scholarly thesis.

Zuzanna Sala (Jagiellonian University, Cracow), Life-Writing in Literary Criticism: Situated Knowledge or Epidemy of Exhibitionism?

“I Don’t Care about Your Life” – that was the title of Jason Guriel’s essay about autobiographism and impressionism of contemporary literary criticism. Canadian poet argued against tendency to describe author’s lived experience in reviews or critical essays – in his opinion, the phenomenon of criticism “armed with a selfie stick” has its roots partly in objection against impersonal style of New Criticism, but – more importantly – in David Foster Wallace’s writings. Guriel is focused on the English-language corpus of texts. However, the constellation of phenomena he described could be observed globally. Dorota Kozicka in Krytyczne nieporządki [The Critical (Un)Tidies] (book sum-upping crucial Polish contemporary literary debates) demonstrated that tendency to focus on critics’ own life experiences to achieve an effect of authenticity is one of the greatest phenomenon in literary life after 1989 in Poland. The context of political transformation and – going along with it – economic crisis can be understood as a pivotal factor of discursive changes in literary criticism. The export of western theories, democratization of the literary field, decentralization and – probably the key – individualization (caused by alienation in neoliberal societies) – these are factors which are necessary to take into consideration during discussion about life-writing in literary criticism. In my paper I aim to explore the relationship between socio-political material context and the phenomenon of changes in contemporary Polish literary criticism. On the one hand, I will try to connect and compare Polish and global diagnosis of critical autobiographism. On the other hand – I will highlight Polish specificity in developing such critical positions/strategies (f.e. critical authorities that have sanctioned this way of thinking). The question asked in the subtitle of my speech (“Situated Knowledge or Epidemy of Exhibitionism?”) will guide my reflection on motives, chronology and role of this phenomenon.

Chair: Wojciech Drąg (University of Wrocław)


Louise Franklin (Bristol School of Art), Alex Franklin (independent scholar), Refuting the Myth of the “Madman”: Chaim Soutine’s Harvard Art Museums Archives letters

The painter, Chaim Soutine (1893-1943) was born in 1893 to Orthodox Jewish parents in the shtetl of Smilovichi (then in Lithuania, now Belarus). A member of the Russian Jewish diaspora, Soutine emigrated to Paris in 1913 to pursue his artistic career and became linked to a group of Jewish émigré artists known as the École de Paris (School of Paris). This group included Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani and Moïse Kisling, however in comparison Soutine has received less scholarly attention. Arguably, this is due to an absence of autobiographical and/or archival materials relating to Soutine’s life and work, other than his paintings. During WWII, Soutine fled Paris to evade capture by occupying Nazi forces and spent the last years of his life in crisis and on the run, resulting in the loss/destruction of his belongings, correspondence, etc. This paper examines a notable exception – a collection of 53 letters written by Soutine held in the Harvard Art Museums Archives, Boston, USA. This small but significant written vignette of his life offers a compelling counterpoint to myths about his work and personality that have arisen in the absence of more extensive archival records while also providing a striking example of how war can all but erase the (auto)biographical record, resulting in distorted and limiting life-writing.

Alex Belsey (King's College London), “So That is the Way it Ends”: the Crises of War and Peacetime in the Journal of Keith Vaughan

The personal journal of the painter Keith Vaughan (1912–77) was commenced in August 1939, one day after Britain’s parliament passed the Emergency Powers Defence Act amidst preparations for war in Europe. Vaughan wrote his first entry – thus beginning a life-long journal-writing project – by considering the crisis of impending war and the devastating toll on millions of innocents’ lives, not least his own. Like other contemporaneous diarists moved to write by the onset of war, including Stephen Spender and Simone de Beauvoir, he felt “quite alone”, fearing the destruction of life as he knew it, and most of all dreading the loss of his own burgeoning abilities to make sense of the world through art. Vaughan’s early journal was a fearful but eloquent account of finding oneself in an all-encompassing crisis of political, social, and personal proportions. Yet in many ways the wartime period of 1939–45 would see the making of Vaughan as a man and as an artist. As a conscientious objector, he spent his years in the Non-Combatant Corps educating himself in literature, philosophy, and art theory, the barracks becoming his “university”. On periods of leave from the NCC he met figures within the publishing and art worlds and learned much from his mentor Graham Sutherland.
This paper, through analysis of Vaughan’s journal and archived personal papers, argues that the war’s ending in 1945 presented Vaughan with an equally profound crisis, one in which he again felt alone and fearful. Politically, he disdained Britain’s creaking empire and was wary that triumphalism might usher in new horrors. Personally, he imagined the dissolution of his hard-fought freedom and the resumption of his ostracization as a gay man. This paper reveals how Vaughan through journal-writing speculated upon possible futures to plot a route out of chaos and into post-war life.

Iana Nikitenko (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Multitemporal Spatial Life-Writing in Wartime Radio Features by Louis MacNeice and Dylan Thomas

Although life-writing is primarily analysed in temporal terms, it is difficult to imagine life narratives without their relationship to space and place, which are directly linked to the image of the self (Kilian & Wolf, 2017). Therefore, it seems important to trace how the idea of personal and national identity was transmitted through the acoustic representation of specific places in dramatic radio documentaries during the Second World War, the first 'radio war' in which broadcasting was used to produce positive propaganda. This paper considers several radio portraits in which the history of specific places in Britain is presented in traumatic/triumphant (propagandistic) and nostalgic (personal) ways. It is based on selected episodes of the 'topical and human account of the bombing of Britain' (Holmes, 1981), 'The Stones Cry Out' (1941) by Louis MacNeice and an autobiographical episode of the radio series 'Return Journey' (1941–1954) by Dylan Thomas dedicated to his home town of Swansea (1947). In these features, acoustic and dramaturgical documentary-historical means are used in a multitemporal space to address the theme of war and destruction and to convey the collective and personal memory of buildings/cities, outlining a person's place in this context. Although a considerable amount of research has been devoted to BBC feature productions during the war (Whittington, 2008; Goody, 2018) and in particular to radio works of this period by MacNeice (Long, 2009; Bloom, 2016) and Thomas (Porter, 2016; Williams, 2019), comparative analysis has yet to examine these selected episodes as biographical representations of place, critically considering both their literary component and the use of storytelling by sound in them. In this paper, a media-conscious narratological analysis (Wolf, 2011) of archival material from the BBC aims to trace how (and for what reasons) space and place are experienced and (re)imagined in wartime radio features.

Chair: Anna Poletti (Utrecht University)


Adriana Kovacheva (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań), Self-Understanding, Survival and Emplotment: A Queer Fable from Generalgouvernement

The traumatic experience of the Second World War looms over all Wilhelm Mach’s novels. The autobiographical threads in these fictional texts have been already discussed. I will thus focus on a less known fable written during the war on the letterhead of the German health insurance office (Krankenkasse) where Mach was working from 1941 to 1944. The fable was discovered and published in 1997 by Tadeusz Januszewski, the curator of Mach’s archive at The Museum of Literature in Warsaw. I will firstly analyze the fable as a marked document in the sense in which this term is used by Claudia Schoppmann – Mach’s work is marked by its specific situation. It is written during the war, during times of constant threat to survival and of incrimination on the basis of paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code proclaiming homosexual acts a crime. Secondly, I will interpret the fable as an identity narrative in the Ricœurian sense, i.e. as a mediator between the selfhood (ipse) and the sameness (idem) of the narrator. In the context of the II World War the fact that the fable is a fulfilled promise (Mach promised it to a friend) is an act of perseverance and self-constancy. It presents Mach’s writing practice as a means of savior. It is also a unique document of non-heteronormative experience of love during war crisis. Finally, I will discuss the form of the text which is not openly autobiographical – the fable by any means could be classified as a personal testimony. I will situate its fictionality on the scale between self-understanding, which as Ricœur states always requires presenting one’s life story as a fictional history, and “biographical tale”, as proposed by the sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann.

Chloe Green (University College Dublin), Dream House as Queer Testimony: Carmen Maria Machado’s Ephemeral Archive and the Reader/Witness

In Cuban-American author Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir In the Dream House (2019), Machado identifies a cultural silence around queer intimate-partner abuse that obscures the prevalence and impact of such dynamics. Machado states that “trying to find accounts [of such abuses], especially those that don’t culminate in extreme violence, is unbelievably difficult,” an absence that causes her to feel that her writing merely “toss[es] the stone of my story into a vast crevice.”[1] By largely occurring in hidden spaces, and only mentioned in whispers and murmurs, Machado argues, queer intimate-partner abuse lacks both a canon of testimony which could validate victims’ experiences, and a community to support their recovery. In this presentation, I will argue that the experimental form of Machado’s memoir, which refracts her single narrative through an abundance of genres and styles, invokes a community and a shared sense of experience that mitigates this cultural silencing. Machado’s memoir thus subverts what Brian Loftus describes as the mimetic crisis of autobiography, wherein “the truth-status accorded the immediate "I" and eye-witness account results in the text's status as documentary” over its status as narrative, and participates in a larger project of queer autobiography that promotes multiplicity and authorial ambiguity.[2] As In the Dream House queers the memoir form, it turns the reader’s sensory and affective engagement into its own form of evidence, archive, and judgement. By fracturing her experiences through a multitude of perspectives, Machado’s formal experimentation encourages the reader to fill the void of queer intimate-partner abuse narratives, and to reckon with their own agency and limitations in preventing such abuse from occurring.

Joanna Anczaruk (University of Warsaw), Experience of Initiation in the Autobiographical Narratives of Polish LGBTQ+ Community

Narrations about critical times differ. One may see hardship only as a personal disaster or an unwanted challenge. But there is another option: crisis can be perceived as a rite of passage, a chance for a new life or spiritual rebirth. I propose an analysis of the autobiographical narratives collected in the volume All the Strength I Draw for My Life. Testimonies, accounts, diaries of LGBTQ + people in the context of rethinking the struggles of LGBTQ+ community in Poland and looking for the particular experiences which can be described as a form of secular initiation. Those life changing experiences, especially the acts of coming-out, are difficult but also cathartic – they carry a promise of a new life and a brighter future. I will extract them from the texts using methodology of Mircea Eliade, developed by him for the studies of religious initiations. Research materials were collected during the COVID-19 pandemic by the scientists from the Institute of Applied Social Sciences, which is a part of University of Warsaw. They organised a memoir competition for the authors who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community and were willing to share their life stories. Competition was held in a reference to the Polish tradition of memoir competitions from the twentieth century. Effect of this initiative is a volume of written testimonies I am about to analyse.

Chair: Lucyna Marzec (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)


Rowa Nabil (Cairo University), “To You, My Love and Thousand Kisses”: Reading Prison Letters by Political Detainees in Post-Independence Egypt

The paper offers a reading of prison letters by Egyptian men and women incarcerated for their political activities during the second half of the twentieth century. The paper examines how prisoners self-narrate the experience of political detention, as they reach out to their families from behind bars. The letters composed by these prisoners are both intimate correspondences that imbue a sense of normalcy by mediating the quotidian, and alternative documentation of an alternative history of Egypt’s post-independence nation-building project. The paper explores the autobiographical impulse behind the epistolary self-writing, and how such impulse within the context of sociopolitical struggles produces multiple coexisting subjectivities. As the autobiographical ‘I’ positions the subject as a political activist, a spouse, a sibling, and a parent, the personal trauma of family rupture interweaves with the collective struggle for social justice and political freedom. The paper also investigates the epistolary mode of self-narration as a genre of the oppressed, particularly in the context in which a pen and paper are considered contraband, or in which letters are scrutinized and/or confiscated by the prison authorities when access to writing material is granted. The paper highlights the contentious strategies employed by the political prisoners to maneuver the prison authorities, and ensure the safe passage of their letters. This consequently entails that the openness and self-exposure intrinsic in the epistolary mode of self-writing are disrupted by self-evasion and self-censorship. The paper argues that the writers’ lived experiences destabilize the expectations of ‘genre,’ and postulations of autobiographical subjectivity, while also locating the subject’s position from gender, since the experience of incarceration transpires within a system of gender separation. The paper raises questions regarding reception when the prison letters are published, hence implicating a public addressee beyond the intended ‘dear’ recipient, and as such, prison letters metamorphose into shared public records.

Maria Puri (independent researcher and translator), Re-visiting the Trauma, Making Sense of the Past: Prison Writings from Punjab

The focus of this paper is the Punjab insurgency (1970s –1990s), and its critical point, the military operation Bluestar (1984), as told by two Sikhs: a former female militant, Sandip Kaur, and a male police officer-turned-dissident, Simranjit Singh Mann. In Kaur’s Punjabi autobiography, "Bikhṛā Paĩdā"/"Difficult Journey" (2008), of special interest is Part III, “Sīkhā̃ te sañgīnā̃ de pahire heṭh”/“Under the guard of barred windows and bayonets”, an account of author’s four-year incarceration in state prison. The Punjabi text, however, tells a story peripheral to the national, centrally controlled and officially sponsored narrative, and is further marginalised and excluded from the pan-Indian archive by virtue of its regional language. The incarceration of Simranjt Singh Mann, on the other hand, is recounted in English, published by a mainstream publisher and aimed at a pan-Indian audience. Though the story, "Stolen Years. A Memoir of Simranjit Singh Mann’s Imprisonment" (2014), is overtly narrated by the protagonist’s daughter, Pavit Kaur, listed as the author, excerpts from Mann’s original jail diaries and letters form large part of the book. Moreover, there is a Punjabi translation, "Curāe gae vare. Simranjīt Singh Mān de jel vicle variã dīā̃ yādā̃" (2019), which brings Mann’s ordeal into the Punjabi public domain, possibly garnering support for his political activities. This paper proposes to read these narratives with an eye to issues specific to life writings from the margins: the superseding of the regional by the pan-national narrative in public discourse and history writing; censuring of the local/Punjabi/Sikh identity narratives; public reaction to dissenting voices from the periphery; a disconnect between the English and vernacular public domains in India; choice of the narrative voice/s; paratextual packaging; publisher’s expectations vis a vis books viewed as titillating market products authored by a controversial political figure (Mann), else a genuine, one-time arms-bearing, female militant (Kaur).

Anna Foltyniak-Pękala (University of Bielsko-Biala), The History of the Disease Written on Postcards: Correspondence of Marian and Kazimierz Brandys

The speech is the result of a query conducted in the Archives of them. Kazimierz Brandys (National Library, Warsaw). The author analyzes several dozen unpublished postcards that Marian Brandys sent to his brother Kazimierz Brandys in the 1970s and 1980s. The laconic, yet emotional entries on the cards are a private family document and an intimate record of the crisis - the experience of illness. They are reminiscent of micronarratives (Lyotard), lithotic narratives (Paprocka), which allow one to find individual identity in everyday, small experiences. The aim of the presentation is an attempt to place the postcard narrative in contemporary communication practices and the tradition of life writing.

