Self-reflection is fundamental for human thinking on many levels. Philosophy has described the mind's capacity to observe itself as a core element of human existence. Political and social sciences have shown how modern democracies depend on society's ability to critically reflect on their own values and practices. And literature of all ages has proven self-reflexivity to be a crucial trait of cultural production.
This volume provides the first diachronic panorama of genres, forms, and functions of literary self-reflection and their connections with social, political and philosophical discourses from the 17th century to the present. Far beyond the usual focus on postmodernist opacity, these contributions present a rich tradition of critical transparency: Literary texts that show us what is behind and beyond them.
A remarkable number of contemporary autobiographies are characterized by an intense self-awareness regarding the process of their own artistic production. They foreground processes of selection and narrativization and highlight the cultural patterns and ideologies that shape the discourses of life writing. Self-reflexivity in autobiography