5:30 PM - 7:00 PM KEYNOTE 3: JACEK LEOCIAK: Wartime Diaries: Diaristic Forms of Writing in Liminal Situations (at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews – POLIN)

7 JULY (Friday)

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM SESSIONS 5

PANEL Auditorium Hall
Lucyna Marzec (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań), Introduction to the panel

Monika Browarczyk (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań), We Lost the Ground from Under Our Feet. Autobiography of Kira Banasińska and the Turmoil of Wars and Migration

The paper attempts to explore ways in which Banasińska in her autobiography narrates violence and forced migration in the aftermath of the First World War, the October Revolution and the Second World War. Banasińska (1899-2002) was a Polish painter, a wife of a Polish diplomat, and a head of the Polish Red Cross that provided humanitarian aid for Polish refugees in the British India during the Second World War. Dismayed by the idea of return to the communist Poland, in 1946 she opted to settle in India, where she became an entrepreneur.
Though Banasińska was born in Russia, had spent just a couple of years in Poland and had lived in exile in India until her death, throughout her life she identified herself as a Pole. Her autobiography was based on diaries and correspondence, both originally in Polish. However, the text published in India in 1997 was edited in English and co-authored by Geeta Verghese. Apparently, the Polish readers were her ‘imagined community’ or the target audience of her memoirs. She had approached some people with that aim, but ultimately it was a Polish academic institution that after her demise translated it into Polish and published it in Poland in 2018. The Polish translation is vested with an interest of an institutional patron acting on behalf of the post-1989 Polish state concerned with recovering ‘heroes of the past’ whose stories were deliberately silenced during the communist regime.
The blurred lines between the autobiography and the biography, the author’s language of auto expression and the idiom of her published narrative, and the ‘original’ and the ‘translation’ open the floor for discussions on autobiographical accounts of war and migration and on identity.

Dagmara Drewniak (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań), ‘The Holocaust is not just one story. Each survivor has a story. Each story deserves a life.’ Publishing policy of the Azrieli Foundation and the Holocaust Survivors’ Memoir Program within the context of crisis narratives

The aim of this paper is to present an interesting initiative of a foundation initiated in 1989 by a Jewish philanthropist David Azrieli and named after its founder The Azrieli Foundation. It aims to support activities relating to education, culture and history in both Canada and Israel. One of its flagship endeavors is publishing, and thus, creating and maintaining an archive of memoirs, diaries and other forms of autobiographical narratives of Holocaust survivors who settled in Canada after WWII. The Foundation established the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program in 2005, a section dedicated to collecting and publishing memoirs. In total, more than a hundred memoirs have been published in English and French (many in bilingual editions), some of which are translations from Yiddish. As the publishers point out, all the memoirs are carefully edited and, most importantly, accompanied by scholarly introductions. The interesting form of archival documentary that the series produces can be analyzed in many different contexts. This paper will address the issues connected with the current publishing policies of the Foundation, its educational dimension as well as discuss selected memoirs as case studies in the context of narrating the crisis of the Holocaust though words and photographs. Giving testimony of a critical life story is always problematic. Using photographs and other documents validating and/or subverting one’s life story as presented in the selected texts can be seen as a twofold strategy. According to Marianne Hirsch (2002), photography in autobiographical narratives is frequently focused on the familial gaze which contributes to the creation of the family mythology. Furthermore, this analysis will approach the memoirs as texts which demonstrate a certain tension between the story and the (ostensibly) realistic image photographs provide (Sontag 1989, Gudmundsdóttir 2003). As such, some of the memoirs offer an interesting perspective on these processes.

Katarzyna Macedulska (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań), “War as the ultimate crisis in the memoirs Those We Throw Away Are Diamonds (2021) by Mondiant Dogon and Call Me American (2018) by Abdi Nor Iftin”

I would like to examine how war experience is approached, contextualized, remembered and made sense of in most recent survivor accounts of then children, now men. The two memoirs of my interest, Those We Throw Away Are Diamonds (2021) by Mondiant Dogon and Call Me American (2018) by Abdi Nor Iftin, are testimonies to growing up in immensely difficult circumstances and making their way out of direst events. The war and genocide in Rwanda (1990-1994) as well as the war in Somalia (since 1991, with the battle of Mogadishu in 1993) may have been two discrete events/conditioning circumstances, yet the memoirs have historical, conceptual, and experiential overlaps in common. War as the ultimate critical situation came to both the boys as an apocalypse, where physical and psychological needs were violently unmet, where home was lost, and where families were torn apart. For the two men, now writing about their extreme experience(s), crisis as a threshold occurrence came also in times of potential and actual rescue, in face of the long awaited solutions to their predicaments, such as their migration to the USA.
In light of the recent research on trauma where theories of unrepresentability and trauma theory’s event-based Eurocentrism are pointed out, questioned, and re-examined (e.g. Caroline Williamson Sinalo 2018, D.A. Winter, R. Brown, S. Goins, ad C. Mason 2016, and others), I would like to read the two memoirs as personal accounts of individual struggle, as testimonies to crimes against humanity, and as narratives of reintegration and replenishment. Besides being veritable records of loss, trauma, and destruction, the two memoirs provide also narrative spaces where reactions and responses to crises and trauma are reconsidered and reassessed; where posttraumatic growth is not only a vague and distant (im)possibility but a lived reality.

SESSION I Room 105
Chair: Monica Soeting (University of Amsterdam)

Michael Lackey (University of Minnesota), Combating Mental Illness: Biofictions about Empress Elisabeth and King Ludwig II

For one of her birthdays, Emperor Franz Joseph I asked his wife Elisabeth what she wanted, and she requested that he build her a "lunatic asylum." There was good reason for this request. Elisabeth and her dear friend (cousin) King Ludwig II both struggled with mental illness, and they were both highly conscious of their psychological situations. But what were the best methods and approaches for combatting their descent into severe depression and even insanity? The answer in the nineteenth century and even today is not so clear. There have been numerous biofictions about Elisabeth and Ludwig, and almost all of them fictionalize the lives of their subjects in order to expose the social, political, and cultural structures that lead to mental illness but also to offer alternative ways of thinking and doing in order to combat the processes leading to the destruction of the human mind. In this paper, I will discuss biofictions and biopics about Elisabeth and Ludwig as attempts to expose and combat mental illness.

Julia Dallaway (University of Oxford)“Images That Shimmer”: Joan Didion’s Migraine Aesthetic

The life-writing essay characteristically involves a blurry way of seeing, which contrasts with the type of vision valorised by analytic philosophy since René Descartes. In Theodor Adorno’s seminal ‘The Essay as Form’ (1958), he writes: ‘The essay gently defies the [Cartesian] ideals of clara et distincta perceptio [clear and distinct perception] and of absolute certainty’ (161). In this way, the essay is a uniquely appropriate literary form for the expression of experiences that resist clarity, such as illness, with its associated foggy mental states. Drawing on Descartes’ philosophy and Adorno’s definition of the essay, this paper expounds and compares two twentieth-century life-writing essays on the topic of illness—Virginia Woolf’s ‘On Being Ill’ (1926) and Joan Didion’s ‘In Bed’ (1968)—which express that blurriness in content and in form. Woolf’s essay challenges the Cartesian assumption that ‘the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear’ (318). Instead, illness demonstrates that the ‘creature within can only gaze through the pane – smudged or rosy’ (318). Her ‘smudged’ form of vision engenders a new politics; its defamiliarizing effect permits Woolf to reimagine society with subverted priorities—a society that is ecological, feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, anti-militaristic, and anti-anthropocentric. Centred on her experience of migraine, Didion’s essay also considers symptoms that affect vision, including ‘mild hallucinations’ and loss of ‘ability to focus [her] eyes’ (170). Illness induces Didion to abandon her neoliberal politics of individual effort and “character” (‘I used to think that I could rid myself of [migraine] by simply denying it, character over chemistry’ (168)) and to admit, instead, that ‘not all migrainous people have migraine personalities’ (171). I propose that these essays' blurry type of vision, connected to personal experience of illness, prompts both writers to construct new political “visions” that respond to broader societal crises.

Antoni Zając (University of Warsaw), “Locked in a Stalemate”: The Ongoing Crisis of Posttraumatic Existence in Leo Lipski’s Letters to Irena Lewulis

Leo Lipski (b. Lipschütz, 1917–1997) was a Polish-Jewish writer and author of short stories and novels, many of them autofictional, such as “Niespokojni” (The Restless, 1948) and “Piotruś” (Little Peter, 1960). Lipski’s dense and elliptical prose was heavily influenced by his wartime experiences, such as imprisonment in a Soviet labor camp, the loss of his close ones in the Holocaust, and a severe neurological illness that eventually led to partial paraplegia, thus limiting Lipski’s mobility and restraining his writing capabilities. Lipski’s postwar life was marked by a complex set of circumstances that turned his everyday life into an ongoing crisis. As a disabled and impoverished man, he settled down in Mandatory Palestine, which soon became the state of Israel. He did not manage to learn Hebrew and he did not identify with the homogenous, post-diasporic model of Israeli Jewishness. Thus, he was an outsider, marginalized even in the Polish-Jewish cultural community. His hopes for improvement slowly diminished, especially after the departure of Irena Lewulis, the love of Lipski’s life, who was also a writer. In my talk, I will focus on how Lipski depicted his existential condition in his intimate and self-reflexive letters to Lewulis, the drafts of which have been published in the most recent collection of his writings (“Selected Prose,” 2022). To do so, I will refer to several concepts developed by affect theorist Lauren Berlant: impasse, slow death, unbearable life, and suicidation.

Chair: Franziska Gygax (University of Basel)

Dennis Kersten (Radboud University), From Crisis to Reconstruction: Tracing Metamodernism in Contemporary British Biography

In Self Impression (2010), his seminal study of so -called “autobiografiction” in the 1870-1930 period, Max Saunders explains why he is especially interested in the “pre-history of postmodernism”, familiar as we are with “contemporary postmodern experiments” in life writing. However, after the past ten to fifteen years scholars from a variety of disciplines have debated the question if the contemporary is still predominantly postmodern. An increasing number agree that postmodernism has, in fact, lost its status and power as cultural paradigm to a new so-called structure of feeling. This emerging early-twentieth-century cultural sensibility has been theorised as “metamodernism” and its effects have been studied in philosophy, politics, (new) media and the arts. Literary scholar Alison Gibbons has done important work on autofiction as a “typically” metamodern form of writing, but the issue of how biography has evolved after the demise of postmodernism is yet to be addressed. This paper aims to trace the impact of metamodernism on British non-fictional biography in book form and explore the question how recent developments in British biography may be interpreted as metamodern responses to the crises that characterise a world in transition. This paper will focus on the intersection of the biographical and the autobiographical in books by, among others, Julia Blackburn and Mike Parker. The manifestation of metamodernism in biography suggests that, in the face of both a myriad of major societal and environmental crises as well as the legacy of postmodern deconstruction, restorative approaches in life writing need not necessarily be regressive or reactionary. Experiments with auto/biography are no longer meant to foreground the narrative construction or (inter)textuality of life writing, but especially re-explore the potential of life narratives to represent a “reality” beyond the text. Even if, in true metamodern fashion, postmodernism is not completely done away with.

Paulina Pająk (University of Wrocław), The Lives Behind the Books: Reconstructing the Przeworskis’ biographies

In 1938, the US literary agent Marion Saunders was touring Europe to secure contracts for Margaret Mitchell’s "Gone With the Wind". In a letter to Mitchell, she recounted a visit to J. Przeworski Publishing House and informed that Przeworski bought the Polish rights. Saunders also met a white-haired woman who – as the agent was told – in fact ran the company. After the outbreak of WWII, Saunders believed that Mitchell’s saga was doomed in Poland, even though it had already been translated: “We must obviously forget about your Polish edition”, she wrote to Mitchell, “It is all too, too sad and I wonder if your Polish publisher and his eighty-year-old mother are still alive” (University of Georgia Libraries). Despite these predictions, Mitchell’s novel became a bestseller in wartime Poland. Yet, the lives of its publishers Marek/Marcus and Emilia/Estera Przeworskis were indeed coming to their dramatic end. Adopting critical and feminist archival approaches (Cifor and Wood 2017), this paper explores publishers’ biographies intertwined with the activities of J. Przeworski that exceled at publishing bestselling women writers, such as Sigrid Boo, Adrienne Thomas, or Vita Sackville-West. In the 1930s, a decade of political crisis and anti-Semitism culminating in WWII, the Przeworskis turned their press into an established publishing house with a London branch, circulating modernist fiction and aesthetics across Central Europe and the UK. My archival research not only unveils marginalised female publishers, but also reveals a new realm on the map of global modernism(s): the transnational endeavours of the Przeworskis as cultural mediators. This paper presents Polish Jewish and gender dimensions of the Przeworskis’ dis/continuous biographies as recorded in publishing letters, censorship reports, documents collected during the Holocaust, along with recollections of family members, other people in the literary marketplace, and Holocaust survivors.

Joanna Piechura (University of Warsaw), Christine Brooke-Rose’s “Remake”: Modes of Loosening and Vanishing the Author

Christine Brooke-Rose was a British writer, literary critic, and narrative theorist whose first autobiographical novel, "Remake" (1996), will be the focus of my paper. This experimental work contains numerous references to Brooke-Rose’s difficult experiences at the Bletchley Park intelligence centre during WWII. Interestingly, the author claimed to have developed an interest in writing fiction after becoming a code-breaker at the age of 18: “But perhaps the most profound experience, at that early age, was psychological: reading the whole war, every day, from the other viewpoint (we were the enemy), which may well have formed me both as a novelist, who learns to imagine the other.” The book recounts various pivotal, crisis moments in Brooke-Rose’s biography, most importantly the traumatic war-time context and the condition of an ailing writer who effaces herself from the text. My research hinges on exploring the linguistic and narrative devices Brooke-Rose uses in “Remake” to portray the maturation of the “little girl” immersed in the militarised word of Bletchley and the voice of the “old woman” who conjures her. Brooke-Rose’s life-writing practices are closely interlaced with her autotheoretical publications, collected in “Invisible Author: Last Essays.” In most of her works, Brooke-Rose adopted formal constraints to rid the text of the most stable elements of language: the constantive tenses, the verb to be, and pronouns. The “floating instability of the narrative” she aimed to create through such formal devices became all the more visible in her life-writing practices, especially in “Remake” – the final, formally innovative version of the novel was developed on the basis of a conventional, first-person “rememoration” Brooke-Rose then rewrote as if it were one of her books of criticism. I will present the “objectified narratorless mode” employed in the novel through the lens of Lauren Berlant’s concept of self-loosening, or loosening the object.

Chair: Maciej Libich (University of Warsaw)

Aneta Ostaszewska (University of Warsaw), Doing Research During Crisis as an Auto/biographical Experience: Pandemic as Another (Auto/biographical) Turn in Research?

This presentation is part of the meta-discussion on research reflexivity from feminist perspective. I am interested in how researchers conducting research on auto/biographical experiences during crises understand, recognize, and rationalize the research project as a specific experience in the course of their own biography. The starting point is the question: How does doing research particularly during a crisis situation affect the identity of researchers as researchers, their reflectivity, and above all, their writing and everyday existence as concrete persons in social worlds? My presentation will be based on a personal example - the focus is on the projects I coordinated during the pandemic (two projects were carried out between September 2020 and July 2022 as part of the Center for Women's and Gender Research) and concerned the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women's lives and work. These projects became a turning point in my scientific biography, and at the same time a pretext for reflection on "absorption" and "alienation" in the life of the female academic researcher, especially in the context of feminist reflection.

Angeliki Ypsilanti (Ionian University), COVID-19 Intersections Between Academic and Creative Writing

The corona crisis is denounced as unprecedented in its type of “strong” emergence, inflicting on people any type of harm in their private and public spheres. How each one of us has chosen to manage this infliction represents a prerogative of the human mind to signal differentiation in countering hardship. A simultaneous way of dispersing negativity and retaining control of accompanying memories is journaling either in physical or digital form. Corona memory archives are not only all over the internet but also tucked away out of sight, for safe keeping in people’s closets. This paper is about my academic itinerary coinciding with coronavirus times as a never-ending source and stream of incidental experiences. Even more so, it is about chancing upon ways of possessing and distributing memories blended in ruminations on creating spaces of authorship. With “incidental learning” finding its critical way into my inquiry whereabouts, this is a reflective processing of academic hardship from remote teaching and learning to academic writing from personal experience. More specifically, it is about practicing life-writing skills to overcome theoretical and practical impasses while contrasting creative with academic writing only to discover in retrospect that one fuels the other more effectively than separate focus on either would. This paper draws on samples of my creative writing contributions to a project run by the Oxford Centre for Life Writing (OCLW) called Life-Writing of Immeasurable Events (LIVE) and my Corona-assignment submission to Malmö University’s Studying During Corona-Project. Having participated in both projects with different roles, that of a regular contributor and that of a distance learning student, I managed to empower myself as a writer of a postgraduate dissertation where I documented my dual role as a teacher and a narrative researcher during corona times.

Anna Piniewska (University of Warsaw), Strategies for Survival: Lockdown Through the Eyes of Actors with Disabilities

The aim of the presentation is to discuss and analyse “Strategies for Survival" ("Strategie przetrwania"), a multimedia project created during the COVID-19 pandemic by Theatre 21 – Polish group, whose actors are mainly people with Down syndrome and autism; in addition to artistic activities, Theatre 21 is also engaged in education, theatre pedagogy, has its own publishing house, etc. The actors deprived of the possibility of artistic expression on stage due to the lockdown, began their authorial activities, which they carried out in their homes, then discussed during online rehearsals. Their completed works were published as series of videos on YouTube channel with the help of Magdalena Łazarczyk and Łukasz Sosiński. The project can be described as an online archive that processes the experience of isolation. It includes artwork, short stories, poems, a children's fairy tale, diaries, journals, photographs, emballages and original choreography. The main focus of the presentation will be on “recording of life-writing” – the examples of videos that include and process writing practices. Thus, the study material will provoke questions about its form: how words, images, choreographies, and narratives coexist and how people with disabilities use this complex form to present their own experiences. In the context of critical disability studies, the latter is important due to the fact that their voices have always been marginalized and their stories have been told on their behalf. Therefore, the art of people with disabilities can be perceived as a space of emancipation. In more general context, presence of actors (performing on stage but also in discussed multimedia project) exploring their own identity, disability, and experiences in the framework of art, will raise questions about the idea of auto-theatre (Krakowska, 2016), the relation between the represented and the representing and Bakhtinian the Self – the Other.

Chair: Marcin Gołąb (University of Warsaw)

Veronica Ghirardi (University of Turin), Merā Bacpan Mere Kandhoṁ Par by Sheoraj Singh Bechain: Childhood Wounds and Collective Struggle

In the South Asian region, Dalits have experienced centuries of oppression and have been compelled to live at the margins of society in subhuman conditions. In contexts of sudden changes and emergency, they have always been among the most vulnerable subjects, with poverty and crisis as inescapable parts of their lives. Not by chance, autobiographical writing has played a crucial role in the history of Dalit literature in all Indian languages. With this paper I aim to discuss Merā bacpan mere kandhoṁ par (2009, Engl. My childhood on my shoulders), the autobiography of a Hindi Dalit writer, Sheoraj Singh Bechain, elaborating on the traumas of his childhood and the related images of ‘wound’ and ‘burden’. The author, at the age of five, saw his father passing away, being slapped and whipped by an exorcist, since he was considered possessed by evil spirits. Furthermore, young Sheoraj was soon sent by his stepfather to a brick kiln to serve as a bonded labourer, experiencing the pain of hunger and displacement. The writer, to articulate this young age sufferings, repeatedly refers to the images of being wounded and of carrying a burden, stressing the role of the body as a site of autobiographical knowledge. Moreover, like almost all Dalit authors, Bechain not only voices his own individual traumas, but intertwines them with collective experiences of oppression, marginalization, and struggle.

Meritxell Simon-Martin, Gloria Jove (LLeida University), Life-Writing as an Innovative Method in Teacher-Education During the First Biennium of the Second Spanish Republic (1931–1933)

The first three years of the popularly proclaimed Second Spanish Republic (1931-1936) meant a major upheaval in terms of educational reform. It specially involved a profound revision of primary education, hitherto monopolized by the Catholic Church. Seeking to both counterbalance this monopoly and overcome the high rates of general illiteracy, the Provisional Republican Government ordered a series of decrees to improve the provision of state elementary education: declaring education as free, coeducational and secular, building new primary schools and restoring old ones, increasing the number of civil servant primary teacher vacancies, raising their salary, and offering new training courses for them. This training was accompanied by newly designed public examinations, which, unlike the former memory-driven oral exams, involved a 3-month holistic theoretical and practical lifelong education program. The first month consisted of a general culture program that took place in each provincial university. The second month consisted of pedagogy and didactics courses, that took place in each provincial teacher education school. The last month involved a practical internship in a local state primary school. In order to assess this three-month training, these public examinations included a hitherto new requirement: to articulate their becoming teacher in a life-writing format throughout the training scheme. Life-writing is a learning method we use as lecturers in our teacher-education program today, at the Faculty of Education, Lleida University (Spain). This paper will tease out the potential of life-writing in teacher-education by offering an assessment of this learning method as implemented at the beginning of the Second Spanish Republic.

Marta Rakoczy (University of Warsaw), "I Will Write Every Day What I Did": Autobiographical Narratives of House of Orphans’ Children (1912-1939) in the Perspective of Critical Childhood Studies

Children’ autobiographical narratives have not been the subject of systematic research for a long time. The belief that a child, as an undereducated subject, was incapable of rationalizing his own experiences was closely related to the perception of children as objects of socialization and education rather than as independent subjects with their own social and narrative agency. However, it is worth remembering that one of the pioneers of stimulating children's autobiographical initiatives was Janusz Korczak/Henryk Goldszmit in the first decades of the 20th century. Korczak not only wrote about children's experiences of their own past, their meaning and possible forms of their textual representation. He also collected and published children's autobiographical stories. Korczak's attitude to these accounts treated by him as a genre different from adult, literary or documentary memories of childhood was an absolute novelty. Written, documented and presented publicly, children's experiences were, according to Korczak/Goldszmit, to serve the common upbringing of children and adults. They were also meant to build children's agency related to a kind of ethics and politics of constructing their own voice in the public space.

 The radical and unique policy of children's autobiography created by Korczak was carried out in the "Small Review" newspaper edited and published by children in 1926-1939. It systematically published children’s autobiographical narratives and stories. However, it is difficult to treat them as directly expressed, authentic voices of children. Their purpose was to construct the children's voice so that it would transform and project the public sphere managed by adults. In my talk I will focus on the social and political purposes of these stories. What were their functions in Korczak's project? And how could they be understood in the context of the press of the time? 

11:00 AM - 11:30 AM COFFEE BREAK

11:30 AM - 1:00 PM KEYNOTE 4: LEENA KÄOSAAR: Life Writing and the "Ordinary" in Crisis Auditorium Hall

1:00 PM - 2:30 PM LUNCH

2:30 PM - 4:00 PM SESSIONS 6

PANEL Auditorium Hall
Dennis Kersten (Radboud University)
Ilana Blumberg (Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv)
Elżbieta Klimek-Dominiak (University of Wrocław)
Meritxell Simón-Martín, Gloria Jové (LLeida University)
Helga Ramsey-Kurz (University of Innsbruck)
Elsa Lechner (Centro de Estudos Sociais da Universidade de Coimbra)

I would like to propose a panel conversation about the teaching of life writing texts in Europe at primary, secondary or higher educational levels. The idea is that participants in the Warsaw conference are invited to join the panel once the abstracts for their individual papers have been accepted. These researchers are often lecturers as well, with valuable teaching experience to share. Thus, next to giving their individual papers, they could join the teaching panel without having to prepare anything new in great detail. Ideally, there should be four to five panelists and the panel should last about 40 to 45 minutes; I am willing to chair the conversation and interview the panelists. Questions to be discussed may include the following: how can you design a course about life writing that logically builds on and follows from your students’ knowledge, expertise and reading experience and does justice to current research as well? How do you explain to students what life writing exactly is? Which primary texts do you read with your students and which theoretical perspectives can be explored with which to tackle those texts? Do you incorporate autobiographical writing by your students in your classes, and if so, how do your students react to this? A similar panel was organised in London in 2017: the results of this conversation were published in the European Journal of Life Writing a year later. But the London teaching panel (or "workshop" as it was referred to then) was itself a follow-up to the 2015 launch of the teaching cluster within the EJLW, an attempt at creating a European equivalent of Teaching Life Writing Texts by Miriam Fuchs and Craig Howes (2007).

SESSION I Room 105
Chair: Nancy Pedri (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

Łukasz Wróbel (University of Warsaw), “Crisis” and “Passio”: Encyclopedists on Creating Encyclopedias

In the space of encyclopedic works are intertwined: the discursively assumed crisis and the author's autobiographical traces; bios theoretikos of the encyclopedic subject and zoe of the encyclopedist. “Crisis” is sanctioned as an incentive to archive knowledge. An encyclopedia needs a catastrophe as real or conditional justification: because knowledge was being lost repeatedly in the past (Plato "Timaeus", c. 360 B.C.), because the Last Judgment is coming (J.H. Alsted "Encyclopædia Septem tomis…", 1630), because knowledge can be lost by a catastrophe to come (J.L.R. d' Alembert, D. Diderot "Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire…", 1751). At the same time, the autobiographical encyclopedist manifests himself in an encyclopedic work. Pliny the Elder, mentioning his work on "Natural History" (1st century), wrote: “[...] I create this work in my free time, that is, at night, so that none of you think that I was sitting idle even at night. […] For life is indeed a vigil in the night”. The life of an encyclopedist is a night vigil spent on collecting all the existing knowledge. There is despair and fatigue in this confession. The encyclopedist rarely expresses strength, hope, rather its lack, rather doubt. At the beginning of "The New Athens" (1745), Benedykt Chmielowski addressed the reader: “[…] do not be the Censor of my sweat bloody and disbursive. […] There nocte dieq, desudans until I lost my sight, all my sweat dedicating to Mary Immenso to GOD and to you, Reader ad usum”. David Brewster wrote in 1809, shortly after starting work on the "Edinburgh Encyclopædia": “My hand is absolutely shaking with fatigue, and my head almost turned with… temporary delirium of over exertion”. To be an encyclopedist is to create an encyclopedic work in the context of a past or impending crisis, to create in solitude and exhaustion.

Elizabeth Rodrigues (Grinnell College), Modeling Lives as Data

What does it mean to model life writing as data? In my presentation, I will share my process of attempting to develop a data model for immigrant life narratives of the early twentieth century United States. By developing a data model, I mean deciding how life narratives can be represented as a collection of discrete data points that then make texts available for a range of digital and computational analysis methods. Developing a data model can include collecting bibliographic metadata, creating corpora of digital text, and coding elements of texts for comparison. By focusing on the process itself, rather than presenting only a product, I seek to illuminate the choices that undergird and precede the application of digital methods to texts and interrogate the potential gains and losses of this approach to life writing texts, especially as a field committed to the epistemological potential of individual lives, whether as acts of witness, protest, or singular creativity. Would moving from a default approach of single work close reading to an expanding engagement with digital and computational methods represent a crisis for life writing studies? Drawing on the work of life writing scholars who have begun to engage with the question of datafied lives and the work of digital studies scholars who have raised awareness of the potentially problematic implications of data representation, I will contextualize the practical choices of data modeling within the epistemological implications of representing life narrative as data. I also hope to be able to use this presentation as a catalyst for conversation and connection among life writing scholars interested in digital methods, which could be especially fruitful in a European academic setting, home to many digital humanities labs developing sophisticated approaches to literature studies.

Gunnthorunn Gudmundsdottir (University of Iceland), The Family Archive in Times of Crises

Two related developments have had a great impact on the family archive in recent decades, the digitization of our correspondence and photographs, and the increasingly significant role of the smartphone in our lives. The smartphone, initially designed for communication with the outside world, has also a crucial archival capacity, as it can hold or link us to our personal and public data to an unprecedented degree. Thus, it is now one of the main access points the user has to the family archive (correspondence, photographs, etc.), so it is possible to have this material, which used to be stored away in boxes and albums, always within reach. The family archive has long been vulnerable to any upheaval or changes – not least when people are uprooted from their homes. In the great migration across Europe in 2015, anti-immigrant sentiment was visible in critical opinions to migrants having smartphones, as if this was a luxury they should not be afforded. But, as was pointed out, this object was both a tool to access the past (it could contain photographs, correspondence, and other material which had been left behind), to navigate unknown territories (GPS), and to access the future (to contact NGOs or authorities, or friends and relatives, who might help with life in a new country) (Brunwasser 2015). This paper will examine how the archival aspects of the smartphone can mitigate the loss of the past the migrant has long had to contend with, and ask what new risks this reliance on the digital family archive can bring.

Chair: Clare Brant (King's College London)

Eva Karpinski (York University), Dispatches from Eastern Europe: The Myrna Kostash-Nancy Burke Correspondence and the Emergence of Canadian Studies in Poland

Nancy Burke arrived in Poland as an exchange professor right before the fall of the Iron Curtain, witnessing the historic moment of transition from communism. With the support of the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw, she created the first Canadian Studies Centre at the University of Warsaw in 1994, where she stayed until her untimely death in 2006. She was also a well-respected poet whose collections have been translated into Polish, Serbian, and Russian. I have learned about this little-known Canadian expatriate scholar and poet by accident, during a conversation with Myrna Kostash, a Ukrainian-Canadian writer, who had been involved in rich correspondence with Burke over the period of 18 years. Their extended epistolary dialogue constitutes a rare record of friendship between the two North American women with a shared passion for Eastern Europe, replete with commentaries on Eastern-European affairs at a critical point in history. Moreover, their letters reveal the behind-the-scenes mechanisms the Canadian Government used to enable the emergence of a network of institutions and organizations dedicated to fostering research, teaching and publications about Canada all over the world. Kostash has given me access to the files containing the documents in her possession, beginning with hand-written early messages and ending with emails printed out shortly before Burke’s death. The fascinating historical background and the breadth of information exchanged between these two writers have led me to believe that it is important to undertake a project of editing and publishing a selection of these letters. In this presentation I will share my insights and methodological challenges involved in preparing the Kostash-Burke correspondence for publication. To provide a nuanced context for framing this correspondence requires an interdisciplinary approach to methodology, combining historical and gender analyses, biographical and archival research, and interviews conducted with Kostash as well as Burke’s colleagues and students.

Craig Howes (University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa), Crises Political and Personal in Times of Profound Success: Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language

Hoffman’s Lost in Translation has been one of the most discussed English-language lifewriting texts not only because of its engagement with emigration and immigration, language acquisition, cultural clashes, and narratives of returns home, but also because of its highly self-aware academic protagonist, its regional relevance for Polish, Canadian, and American lifewriting scholars, and its appeal for those interested more generally in diasporic memoirs. Special attention has been paid to its account of double-displacement---from Poland to Canada, then to regions in the United States—and as the title suggests, to its treatment of linguistic and cultural translation and adaptation. Most pertinently for this conference, It also narrates multiple crises, oscillating between historical, political, and ethnic trauma and Hoffman’s personal experiences of disorientation, alienation, and acute disappointment. This paper returns to this landmark memoir to examine one of its less discussed narrative strands—one of steady and extraordinary success, starting with the recognition of Hoffman’s musical talent in Poland, and continuing through youthful musical and literary achievements in North America, acceptance into some of the United States’ finest post-secondary institutions, substantial scholarships, and eventual prestigious corporate and academic employment. I do not intend to debunk or even raise questions about the difficulty, complexity, and profoundly affecting nature of those events that Hoffman identifies as crises. Rather, I will assess to what degree her successes, including the memoir itself, are represented as the products of her talent for translating and adapting to these crises, whether political, cultural, or deeply personal. More generally, this paper asks what makes for a “good” crisis or “productive” trauma in memoir.

Adela Kobelska (University of Warsaw), The Polish Scholar in Europe and America – Florian Znaniecki’s Autobiographical Writing on Emigration

The title of my proposal is obviously paraphrasing another – the one which marks the emergence of the autobiographical method in the field of sociology, anthropology and other disciplines examining cultural reality (and its history) through the lens of personal histories told by individuals. Florian Znaniecki, the co-author of famous book on Polish peasants in the Europe and US, he was himself an emigrant from Poland. He agreed to write about it and took part in the sociological project based on autobiographical method – but this time as an object of the research, not its conductor. As the result we got the chance to examine a testimonial written by one of the first and most important theoretician of the autobiographical method. Not only creates it very interesting case for the sociology of knowledge (which was also an important field of Znaniecki’s research), but it also sheds light on some issues important for the history of European intellectuals and their migration to America in the first decades of the XXth century. Writing about emigration can be seen as well from the perspective of anthropological or sociological research on personal and cultural crisis (another topic of Znaniecki’s academic writings). All of these issues are the ones I am going to discuss in my presentation when examining Intellectual America by an European (1920) as well as some unpublished autobiographical pieces from Znaniecki’s archive in comparison with his scholarly writings.

Chair: Sam Meekings (Northwestern University in Qatar)

Zoltán Z. Varga (University of Pécs / Research Center for Humanities), Diary Writing as Part of a Survivor Kit: Strategies of Survival in Wartime Diaries

Many autobiographical texts recorded the siege of Budapest in World War 2, and most of them are available for a larger readership in Hungary. While these pieces of personal historical testimonies are rooted in the specific historical circumstances of the late 1944 war in a European capital, they equally give voice to some more universal human experiences of the suffering masses without an active part in the historical action. My presentation focuses on the ordinary practices in an extraordinary historical situation, the everyday-life aspects of the History in the encircled Budapest by the Red Army from December 1944 to February 1945. By analyzing the selected diaries my aim is to answer how diary writing takes part in constructing a meaningful narrative in the very moment of the ongoing, chaotic historical event. According to my hypothesis, diary keeping in historical moments is not a “cold” way of representing the historical reality, but it takes part actively in making up the private dimension of the historical event. The diary as the literary expression of the ordinary is not only a tool to make intelligible a complex and chaotic extralinguistic reality, it is not only close to the action, but it is already a part of human actions and practices. Plans and strategies written down in private historical documents in their temporal progression bound to the unforeseeable horizon of the historical present help their author to conceive tactics of survival.

Janna Aerts (University of Amsterdam), Societal, Personal and Literary Crises in Amsterdam And Brussels’ Occupation Diaries From the Second World War

Diaries are often considered to be a crisis genre in which people can write about the problems and worries they experience. In times of war and occupation, this aspect gains even more importance: diary writing often becomes an indispensable ritual of reflection, allowing the author to process this large-scale and impactful crisis in their life. Nevertheless, this paper will demonstrate how the authors of occupation diaries during the Second World War do not only reflect on the war crisis, but use the act of diary writing to cope with different types of hardships in their life. These crises can be categorised into three types: societal, personal and literary crises. It will examine three Brussels’ occupation diaries by Dutch-speaking authors (Ernest Claes, August Vermeylen and Jan Walravens) in comparison to one Amsterdam occupation diary (by Toby Vos). By examining the impact of the three types of crises on the occupation diaries, this paper will explore what role diary writing plays in the daily life of the diary authors and how it can serve as a tactic to deal with the different types of crises they experience.

Maciej Libich (University of Warsaw), The War Diaries of Leopold Buczkowski: An Anthropological Reading

The paper is an analysis of Leopold Buczkowski's war diaries (1942–1945). The focus of the lecture will not be the language of Buczkowski's notes, as this topic has already been addressed by researchers. Instead, the paper will attempt to examine the diaries from the perspective of literary anthropology, especially through a genetic criticism approach. I intend to describe the elements that distinguish Buczkowski's diary from other documents of this kind. Close attention will be given to the unconventional and diverse punctuation, such as the symbols #, =, ≠, which were not included in the published edition of the diaries. I will also examine the enigmatic form of recording, as Buczkowski noted his entries exclusively on odd-numbered pages of the notebooks. Additionally, I will discuss the brief notes, drawings, and marks made by the diarist on the empty pages of the notebooks (most of which remain unreadable).

Chair: Artur Hellich (University of Warsaw)

Klaus Kaindl (University of Vienna), Three Versions of a Life: Memory, Identity and Agency in the Memoirs of Hiltgunt von Zassenhaus

Hiltgunt von Zassenhaus was an interpreter for Scandinavian prisoners in Nazi Germany. She recorded her experiences in a total of three memoirs. The first version (Halt Wacht im Dunkel) was published in 1947 before she emigrated to the USA, where she lived until her death. There, in 1974, she published the second version of her memoirs (Walls: Resisting the Third Reich), simultaneously with a new German version for the German-speaking audience (Ein Baum blüht im November). In each of these texts, crises play a crucial role in the story being told. Crisis can be understood here, following Habermas (1976), as an event that makes individuals perceive structural changes as a threat to the further existence of a society or of their social identity. While in her first book Zassenhaus narrates her actions and professional identity as an interpreter primarily against the backdrop of the "state of exception" (Agamben 2005) created by the Nazis as well as in the face of the resulting social crisis in post-war Germany, it is the fact of the Wall erected between East and West Berlin as a spatially defined ideological crisis between communist East and democratic West that provides a contour for her books published in 1974. This contribution will analyze how the particular form of crisis, in which the texts were written, influenced Zassenhaus’s memory, agency and ultimately her identity as interpreter.

Eliza Maureen Altenhof (Humboldt-Universität Berlin)The Ultimate Crisis: When One’s Own Life Ends

Final autobiographical texts by terminally ill writers not only address the perspective of dying, but also the life they have lived and the memories they have made. In the face of death many writers reflect on their life and their past, and on who they have become. And some of the most important moments in their lives, some of the memories that most shaped them, were moments of crisis. To imagine one’s own absence in a future world might appear to be something of great difficulty. One of the crucial themes in terminal illness memoirs is the reflection on how these writers want to depart life. Yet writers have developed strategies to remain present through literature, for example with the concept of autothanatography: a writing of the self beyond death. In my paper, with hindsight to their end of life, I will explore the moment of crisis: the moment that changes one’s life forever. A crisis defines a turning point or a crucial phase regarding a specific situation. I will focus on the moment of diagnosis, and furthermore I will explore different moments in life that helped shaping the writer and the writer’s narrative. The moment of crisis marks a temporal threshold: envisaging the future in the context of terminal illness can mean envisaging a nearing death, it can mean reflecting on how to die and when, and it can also mean to imagine how to continue to live through a literary legacy after one’s physical passing. Using selected examples from Roger Willemsen’s writing, especially from his works “Der Knacks” (The Crack) and his last speech “Wer wir waren” (Who we were), I will investigate in my paper how writing in the face of death locates the writer between temporal and structural components that define their crisis.

Piotr Sidorowicz (University of Warsaw), Academic Dealing with Death – Stefan Żółkiewski

Stefan Żółkiewski – one of the crucial figures for literary studies in the Polish People's Republic, an organizer of science, active politician and member of the Polish United Workers' Party – did not leave behind many texts that could be considered as examples of life-writing. Nevertheless, a few such works have occurred. It seems that in his case, mentioned texts usually appeared after confronting personal crises, in particular after death of loved ones’, scientific coworkers and colleagues. I mean articles about such people as, for example, Kazimierz Budzyk, Kazimierz Wyka, Dawid Hopensztand or Franciszek Siedlecki. Of course, the memoirs published by Żółkiewski in such cases are of a biographical nature, but (as has been shown many times) such reconstructions contain a strong autobiographical component - they always reflect the author's personal relationship with the protagonist.
However, the category of crisis does not appear in this case as only the pretext of life-writing. A closer look at the mentioned articles reveals the author's successive discussion with Marxism in the political, ideological, scientific and private dimensions.
What is particularly interesting, similar issues appear in the symmetrical reflections of the commemorative articles, in which Żółkiewski becomes a subject and not an object. In this case, however, the crisis becomes thematic rather than implied. The clash of these two ways of writing, combined at the ideological and personal level, seems to be cognitively effective in the context of transformations of the Polish science sphere and the formal aspects of life-writing. Archival materials will be used for this purpose in supplementar way, in particular Żółkiewski's correspondence, which enlight the private relations of the central figure. Theoretical inspirations are based on Cultural Studies of Science and Bakhtin's dialogical thinking.

4:00 PM - 4:30 PM COFFEE BREAK


4:30 PM - 6:30 PM SESSIONS 7


PANEL Auditorium Hall

Francisco José Cortés Vieco (Complutense University of Madrid)
Franziska Gygax (University of Basel)
Maria Isabel Duran Gimenez-Rico (Complutense University of Madrid)

The burgeoning interdisciplinary field known as the "Medical Humanities" - which explores human health and disease through the methods and materials of the creative arts and humanities - is one of the most compelling areas of research in the past few decade. The proposed panel is intended to explore various representations of illness in literature: under the lens of disability studies and medical humanities, one paper will explore traumatic post-Holocaust sequelae in the life of Polish American writer Ilona Karmel as reflected in her semi-autobiographical novel Stephania (1953). Another paper will explore two ALS narratives: that written in 2017 by the Spanish businessman and book author Francisco Luzón, El Viaje es la recompensa (The Trip is the Reward) and that published in 1999 by American sociologist Albert B. Robillard, Meaning of a Disability: The Lived Experience of Paralysis. Both “autopathographies” are detailed testimonies of the increasing emotional crisis, stigmatization, and feeling of helplessness of two powerful and eminent men who became paralyzed in mid-life because of a cruel illness. Finally, the analysis of autobiographical narratives by terminally ill writers (“autothanatographies”) will contribute to a more encompassing understanding of what it means to be dying and being confronted with death.

SESSION I Room 105
Chair: Alfred Hornung (Obama Institute, University of Mainz)

Jeremy Popkin (University of Kentucky), American Jewish Women's Memoirs: A Genre and Its Evolution

From the immigrant Mary Antin to the MIT professor Sherry Turkle, American Jewish women have made major contributions to the genre of autobiography and to the portrayal of the processes by which Jews in America have created a unique form of Jewish culture. Early 20th-century memoirs told stories of how outsiders to American culture became acculturated, in the process distancing themselves from the values of their parents and the European Jewish tradition. Subsequent examples of the genre, including my grandmother Zelda Popkin's Open Every Door, told stories of success in American life, but also emphasized the persistence of antisemitism and the impact of crises in other parts of the world, such as the Holocaust and the struggle for the creation of Israel. Recent texts deal with issues raised by the feminist movement and the radical changes in American Jewish life in the past half-century. Based on a sampling of representative texts, including works by Antin, Edna Ferber, Fannie Hurst, Doris Fleischman Bernays, Zelda Popkin, Gerda Lerner, Kate Simon, Sherry Turkle, and others, this paper will demonstrate how American Jewish women authors have used the memoir genre to probe their own identities and that of the minority to which they belong.

Caroline Zuckerman (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa), The Intermarriage Question

Rising rates of intermarriage have led to a perceived continuity “crisis” in the American Jewish community, particularly in the decades following the Shoah. Citing sociological studies, Jewish leaders portrayed intermarriage as assimilation, pointing to religious and cultural differences between Eastern European immigrants and their descendents (Charmé, Berman). Institutional responses to the “crisis” have included condemning intermarriage, encouraging conversion of the non-Jewish spouse, and more recently, investing in outreach campaigns to bring interfaith families into Jewish institutional life. However, missing from these conversations is the perspective of the intermarried, especially children of the intermarried, who have experienced exclusion from the Jewish community due to the pathologization of interfaith relationships and interdenominational disagreement regarding their status as Jews. In this paper, I draw on Laurel Snyder’s Half/Life essay collection to contend that autobiographical writing provides a forum for children of the intermarried to speak back to the harmful outsider/insider discourses and hierarchizing of Jews in “crisis” conversations. My work builds on recent ethnographic research by Jennifer Thompson and Keren McGinity, which complicates the dominant narrative of intermarriage as assimilation, yet focuses primarily on intermarried, religiously affiliated couples, as well as Rachel B. Gross’s study of how contemporary Jews maintain continuity through communal practices that connect them to Eastern European ancestors. Drawing on the life writing scholarship of Gilmore, Smith, and Watson, I demonstrate how autobiographical writing can convey the particularity of Jewish “outsider” experiences while serving as testimony against the anti-intermarriage policies and rhetoric of Jewish institutions. In turn, this autobiographical testimony can serve as an opportunity to more ethically address the “crisis” conversation, if such a crisis exists, and build a more inclusive community that recognizes the myriad ways contemporary Jews – including the intermarried and unaffiliated – enact their Jewish identities.

Andrés Villagrá (Pace University), Relational Life-Writing in Abel Azcona's Performance Art

This presentation addresses the confluence of autobiography and performance art in the work of Spanish artist Abel Azcona. Born in 1988, Azcona is a modern "agent provocateur" and a performance artist who writes political 'manifestos" to denounce contemporary political and cultural challenges. In the process, Azcona is becoming sort of a "global phenomenon." Azcona's installations, like Empathy and Prostitution (2013); Someone Else (2016), The Streets (2014), The Shame (2018); The Death of the Artist (2018); Amen and Pederasty (2015), focus on identity as a relational construct and act of collective meaning. Azcona's autobiographical installations use his body as the language for communication and participation. The study responds to the need to analyze performance art that blends the personal with the political, the private, and the public through his discursive, performative art. Deirdre Heddon defines performance autobiography as "the creative encounter between the story of the 'other' and the story of the self and issues of 'truth,' 'identity,' political agency, confession, voyeurism, and ethics" (2008). In particular, the relational aspect of autobiographical performance brings to the forefront of contemporary discussion the relational aspects of all life -writing, first theorized by John Paul Eakin and Julia Watson and currently the object of debate and comprehensive studies by Anne Rüggemeier. "The Little Sprouts" is an autobiographical collection of vignettes by Abel Azcona (2018) that elaborates on a textual representation of a fragmented identity that derives from his past as an abandoned child and an ensuing youth characterized by violence, drugs, prostitution, mental illness, and constant legal battles as a result of these installations. This autobiographical narrative serves as an external, durable testimony that extends the ephemeral encounter between the viewer/performer. The text invites the audience to explore beyond artistic transgression into the embodiment of participative, shared discourse, hindered by present cultural norms.

Regine Strätling (Université de Montréal), Identity Crises and Sociological 'écriture' in Transclass Memoirs

After the decline of Marxist-inspired narratives and the decrease in emphasis on class struggle issues towards the end of the 20th century, the concept of class has recently made a massive return in the (Western) humanities. Whether aligned with or beyond Marxist theory, this return of ‘class’ is also apparent in memoir writing and, linked to this, in both life writing theory and sociological theory, for example in Chantal Jacquet’s influential work on transclass biographies, which builds equally on Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical work and on the autobiographies of Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2022. My paper proposes the reading of two recent German ‘transclass memoirs’ that bear the concept of class in their very title, thereby not only stressing the social conditioning of the narrated life, but also assigning themselves a sociological dimension: Daniela Dröscher, Show your Class: The History of my Social Origins [Zeige Deine Klasse: Die Geschichte meiner sozialen Herkunft; 2018], and Christian Baron, A Man of his Class[Ein Mann seiner Klasse; 2021]. I will examine how these texts narrate the autobiographical protagonist’s identity crisis associated with his/her change of social class: to what extent are these moments of crisis not only temporary phases and matters for retrospection, but are also permanently negotiated at the level of the ongoing writing process? Secondly, I will analyse how these texts claim a sociological perspective on the narrator’s present and past life. Ultimately, both aspects are closely interwoven, and the aim of my paper is to shed light on the interplay between sociological crisis discourses and autobiographical crisis perceptions in these texts.

Chair: Julie Rak (University of Alberta)

Nancy Pedri (Memorial University of Newfoundland), Understanding my Illness Experience: Infographics in Graphic Illness Narratives

“Right at the intersection of art and journalism, technology and storytelling” (Beegel 1), infographics combine visual abstraction and artful display to craft information into a story. It is no wonder then that to narrate their stories, a wide range of graphic memoirists rely on a variety of infographic forms to narrate their personal experiences: from graphs to diagrams, timelines to checklists, flow charts to mind maps, templates, and metaphor. Examples of these and other types of infographics feature prominently in several graphic illness narratives, including E. Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me (2012) and Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life (2018), T. Page’s Raised on Ritalin (2018), P. Potts’ Good Eggs (2010), and M. Wilson’s Kind of Coping (2019). Emphasizing how infographics “represent information or data in an easily understandable form” (“Infographic”), I will draw examples from a number of graphic illness narratives to argue that infographics at once provide concrete and emotional information, all the while presenting important information in an attractive and impactful way. Besides enlightening readers about the objective or scientific facts of the protagonist’s lived experience, infographics also intrigue and even (dare I say it!) entertain readers. In this way, infographics can be approached as a visual narrative strategy that aid in the central aim of graphic illness narratives to “create valuable new knowledge, which informs the iconography of illness” through the depiction of the protagonist’s “conditions and experiences” (Williams 132). Ultimately, I will show how infographics feature as a narrative strategy used to communicate this new knowledge, granting some structure to “unstructured illness experiences” (Gay 171), some clarity to the “inexpressibility of pain” (Walters 111), and an entry into a variety of issues surrounding illness.

Christopher Conway (University of Texas at Arlington), The Diary of Anne Frank in Mexican Comics

In the twentieth century, the Mexican comic book industry has played an outsized role in the production and distribution of comics throughout the Spanish speaking world, not only in Latin America and Spain, but also in the United States, where Mexican immigrants also consumed Mexican comics. In this transnational context, the representation of the Holocaust in Mexican comics is more than a national, or localized phenomenon. Due to the size and global reach of the Mexican publishing industry, it is not surprising that there have been several comic book adaptations of the Diary of Anne Frank beginning in the 1960s. Kees Ribbans, author of a valuable study titled “War comics beyond the battlefield: Anne Frank’s transnational representation in sequential art,” is arguably the only scholar who has commented on these comics, albeit in passing. My presentation hinges on examining three Diary of Anne Frank comic book adaptations (1962, 1967, 2004), as well as other Holocaust themed Mexican comics in relation to the competing stylistic demands of didacticism and pulpy exploitation, as well as through the lens of class, religion, and gender. By reading Mexico’s comic book versions of the Diary of Anne Frank alongside parallel comic book titles, traditions, and tendencies, we can trace the ways in which trauma is used for different purposes, such as the Europeanization or Americanization of the Mexican middle class, or as protest literature informed by Mexico’s longstanding “Cult of Defeat,” a mournful, nationalistic discourse predicated on death and suffering. In addition to adaptations of the Diary of Anne Frank, my research draws from various other Mexican comic book biographies about the Holocaust, particularly the lives of its perpetrators.

Elżbieta Klimek-Dominiak (University of Wrocław), Environmental Crisis in Comics Life Writing: Visual Witness, Oral History and Journalism in Joe Sacco’s Paying the Land (2020)

Previous studies of Joe Sacco’s non-fiction comics have shown that his graphic life narratives often powerfully visualize military conflicts (Chute 2016). I argue that his comics life writing can also depict a contemporary environmental crisis in an insightful, layered visual-verbal narrative. In this presentation, I examine how Joe Sacco’s Paying the Land (2020) conveys the devastating impact of resource extraction and toxic waste, it leaves behind on the land of the Dene, through the original aesthetic choices and the diverse auto/biographical genres it engages. For decades, hand-drawn accounts of this Maltese American journalist have focused on the historical traumas of the Middle East and Europe. However, his most recent book-length work evokes the experiences of an ecological crisis and social fragmentation it causes by combining oral interviews with contemporary Indigenous activists, visual testimony of residential school survivors and collective biography of colonizers. Using the intersection of life writing and comics studies, I analyze Sacco’s innovative framing, panelization, and his own self-reflexive portraits to demonstrate how he moves between the present and the past, human and non-human nature, locals and outsiders to represent experiences of personal and collective crises as well as attempts to resolve them. My analysis shows that sudden environmental and social changes affecting marginalized community can also be represented in a nuanced, multivocal auto/biographical narrative in the medium of comics.

Erin La Cour (Vrije Universitet Amsterdam), Autofictional Graphic Medicine

In Graphic Medicine (2022a) Anna Poletti and I explore how graphic medicine has evolved since 2007 and propose its possible futures. We note that while the production and discourse has largely focused on autobiographical accounts of illness/disability, second-hand accounts from healthcare providers, carers, and family members have come to be recognized as “talking with/for” patients whose stories may otherwise be left untold, and thus can be seen as upholding G. Thomas Couser’s call for “taking back the experience of somatic dysfunction from medical authority and talking back to medical discourse” (2018, p. 348). While the inclusion of co-authorship and biography signals an important shift, we also point to what has yet to be fully explored in terms of other genres that could perhaps add to and/or detract from aims within the field. Via a cursory reading of the autofictional work of Grant Gronewold, we suggest that rejecting the explicitly confessional or testimonial mode of life writing poses interesting challenges for theories of reading that rely on an explicitly referential relationship between the lived experience of the artist and the stories they tell (2022b). In this paper, I will expand this exploration of the limits of graphic medicine, and life writing more broadly, through a close reading of Ian Williams’ The Bad Doctor and Glyn Dillon’s The Nao of Brown, both marketed as fictional comics about obsessive compulsive disorder, but whose authors, in interviews, have outlined their autofictional impetus. In a comparative analysis, I will unpack what each work has to say about graphic medicine as a way of intervening in how medicine is practiced, how they provide life writing scholars with new challenges in terms of thinking about how life writing is used (Schmitt 2022), and the kinds of (ethical) stakes people have in storytelling (Czerwiec et al. 2015).

Chair: Sergio Barcellos (UERJ – Rio de Janeiro State University)

Aleksandra Bednarowska (Pedagogical University of Cracow), "It's 3:30 PM and We're Still Alive" – Yevgenia Beloruset's Wartime Diary

The current art exhibition in German Bundestag entitled Nebenan (Close by) showcases a selection from a photographic diary by a Ukrainian photographer, writer, and artist Yevgenia Belorusets. The photographs were taken in Kyiv, during the first days of the war in February 2022. Each photograph is accompanied by the artist’s handwritten comments. Contrary to war images, which we see in the media, these pictures do not depict battles, soldiers, or bombed buildings. Belorusets chose to document inhabitants of the capital in a state of disbelief, uncertain of the situation, and anxious about their future. We witness an elegantly dressed lady on her way to a pharmacy, an elderly couple holding their beloved dogs, and people waiting at a train station. Only one photograph shows destruction, but here also the focus is on a passerby’s reaction rather than on destruction. In a conversation during the exhibition, Belorusets admitted that choosing the photographs and the commentary from her war diary forced her not only to relive the beginning of the war again but also to come to terms with the fact that her assumption about the immediate end to the invasion due to the international pressure was wrong. In my presentation, I would like to investigate how Belorusets documented the crisis in her photographic work, and in her war diary, which she has been writing since February 2002. (Her diary was regularly published in the German magazine Der Spiegel and an English language publication ISOLARII and now was issued as a book.) We see the war through the lens of her camera (or through her eyes in her diary). This is a very personal account but photographed/written with the knowledge that it needs to reach a western audience, to convey the need to act, to stand in solidarity with Ukrainian people.

Juulia Niiniranta (Tampere University), Visual Narratives of Trauma and Peace

At the conference, I will present my PhD dissertation research plan on the effects of violence and trauma on everyday peace. Several war crimes have been reported in Ukraine since the Russian attack in February 2022. They include bombing of civilian targets and rapes. In considering the rebuilding after war means to consider how to repair broken minds, and how to make peace possible at the grass root level, among people who have witnessed atrocity and experienced violence. The recognition of the emotional and social effects of violent conflict is central for sustainable peace; untreated trauma may be an obstacle to peace and accumulating effects of violence can be the cause of new conflicts. My study focuses on visual, photographic narratives of everyday life of Ukrainians where peace – as well as violence, conflict and trauma – are present, overlapping and appearing in daily practices, encounters and activities. The border between violence and non-violence is not clear, neither is the line between war and peace. These opposites often intermingle and interact, and can be experienced individually and differently in different contexts. Focusing on the everyday enables us to recognize different forms of violence and power, and how they transform but do not end after an acute conflict. Auto-photography allows research participants to tell their stories via photographs. My aim is to get close to experiential and collective reality, where past, present and future, private and collective, individual and political, belonging and outsidedness, are interacting and overlapping, coloring the experience of peace. To understand this reality it is necessary to wittness individual, social and collective effects, structure and causes of war, trauma and violence. Personal narratives about daily life in time and after war can aid in assessing humanitarian and political operations: for whom and how to build peace.

Marcin Telicki (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan), Man's Search for Meaning in Serhiy Zhadan's Poetry 

Serhiy Zadan is one of Ukraine's most prominent contemporary writers. An observer of post-Soviet reality, who scientifically described the Futurists, writer and member of a rock band, political commentator and cultural animator. In the multiplicity of talents and engagements, one can find different ways of answering questions about meaning (in an individual and national perspective). Talking about the crisis has not only an artistic or journalistic function, but also a therapeutic one. It is no coincidence that in the title of the presentation there is a direct reference to the work of Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor. As the founder of the logotherapeutic method, which is part of existential analysis, Frankl postulated the search for meaning even in the midst of the greatest humanitarian and personality crises. It seems that Zadan's biographical experience allows his work to be interpreted in the context of both a life-writing project and meaning therapy.


Chair: Phoebe King (University of Queensland)

Łukasz Kożuchowski (University of Warsaw), Researching Unpredictable Past: Working with Historical Ego-documents in times of War and Pandemic

Young historians using ego-documents have been in particularly difficult situation since the outbreak of the pandemic. The intensification of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine did not make this position any easier. First and foremost, the access to archives has been restricted. For obvious reasons, anyone doing any research on Russian, Belorussian or Ukrainian ego documents must now temper personal ambitions. But given the status of Russia (and Soviet Union) as an imperial, colonial state, present situation also hits any egodocument-based research on Central and East Europe, since throughout Russian imperial rule up till the end of 20th century, the Russians stole numerous records from the subaltern societies and hold their heritage in Russian archives up till today. In my speech, I would like to concentrate on the negative aspects of Russia’s crimes on accessing the sources Central and European historians need for their inquiries.

Cathy Perkins (UNSW Sydney), Lifelong Writing: Three Subjects and a Biographer

Cathy Perkins began her current project, a group biography of three Australian political playwrights, during personal and global crises. This paper explores how domestic and global pressures influenced her choice of subjects and style of life-writing.  

Max Casey(Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), "Nobody cares about your topic": Navigating the PhD application process in the Netherlands

This paper will discuss my experience of the PhD application process in the Netherlands, a process that has been deeply shaped by increased precarity in academia and the desire to make humanities research appear more ‘relevant’ to science-centred research goals. I will discuss the need in the Netherlands to be nominated by a full professor, the interview, and the application form with its seventeen separate sections (including a data management plan and three separate introductions of various lengths). The paper will also discuss the increased importance and centrality of concepts such as ‘social impact’ and ‘knowledge utilisation’ to humanities research and how that narrows the purview of humanities research towards epistemologies unsuitable for understanding culture. The paper will conclude by discussing the negative impact these policies have on Dutch academic culture and some suggestions for what could be improved. 

Phoebe King (University of Queensland), Borders and Limits in Life Writing Research 

Phoebe King’s Masters dissertation focused on the Australian reception of Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains: tracing the shifting face of Australia’s contemporary carceral borderscape and analysing the life narratives emerging from it. This paper will further explore how Australia’s pandemic response–which saw methods of bordering and offshoring proliferate–shaped this project.  

Eliza Altenhof (Humboldt-Universität Berlin), The challenges and advantages of writing a PhD (during the pandemic) and working outside of academia

Since my return from my stay in London in late 2019, I have been working at a well-known bookstore in central Berlin. In my presentation, I will explore the challenges, but also the advantages of writing a PhD and having another working purpose outside of academia. Though, the work I do aside of the PhD is related to literature: at the bookstore, I curate the selection of books and recommend them to people. Throughout the pandemic, the store remained open because in Berlin bookshops were considered shops of essential needs. Hence, I will speak about my own experience of functioning as an agent of literture in a very practical way when people felt isolated during the pandemic, and about how this experience influenced my own writing about terminal illness narratives during the pandemic. 


8 JULY (Saturday)

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM SESSIONS 8

PANEL Auditorium Hall
Anne Rüggemeier (University of Freiburg)
Héloïse Lecomte (École Normale Supérieure de Lyon)
Wojciech Drąg (University of Wrocław)

Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson claim that “we inevitably organize or form fragments of memory into complex constructions that become the stories of our lives” (2001: 16). However, certain experiences of personal crisis – such as a traumatic incident or the sudden loss of a family member – disrupt, fracture or “divide” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler 2005: 204) one’s life-narrative. In order to convey this sense of rupture, certain auto/biographical accounts of grief also resist the story-ing impulse and turn towards fragmentation and hybridity. Animated by the ambition to “convey some aspect of the ‘realness’ of certain life experiences that could not be conveyed as well without pushing at the form itself,” such works can be classified as “experimental life writing” (Kacandes 2012: 382). This panel examines the link between experiences of grief as a form of crisis and formal experimentation. We propose to open the session with a critical introduction that contextualizes our analyses within a range of examples of formally unconventional grief-writing. This will be followed by three papers, each of which will analyse a chosen contemporary work of grief-writing and its reliance on a specific non-narrative formal principle. Anne Rüggemeier will discuss the employment of lists, blanks and photographic images in Han Kang’s The White Book (2015/2017) – an exploration of personal grief that evolves around the short life of the narrator’s elder sister, and written while the author was on a writer’s residency in snowy (white) Warsaw. Héloïse Lecomte will examine the poetics of miniature collage in Karen Green’s Bough Down (2013) – a visually rich memoir, focusing on Green’s experience of losing her husband, David Foster Wallace, to suicide. Finally, Wojciech Drąg will consider the capacity of the detached form of the index to represent a parent’s suicide in Joan Wickersham’s The Suicide Index (2008).

SESSION I Room 105
Chair: Leena Käosaar (University of Tartu)

Agnieszka Graff (University of Warsaw), Rage, Race, Conspiracy, and COVID – We Were Three (Series, 2022) as Aural Memoir of the Pandemic

In the fall of 2021 Rachel McKibbens, a Mexican American poet and activist, lost her father and younger brother to COVID. As it turned out, the two men had lived together, unvaccinated, isolated, and increasingly immersed in the paranoid world of covid conspiracy. Irrational beliefs prevented them from seeking medical help or trusting the sister. A year later, Rachel’s grief and rage still raw, NPR’s Nancy Updike recorded her memories of what happened and how she found out. The result is We Were Three, produced by Serial and The New York Times – a gut-wrenching 3-part narrative podcast combining deeply personal emotional storytelling with radical political insight. Refusing to be sentimental about preventable loss, the podcast is also far from blaming victims for their own deaths. Resisting therapeutic closure, it shows how America’s failed health care system, cruel to those who cannot pay, has made poor people, especially ethnic and racial minorities, vulnerable to anti-vaccine paranoia. It looks at the tragic toll of political polarization and systemic injustice, but also at misogyny and violence in the Mexican American community. My paper examines how personal and political themes are interwoven in the podcast, and how the mediated form compares to McKibbens’s own life-writing. I also address the broader issue at stake: how does the narrative podcast medium – a key form of new aural cultures and digital media – affect the autobiographical mode.

Eloise Faichney (University of Melbourne), “There’s Something Locked in that Box of Dreams”: Women’s Dream Journals in the Crises of WWII and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Between 1937 - 1945, the Mass Observation project in Britain collected the life-writing of British subjects at a time of great tension in the UK and across the world. As the conditions which would erupt into WWII came to a boil, women across the UK submitted descriptions of their dreams, in a subsidiary Mass Observation project that would continue into the war years (1937 - 1945). The dreams are deeply personal, yet mirror the outward crisis through women’s experiences. One woman dreams of her late husband, who expresses his displeasure at her remarriage and issues a foreboding warning about her new husband (1943). Another, a novelist, talks with ‘the Old Queen’ (1939) in her dream and pleads for a younger writer to be accepted in the literary circles of London. The younger writer rises, but as a result, the novelist herself ends up destitute and abandoned in her London apartment. In 2020, as the months of March, April and May wore on in COVID-19 lockdown, I began recording the evocative dreams that haunted my nights. I dreamed of the ‘Box of Dreams’ that I had seen parts of years earlier during my PhD research into Mass Observation. On March 30th, 2020, as consciousness came into blurry focus, I woke up and wrote, ‘There’s something locked in that box of dreams’. Others, too, were dreaming vividly. Twitter accounts like @IDreamofCovid19 and @Coviddreams retweeted accounts of women dreaming of sickness, anxiety, trauma, heartbreak and loss of control. Using archival research, interviews and social media data scraping, this paper examines the remarkable collection of British women’s life-writing about dreams in the crisis of WWII, and juxtaposes these with the experiences and digital records of dreams of women living through COVID-19 pandemic lockdown periods in Australia, the US, and the UK in 2020.

Shira Stav (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), Poetic Memoirs in a Time of Crisis: “Corona Diaries” in Hebrew Poetry

Poetry of the last three decades shows a clear turn towards personal narratives and auto/biographical writing. Prominent poetic works meet in fact the description of memoirs: in these works, the speaker is openly the empirical ‘I’ of the poet, who documents an experience, or an event from the concrete or historic reality of the poet’s life. These works are complete collections of poetry that focus on a certain personal narrative with a defined duration. Scholarly inquiry into the “era of the memoir” (such as Couser 2012; de Bres 2021; Rak 2013; Yagoda 2010; Zwerdling 2017) has dealt almost solely with prose works. My work aims to widen the field of discussion to poetry, and to identify and define the poetic memoir’s own characteristics. Poetic memoirs are texts that demonstrate a deep awareness of form, syntax, ambiguity, sound and rhythm. Their structural design often works against linear and narrative principles. They function as a charged arena of tension between the aesthetics and the documentation of the experience. In this talk I will discuss poetic memoirs written during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time that was characterized by a proliferation of "Corona diaries" in Israeli poetry – long cycles of poems that documented life during quarantines and the crisis of everyday life. Poetry offered an immediate and direct literary approach at the time of the pandemic, that no other literary form could match. There were, however, certain characteristics to this immediacy. I will examine how the insecurities and anxieties of the crisis, coupled with a culture of leisure and idleness, resulted in the unique style of the poetic ‘Corona diaries’: Israeli poets who favor an apolitical domestic poetry, reflections on the self and the family, and observations of the landscape, especially non-urban, natural environments.

Chair: Ioana Luca (National Taiwan Normal University)

Diana Painca (Transilvania University), Life Writing and the Poetics of Ego-Resiliency

Following the dismantling of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, survivors of this totalitarian regime wrote down their stories about suffering and injustice. Their memoirs and autobiographical works have become representative of post-communist life writing, promoting debates on trauma, memory, and resistance strategies. Yet, life writing researchers have not explored the textual strategies employed by writers to construct their ego-resilient Self, namely, their general resourcefulness and dynamic capacity to flexibly adjust to stressful conditions (Block 2002). Such an analysis has been largely neglected despite the unique dimension it could provide in grasping the complexity of human lives under communism. To instantiate the case, Romanian diaries and memoirs have been selected for the corpus given the highly repressive nature of the Romanian communist regime. As such, it has been argued that “Romania’s trajectory as a communist state within the Soviet bloc was unlike that of any other” (Deletant 2019). Caught between resistance, submission, and adaptation, the writers convey a universally human message about the struggle to survive and surmount historical adversity. Obviously, from a narrative standpoint, these “resilient individuals narrate their stories in particular ways” (Mahdiani 2021), compelling readers to follow their back-and-forth movements which are akin to those of actors changing the scenes. The paper pursues two research objectives: (a) to examine the textual strategies employed by writers in their construction of ego-resiliency and (b) to analyze the historical specificities of Romanian communism while expanding knowledge on this totalitarian regime. To this end, the research combines Narrative Psychology with Trauma Studies. First, the findings emphasize the variety of textual strategies used to convey the ego-resilient Self (direct speech, Historical Present, imagery, intertextuality). Second, the results reveal the idiosyncratic nature of Romanian communism (i.e., the reeducation experiment of Pitesti Prison), while articulating the historical and psychological implications of the communist ideology.

Jagoda Wierzejska (University of Warsaw), Writing Down a Life Crisis under the Security Office’s Surveillance: the Case of Leon Getz

The presentation will deal with the phenomenon of autobiographical writing in the time of life crisis and oppressive socio-political situation, using Leon Getz as an example. Getz (1896-1971) was a painter who was raised in a Polish-Ukrainian family in Lviv but took a decision to identify nationally with the Ukrainian minority, oppressed both in pre- and post-war Poland. After WWII, he was subjected to surveillance by the Polish Security Office because of his Ukrainian identification. That led him and his wife (also a Ukrainian) to suicide attempt – unsuccessful in the case of the artist, fatal in the case of his wife. Getz wrote down his memoires twice: the first time in the mid-1930s, the second time after his wife’s death in the 1950s. The first memoire expressed his loneliness in an environment dominated by Poles and it was drawn up openly, though for the author’s needs only. The second memoire presented his personal tragedy and was kept in secret, because the Security Office sought to intercept Getz’s notes as documents incriminating the officers. The subject of the analysis will be mainly the second memoir read in the context of the artist’s other personal documents and works, building his Ukrainian national identity as, in his opinion, the main reason for his and his wife’s tragedy were their Ukrainian origins. I will interpret this memoire in two different but complimentary ways. First, as life writing in the time of life crisis of a husband after his wife’s suicide. Second, as life writing in a situation of extreme oppression by the totalitarian state, under surveillance by the Security Office, whose deadly and faulty moves put the very subjectivity of the individual in crisis.The presentation will be based on Getz’s unpublished memoirs and works, which are held in archives in Cracow and Rome.

Giedrė Šmitienė (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore), Writing on the Edge of an Abyss

The presentation is based on life-writing of two sisters Kazimiera and Janina Kairiūkštytės after the Soviet regime accused them of collaborating with Lithuanian partisans in 1953. They both were interrogated for half a year and imprisoned in concentration camps of Jercev and Puksoozersk in Archangelsk Oblast, Russia. They joined the thousands of banished and imprisoned by Stalin’s regime. Their life turned upside down is preserved in their letters. These letters are valued due to presented multi-layered lived experience. The epistoliarium is also unique, because all the letters from and to the concentration camps were preserved by the addressees. These letters are held in the archive of M.K. Čiurlionis Museum of Art, Lithuania. The sisters affirm that the life-writing in the situation of crisis was the only option to maintain the feeling of “real” life. When all the world around has been radically changed the letters writing proved the previous life had not been a kind of dream. The presentation asks how the process of writing enables us to reach such a state of evidence. The crisis itself appears in the letters in a clear and direct way only after some time. One of the most distinctive ways to express the crisis is the telling of night dreams. In the beginning of collapsed life the different practices to distance away from crisis are used. The first of them is to concentrate on daily routines (looking for food, fighting with cold). The second practice is to observe one’s own life in front of the other global crises. What is told and how is told in the selected sources, reveals the constitution of the experience of crisis as well as the ways to survive with it and partly helps facing the writing of contemporary crises.

Chair: Joanna Jeziorska-Haładyj (University of Warsaw)


Krista Quesenberry (Albion College), Meshing the Political, the Personal, and the Popular with Kay Boyle’s Spanish piece

Kay Boyle’s specialty was writing personal stories contextualized by the twentieth century’s major political upheavals. Scholars from Suzanne Clark (1991) to Alexa Weik Von Mossner (2014) have described Boyle’s ability to engage readers’ empathy in service to her political activism, while critics have accused her of sentimentalism and even propaganda. However, Boyle’s letters to her professional contacts provide a fresh insight into her activist and creative motivations — namely, her keen understanding of the interrelationship between commercial success and political efficacy. In this paper, I examine Boyle’s letters regarding the novella she often called “the Spanish piece” and her varying rationales for its publication — first in 1948 as “Passport to Doom” in the Saturday Evening Post, during the harsh early years the Francoist regime, then in 1958 as “Decision” in the Beacon Press collection Three Short Novels, during the Cold War. I consider Boyle’s self-awareness as simultaneously an artist, a political activist, and a commercial product by closely reviewing letters to her agent and publisher, especially previously unpublished comments to appear in a collection of Boyle's professional correspondence, which I am editing with Sandra Spanier of Penn State University. Ultimately, I argue that Boyle understood a connection between creativity, politics, and publicity that we continue struggling to articulate effectively today. In Franco’s Spain or Putin’s Russia, emotive stories about personal experiences are one primary way that large swaths of common readers (and social-media scrollers) engage with and begin to understand dynamic sociopolitical processes and, especially, the needs of negatively impacted populations. Ultimately, my argument is that activists, influencers, and socially conscious artists today must continue to think like Kay Boyle — taking specific lessons I identify from her letters — by recognizing that “the political” continues to require dimensions of not only the personal but also the popular.

Łukasz Żurek (University of Warsaw), Against Confession: Negation of Commodity Form in Laura Osińska's (Anna Adamowicz's) nonsense[ ]sense

Paradoxical as it may seem, the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric of politicians from Poland's current ruling Law and Justice party, supported by the public media and the right-wing press, and the pseudo-legislative, homophobic actions of local government politicians, create a market demand for a certain type of literature about the experiences of people who are discriminated against because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. This is because the violation of the existing symbolic and cultural status quo makes a part of the intelligentsia audience with liberal views more likely to reach for a book that opposes this state of affairs and expresses the author's subject position. For example, Patrycja Sikora's expressive autobiographical lesbian poetry collection Instrukcja dla ludzi nie stąd, nominated for the Polityka 2020 prize, was praised by the jury for the fact that the poet "makes a public coming out in one of her poems" and that the book itself is "a response to an unbearable reality" and carries "a great burden of rebellion and anger". 

Of course, simply writing from a minority perspective is not the same as submitting to commodity logic, as the main character of my speech attests. Inspired by Nicholas Brown's fundamental recognition of the status of the artwork in a reality in which the commodity form is the default medium of social metabolism, I would like to analyse Anna Adamowicz's poetry collection zmyśl[ ]zmysł in terms of how the poet does not subordinate her book to the market necessity I have described, while at the same time publishing a collection of lesbian love and erotic poems. As I will show in the paper, Adamowicz's creation of a book-specific distance from the conventions of confessional writing turns out to be a condition of possibility for the realisation of autonomous aesthetic goals, and thus a negative reference to the crisis times of the culture wars.

Maxime Geervliet (University of Edinburgh), The Geo-autobiographical Confession: Location, Displacement and Guilt in the Poetry of Ghayath Almadhoun

This paper analyses location and geography as autobiographical actors in the poetry of Palestinian poet Ghayath Almadhoun. Born in Damascus in 1979 and moved to Sweden in 2008, Almadhoun’s poetry explores themes of war, exile, crisis and displacement by narratively following his geographical locations across the globe. The poems delve into his experiences; such as not being able to return home because of a war, feelings of betrayal when relocating somewhere else, having to adapt to new locations et cetera. With prose often being prioritised over poetry in academic studies on life writing, this paper wants to specifically zoom in on how these above-mentioned autobiographical experiences are represented in poetry. This paper argues that, rather than the ‘I’ being an expression of the autobiographical self, it is in fact location and geography which become autobiographical actors in Almadhoun’s poetry. By studying I Can’t Attend (2016), Til Damascus (2014), and Ik Hier Jij Daar (2017), this paper wants to move away from the common focus on the autobiographical ‘I’ and explore how other aspects of his poetry can be considered within studies on life writing in crisis. Moreover, this paper argues that the various geographical locations in Almadhoun’s poems, such as Damascus, Stockholm, Ieper et cetera, are often explicitly connected to secrets or guilt, which are now ‘exposed’ in the poems. Consequently, the poems can be read as a confessional space in which complex feelings that accompany movement and displacement in times of crisis are confessed. Rather than employing the confessional performance of the ‘I’, this paper argues that Almadhoun’s poetry uses location to perform this confession.
By zooming in specifically on geographical location, which plays a vital role in times of crisis, this paper aims to illustrate how poetic life writing explores experiences of war, movement, and displacement.

Chair: Agnieszka Sobolewska (University of Warsaw)


Desiree Henderson (University of Texas at Arlington), The Crisis of Masculinity in Short Diary Fiction

Although many people perceive the diary as a female form – thought to be primarily authored by women or associated with stereotypically feminine characteristics such as interiority or emotionality – in fact diaries serve as sites for exploring a variety of gender identities. This is true both of nonfiction diaries and works of diary fiction. As a genre, diary fiction consists of stories in the form of diaries or in which diaries play a significant role in the plot. My presentation examines several works of contemporary British diary fiction in order to argue that, in these stories, the diary serves as a vehicle for representing masculinity in crisis. Works such as Virginia Woolf’s “The Legacy” (1940), Ian McEwan’s “Solid Geometry” (1975), and Helen Simpson’s “Diary of an Interesting Year” (2009) show that the limits of masculinity become visible within the intimate narrative space of the diary, whether authored by men or women. Although written in different time periods and by authors with distinct literary styles, these short stories coalesce around the idea that masculinity exerts a corrosive and deadly power over the very people it is meant to prop up. My analysis demonstrates that it is the presence of a diary that facilitates each author’s critique of masculinity, as they draw upon the conventions of personal, autobiographical narrative to dramatize the surprising ways that the violence expected of men turns back upon them. In addition, each of these stories addresses how crises in gender identity are linked to larger social crises, including economic inequality, colonization, and climate change. In addressing this theme across a range of texts, I hope to promote short diary fiction as a lesser-studied category of autofiction that has much to teach us about the productive intersections between fictional and nonfictional genres of autobiography.

Karolina Kulpa (University of Warsaw), Compensation by Hiding: Cryptanalysis of Stefan Themerson's Prose

In the The urge to create visions (1937) Stefan Themerson recalls Giambattista della Porta, who besides improving the invention of camera obscura, wrote a manual on cryptology De furtivis literarum notis (1563). For Themerson, multilingualism had a therapeutic significance, because he intended to “shake language off any connotations and parish subtleties” (Themerson 1965). It is related to a more general concept, which was described by Hannah Arendt who called European thinkers and artists of Jewish descent “pariahs” (Arendt 2012). For Themerson the excess of different types of code names serves as an indicator, which is supposed to direct the reader’s attention towards the question of Maranian perjury. Therefore the main thesis of the paper will be: Themerson’s works still require cryptanalysis.
The point is to notice an anomic moment which is called “obscuring” of the Jewish experience (Błoński 1996). It can only be done by focusing on narrative shadows, which means incomprehensible fragments and names. What can be seen here, in analogy to the relation between camera obscura and laterna magica, is the tension between one which is visible and something else which is obscure or hidden. Examining Themerson’s prose, I will show his crypto-strategy of “unspeaking”. Based on: Professor Mmaa's Lecture (1953) and Woof Woof, Or who killed Richard Wagner (1951), I will show various types of code names (despite Themersons’ aversion to all sorts of typologies): nominal, connotative, non-logical, scientistic, intertextual. This assertion should allow to distinguish compensatory cryptonym: the least obvious of all and the most hidden. I call it “compensatory” because its role is to compensate for a certain absence or shortage, taking over the role of another word, as it turns out – replacing a child’s speech. It is the most interesting of all examples of the narrative shadow (trauma symptom in a novel).

Cathy Perkins (UNSW Sydney)Caviar for Breakfast: The Life-Narratives of Two Australian Playwrights in Eastern Europe before and after the Second World War

How did two Australian playwrights record for the archive their experiences of Moscow in 1933 and Prague in 1948? And how do these archives serve the biographer? The Australian political playwrights Betty Roland (1903–1996) and Catherine Duncan (1915–2006) were drawn to socialist politics in the 1930s in response to economic depression and the rise of fascism. Roland spent time in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and Duncan in Czechoslovakia after the Second World War. Believing they were privileged to be living through critical moments in history, they documented their experiences in letters and diaries. They described their day-to-day lives under a new political system, observed the hardships experienced by the citizens of these countries, and expressed certainty in a better future through socialism. While Roland and Duncan were both performing idealised versions of themselves (Roland for a diary she hoped to publish and Duncan in letters to her mother), they also revealed a great deal about their emotional states, tensions in their relationships and ambitions as writers. This paper shows how social and political upheaval determined the kinds of life-narratives these writers created.

11:00 AM - 11:30 AM COFFEE BREAK

11:30 AM - 1:30 PM SESSIONS 9

SESSION I Room 105

Chair: Zoltan Z. Varga (University of Pécs / Research Center for Humanities)

Helga Ramsey-Kurz (University of Innsbruck), Whose Crisis? Whose Life? Whose Writing?

This paper will draw on a life writing initiative developed at the University of Innsbruck and, since its conception in 2017, expanded to the Universities of Bochum and Liège. Entitled ARENA (Archive of Refugee Narratives), it involves students of English collaborating with refugees over periods of three months to write down their stories. Like many other storytelling ventures spawned by the perceived European refugee crisis, the initiative aims to enable a better understanding of the situation of refugees in Europe than the dominant asylum discourse allows. To this end the focus of the project is placed on regular encounters in which participating refugees are encouraged to tell whatever they consider to be their very own stories and about which participating students are asked to write from their perspective. This makes it possible to study the embodied act of narration as an event in which collectively experienced crises are broken down into personal ones, and shared as such across cultural, linguistic and social barriers to become part of another person’s life experience. My talk will focus on the process of this transmission or transaction, on live telling, as it were, which precedes and eventually becomes life writing. It will report on how the experience of hearing refugees’ stories of crisis affects students’ understanding of their own implication in contemporary crises also taking into account the ways in which public and scholarly discourse either take or eschew taking responsibility for them and the persons affected.

Ernestine Hoegen (independent scholar) Navigating Dangerous Spaces in Life Writing From Japanese WWII Internment Camps

This paper seeks to explore the spatial dimension of trauma as recounted in several diaries and memoires that have emerged from WWII Japanese internment camps. For six POWs imprisoned in Kamioka, Japan, their secret ‘crisis diaries’ (Lejeune 2009) were a relatively safe space where they recorded the pain and fear of being forced to work in a lead mine, an underground maze that was both potentially lethal and at the same time an ideal environment for trading in forbidden goods. For many, their experiences were also recorded by their mental and physical scars, the ‘imprints of the trauma on body, mind and soul’ (Van der Kolk 2014) that never left them, however far they distanced themselves geographically and timewise from the camp. Similarly, in a memoir written fifty years after the end of the war, a former sex slave writes how the daily fall of dusk, the drawing of curtains, and the act of going to bed in her house in Australia transport her back to the WWII brothel where she was imprisoned. The bedroom and the bed where the repeated rapes took place was a perilous and hated space, unless her secret protector ‘bought’ time with her, in which they temporarily turned into a safe haven. Months later, upon being returned to her former internment camp, Ambarawa 6, Java, her traumatic experiences travelled with her through the camp gates, changing a familiar area that she had longed for into unknown territory. In examining how these WWII survivors navigated the boundaries between ‘dangerous’ and ‘safe’ spaces, and how scale, distance and real and imagined divisionary lines changed the nature of these spaces, I will engage with the thesis that ‘the topography of trauma is recursive and shows no respect for borders’ (Jarvis 2008).

Cristine Sarrimo (Lund University Centre for Languages and Literature), Two Asylum-Deeking Border Crossers’ Autobiographies and Their Effects on Swedish and Norwegian Migration Agencies

Migration has become a divisive political issue in Sweden, increasingly considered to be a problem rather than a benefit to society, and in public discourses referred to as a major “crisis”. During the election campaign 2022 the idea of migration as unwelcome was further propagated, as is made clear in an agreement drawn up by the elected government on future migration policies. The new government describes these policies as a “paradigm shift”; their aim being to reduce both the number of migrants living in Sweden and migrants coming into the country as a key to integration. In this proposed presentation two asylum-seeking border crossers’ autobiographies will be discussed: Samira Motazedi’s En gång i veckan drömmer jag att jag är i Iran [Once a week I dream that I am in Iran], and Maria Amelie’s Ulovlig norsk [Illegal Norwegian]. In their autobiographies Motazedi and Amelie depict their experiences of migration policies when they were denied asylum and lived as undocumented persons in Sweden (Motazedi) and Norway (Amelie). Their autobiographical notes were translated and published in blogs and later transformed into books. A comparison will be made focusing on how two migrants in different national and transnational contexts negotiate their positions first as asylum-seekers when they interact with migration officials, and then as undocumented, and how they claim and gain recognition as writers when their life stories are made public. The mediatization of these two migrants’ life stories will be discussed as well as the effects it had on decisions made by the Swedish and Norwegian Migration agencies.

Phoebe King (University of Queensland), The Anxiety of Reception: Reading 'No Friend but the Mountains' in Europe

This paper explores how the paratexts that travel with Behrouz Boochani’s 'No Friend but the Mountains' (2018) have transformed as the autobiographical novel moves into new regions and translations. I will turn to two European editions of 'No Friend' to analyse the paratextual apparatus used to frame these texts to explore how this work, which is both intensely local and inherently transnational, brings the Pacific prison to the shores of Europe to speak to the larger context in which, as geographer Alison Mountz reflects, “asylum itself is in crisis” [1]. Behrouz Boochani’s 'No Friend' is an innovative and complex life narrative that made a startling intervention in the Australian literary field upon its release and continues to evoke and challenge readers. Composed via a smuggled smartphone from what Boochani calls Manus Prison, 'No Friend' is a unique and hybrid narrative that emerged from this island black site to challenge Australian readers and counter the terms of his imprisonment under the Regional Resettlement Plan and Operation Sovereign Borders. These legislative manoeuvrers consigned all asylum seekers arriving in Australia via boat to indefinite detention on the Pacific islands of Manus and Nauru. These also mark a key moment in Alison Mountz’s genealogy of externalisation practices that have led to what she deems the “death of asylum” [2]. Driven by an urge to create a new language and cultivate resistant knowledges to contest prevailing discourses about refugeehood and immigration, the paratexts to 'No Friend' proved invaluable to engaging Australian readers as Boochani’s original addressees and continue to prove influential in enhancing and guiding readings of this narrative.

Chair: Agnieszka Graff (University of Warsaw)

Li Shan Chan (University of Hawai'i at Manoa), Listening is the Antidote

For a year I taught life writing to 50+ undergraduates at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh. My students were young women with challenging backgrounds, whether as Bangladeshi garment factory workers or refugees from Afghanistan and Myanmar. Some faced personal crises, becoming factory workers to support their loved ones in the aftermath of illness in the family. Others were survivors of crises that emerged from the Taliban’s arrival in their villages, or violence on their families by military forces that forced them to flee their homes and settle into refugee camps. As a life writing teacher, I hoped to provide my students with a platform to share their stories and to find their voices. What motivated these young women to dream big, and to keep going? I wanted to help amplify the unrepresented voices of my students, but I was afraid to be exploiting vulnerable others, or doing something merely because I could, because I wanted to. I had plans to write a book, but was haunted by the thought that my students were telling me their stories because of our unequal teacher-student relationship. I worried about being a writer parachuting in to write about my girls, taking their stories and then leaving the country. In this presentation, I’ll speak about these issues and ways in which my thinking has developed and evolved since, through my studies in postcolonial theory and life writing. Using memoir and critical essay as research method, I will share about my students' work and what has come through from my process of listening to them and their stories, and learning from them. As David Mura wrote in an essay on race, on what persons from privileged backgrounds should do more of—listening is the antidote, and listening is part of the art of conversation.

Petra Teunissen (Leiden University), Life Writing for the Elderly with Volunteers

One of the crises most people experience, is old age. The last stage of life often comes with loss of loved ones, loneliness and above all: lack of meaningful living. The Dutch government funded in 2019-2023 the program ‘Growing Old Together’, to stimulate volunteers to help elderly people cope with these problems. One of the projects was ‘sharing life stories’. Telling your life story to an attentive listener is already very satisfying and gives meaning. Writing down their autobiography helped the elderly even more to get a grip on their past, review the road they have taken and look towards the future with more confidence. Not every senior has the skills and talents to write, so we also worked with voluntary 'journalists'. They visited the elderly at least six times and helped them, using very specific questions on illustrated cards, to reclaim memories. They recorded the stories and wrote them down in a coherent narrative. They made lovely books, illustrated with personal photos of the elderly. The elderly liked to share their 'testament' with (grand)children or other loved ones. When writing a complete book was too ambitious, for example for very young (high school) volunteers, they processed the memories of elderly in artful works. All seniors who had their personal memories recorded experienced a greater sense of self-esteem. In all meetings, volunteers and elderly became close and there was more mutual understanding between the generations. “Memories are like loose grains of sand, the book of my life allowed me to walk on a beach.”

Elsa Lechner (Center for Social Studies-University of Coimbra), On-line Biographical Workshops in Times of Confinement: Recording and Sharing Life in a Worldwide Crisis

This paper focuses on biographical workshops conducted online during the Covid-19 forced confinements. It will present the mode, protocol, and process of these virtual narrative encounters where people from different countries and continents have shared written accounts about their personal experiences of the pandemic. These workshops were offered in Portuguese language and have gathered volunteer participants in Angola, Brazil, Portugal, Uk, Germany, willing to write and tell about their perceptions, feelings, and confined life, in a group. Apart from the formal aspects of such collective virtual experiment, the analysis of the narrative contents and group resonances offered by the participants, enables a deeper understanding and examination of the human need for life-writing and socialization of experiences. Also, it brings the opportunity to make a diagnosis on how the pandemic crisis has shaped the stories people told about their experience; on why it was meaningful for the participants to share their life experiences in a media platform; and in which way the life narrative groups created by the Biographical Workshops have contributed positively to the participants’ lives. The autobiographical narratives produced for the first workshop (out of four) have specifically focused on the way each participant has lived the outbreak of the pandemic and its confinements. However, participants have asked to continue the meetings as a way to keep writing and sharing about subsequent topics: confidence, fear and freedom. It was the dynamic process of the workshop in itself - with its systemic and synchronic effects-, that has indicated the sub-topics of the succeeding workshops. At the end, all participants have also written a final reflection about their participation in the biographical workshops, which allow us (with their due authorization) to identify the different dimensions and aspects of this experience of life-writing and narrative exchange online in a time of crisis.

Betty O’Neill (University of Technology, Sydney), Letters from Exile

When my Roman Catholic Polish father, Antoni Jagielski, decided to join the Armia Kraków resistance in 1939, he had no way of knowing that he would be arrested by the Gestapo two years later, incarcerated as a political prisoner in Auschwitz and Gusen concentration camps for almost four years and then exiled in Cold War England and Australia, unable to return to what became communist Poland for thirty-three years. This decision would see him homeless, unsettled, and separated from his surviving first wife and daughter in Poland. The abandonment of my mother and I, his second family, in Australia would be the catalyst for intergenerational homelessness. This presentation draws on letters and cards sent from England and Australia to my father’s Polish wife and daughter. They are a see-saw of optimism and devastation but always underpinned by a longing for his Polish home. Antoni was without any fixed abode for almost twenty years in Australia and his letters show the impact of a life lived in exile, a life fractured and tortured by war, trauma and separation and his inability to form close personal relationships. I met my father for the first time when I was nineteen, after a childhood of homelessness and foster families, just before he finally returned to his Polish family in Lublin. It was many years later that my curiosity to understand my father’s decisions led me to Poland and the unexpected inheritance of the cache of letters, cards and documents that helped me understand the context and circumstances of a life lived through times of crisis.

Chair: Julia Dallaway (University of Oxford)

Jacek Kubera (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań), The City of Poznań as Experienced by its Inhabitants in Four Epochs

Competitions for the memoirs of inhabitants of particular cities are an integral element of the Polish tradition of biographical studies. The first such competition, entitled “What did the city of Poznań mean and what does it mean to you?” was organized by Florian Znaniecki’s Polish Sociological Institute in 1928. Following this initiative, other research teams announced similar projects, e.g. in Warsaw, Cracow, Lublin, Wrocław, and Kielce. In Poznań itself, the competition was repeated three times. Thanks to this, we have access to the personal documents of Poznań inhabitants created in four epochs marked by various crises: ten years after the changes caused by the end of the IWW (competition from 1928), in the time of socialism and reconstruction after the IIWW (1964), political and economic transformation (1994) and in the era of accelerated globalization and in the year of pandemic (2021). The paper will present the results of a comparative analysis of these statements’ sample collected in the Archives of the Faculty of Sociology at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań. First, the content of these documents will be discussed. Has the identity of Poznań inhabitants changed over almost a hundred years? How was people’s own experience of their city described? What was the role of experienced crises in these descriptions? Secondly, methodological issues will be touched upon. What are the methodological challenges of analyzing autobiographical statements written in a different version of the language and historical contexts? The paper is the result of research activity Reg. No: 2022/06/X/HS6/00538 financed by the National Science Centre, Poland.

Gabriele Linke (University of Rostock), Uses of Life Narratives in the Memorialization of Vietnamese Contract Workers' Lives in the GDR/Germany

In 1980, the government of the GDR signed a contract with Vietnam that would, within the decade, bring around 60,000 young Vietnamese to the GDR to receive industrial training and to boost the GDR workforce. Due to the German unification with a state treaty, the Vietnam-GDR contract lost its validity overnight so that a phase of great uncertainty set in for the contract workers. When East German factories closed down, they lost not only their jobs but also their right to stay for the period granted in the contract. Many went back when they were pressed to do so, but others (estimated 16,000) decided to stay on and fought their way into post-unification Germany. In the course of time, various projects remembering the lives of the Vietnamese workers have been carried out from different perspectives, but what many publications and digital materials have in common is the use of autobiographical material. The creators of the Heinrich Böll Foundation's online dossier "From Vietnam to the GDR: 40 Years after the Agreement on Contract Labour" combined texts with audio and video material, and interviews with both Vietnamese and German eyewitnesses in particular. Not only the difficult life of the contract workers but also the legal void and the hardship the Vietnamese faced after unification form a recurring theme in the dossier. With the help of this on-line dossier, I will problematize the use of life narratives in memorialization and attempt to illustrate the ideological premises and cultural frames that are at work alongside the subjective truthfulness of the life narratives.

Antonina Tosiek (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań), Analogies of Crises: Diaries of Peasants from the 1930s and 1990s

This paper examines how class subjectivity was constructed and described by peasants during two economic and political crises in Poland in the 1930s and 1990s. The first peasant diary contests were held in the 1930s during the Great Economic Depression, while the last contests from the 20th century were dedicated to diaries about the 1990s and the effects of political transformation. Authors who submitted their diaries in the mid-1990s often compared the dramatic situation in which the rural outskirts found themselves to the descriptions from the canonical peasant diaries from 60 years earlier. Sociological studies show a parallel economic and existential situation of villagers in the 1930s and 1990s. In both cases, the rural working class was faced with the need to redefine their class and identity as the sense of their national belonging was weakened by the consequences of the crises. In my speech, I will analyze diary entries from four contests: "Peasant Diaries" (1935), "Young Generation of Peasants" (1938), "Who to Believe Now? Peasants about Themselves and Politics" (1991), and "Diaries of the New Generation of Polish Peasants" (1996). The methodological framework of my analysis will be based on classical works by researchers associated with the Society of Friends of Diaries, such as Józef Chałasiński, Antonina Kłoskowska, Bronisław Gołębiowski, and Dyzma Gałaj, as well as contemporary anthropological research by Tomasz Rakowski and Michał Bukowski, dedicated to the analysis of subjectivity and agency of subaltern groups in the context of the peasant class.

Łukasz Kożuchowski (University of Warsaw), Vision of Human Nature in Peasant’s Egodocuments in 19th Century Kingdom of Poland

The Kingdom of Poland, including its largest social group – the peasants, found itself under various crises in the last decades before the First World War. The abolition of serfdom benefitted many, while others found themselves in lamentable economic situation. This led to mass migration, which uprooted thousands from their homes and broke their family relations. Also, aggressive Russian government persecuted the locals, sometimes even in form of mass killings of those who did not want to be subjugated. The Catholic religion, which constituted one of the most important elements of both individual and group identity of the villagers, also found itself in a difficult position. This sometimes lead them to pose basic questions on themselves and their communities. During my presentation, I will answer rudimentary questions concerning how the peasants reflected on the humanity in general, e.g.: how the vast and sweeping changes affected the anthropological imagination of the villagers? What were their thoughts on the human nature? Can we spot relations between the crises mentioned above and the peasants' thoughts on their communities? To answer these questions, I will refer to those rare and precious texts which give us a splendid insight into the peasants' minds – their letters. These sole peasants’ egodocuments of the 19th century were written mostly on two occasions: between the families divided by the post-enfranchisement migration and as a form of communication with peasant-addressed newspapers, which boomed after the removal of serfdom. One of these collections was published by pioneers of the biographical method, Znaniecki and Thomas, as a part of their classic work The Polish Peasant in Europe and America”. Being unique examples of how the villagers expressed themselves individually, those letters seem to be the best sources to investigate so as to learn how the peasants generally perceived the human nature.

Chair: Joanna Piechura (University of Warsaw)

Nadine Walter (University of Rostock), Progressive Evangelical Women Writers’ Responses to the Overturn of Roe v. Wade

On Friday, June 24, 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that had made access to abortion a federal right in the United States since 1973. Overturning this decision marks a renewed crisis in women's rights, asserting once more the destructive power that conservative evangelical Christian thought can have on gender equality. Responses to the overturn of Roe have ranged from joy and excitement by so-called "pro-life" activists to outrage and desperation among women's rights activists. The Supreme Court's decision anew forces evangelical-adjacent authors to take a stand on the decision. In my presentation, I will offer an analysis of the immediate responses by three authors that are on the left-liberal fringes of the evangelical movement and that enjoy a large following: Sarah Bessey, Jen Hatmaker, and Glennon Doyle. Having made careers out of their vulnerability, the authors tread a fine line between remaining acceptable to their audiences and voicing their opinions and personal convictions. Attempting to reconcile their faith and feminism, the authors' responses show the trajectories they have been on in struggling with issues commonly debated in evangelical churches, such as sexual ethics, gender equality, LBTQIA+ rights, and abortion, with abortion remaining the most delicate issue so far.

Magdalena Ożarska (Jan Kochanowski University, Kielce), Spiritual Awakening as Crisis: Evidence from New Age Spiritual Memoirs

The so-called New Age spirituality has consistently emphasized its connections with the human body. For one thing, it has popularised the ingestion of entheogens for spiritual purposes (see Watts 1962; Leary 1964, 1968; Ram Dass 1971; Wasson 1986; Grof 2006; Greenwell 2018; et al.). Other than that, New Age spiritual narratives feature numerous accounts of dramatic embodiment of spiritual breakthroughs. It may take the forms of so-called kundalini risings, non-dual awakenings to so-called no-self or psychedelic-induced expansions in consciousness. More often than not, these breakthroughs come complete with aftereffects that may appear bizarre and disturbing not only to onlookers, but primarily to the experiencers themselves. In this presentation, I look at selected 20th- and 21st-century accounts of spiritual awakenings, which involve a subject’s major bodily and/or mental crisis. Interestingly, these are not limited to narratives authored by practitioners of traditional yogic and other Eastern spiritual paths (Krishna 1969; Tweedie 1986; Kripananda 1994; Vaughan-Lee 1997; et al.), where phenomena such as the kundalini have been known and studied for centuries. Accounts of awakening crises are also found in contemporary texts by Western authors as diverse as Eckhart Tolle (1997), Stanislav Grof (1989, 2006), Suzan Segal (1998), Mark Matousek (1996, 2017), David Carse (2005), Elizabeth Gilbert (2006), Michael Wombacher (2008) and Gail Tredwell (2013). Understandably, the life writing produced on these topics rarely, if ever, assumes the form of publishable journals as the subjects frequently find themselves unable to function in their regular environments, much less produce coherent narratives about their experience, for as long as the aftereffects are in force. This is the reason why contemporary accounts of spiritual awakenings are normally written post-factum, enabling a retrospective view, and tend to be included in spiritual memoirs.

Honorata Sroka (University of Warsaw), Franciszka Themerson’s Wartime Drawings

The word crisis in Franciszka Themerson’s art is pivotal but spoken by noiseless mouth movement. This Polish-British avant-garde creator experienced during the Second World War a loss, an emigration, an alienation, a separation and an ethical disappointment, which were fundamental aspects of her revaluation process. She frequently repeated in correspondences from 1940-42 that “the work for myself” was her strategy to dealing with the crisis. The artist created in this time a large amount of art works and personal correspondence which were made despite difficult living conditions. Nowadays we can also see that this period was a kind of announcement of completely new poetic, which was not noticeable in their art before WW II. The aim of my talk is to approximate the avant-garde artistics strategies of Themerson, which developed in direct response to the emotional and ideological crisis experienced by her in the 40s. I will present the series of Franciszka's war drawings and I will show their transitional status between the prewar and the postwar works. This will lead me to the term crisis from the point of vanguard art.

Alexandra Nagel (Allard Pierson, Amsterdam), Your Life Written in Your Hand: The Philip Meerloo Handprint Collection (1936–1942)

At the end of 1936, Philip L. Meerloo (1908–1942) settled in Amsterdam as a professional hand-reader (palmist). Over the course of six years, he “read” the hands of thousands of men and women of all ages and with a range of occupations. Part of his extensive handprint collection has survived the passage of time. Aided by the names and dates of birth written by Meerloo on many of these documents, it was possible to construct, to a degree, the lives of hundreds of his clients. The data unraveled suggests that in particular cases an individual must have sought Meerloo’s counsel in, or around, a time of crisis. Either private circumstances like a marriage break-down, the loss of a loved one, or a career issue had pressured the individual, or the stress created by the political situation had done so, i.e. the years prior to the outbreak of WWII, and the first two years of that war itself. According to the teachings of hand-reading, a hand, or a pair of hands, tells much about the owner of the hand(s). Meerloo informed his clients what he observed about their personality and character, their talents and weaknesses, and the difficulties they encountered in life. He also used to offer advice and predicted some events that he saw coming for them. This paper highlights a few cases and argues that in times of crisis people were drawn to Meerloo to get a grip on their own life.

1:30 PM - 2:30 PM LUNCH

2:30 PM - 3:30 PM CLOSING DISCUSSIONS Auditorium Hall

Paweł Rodak (IABA Warsaw 2023 Organizing Team)

Alfred Hornung (IABA Executive Team)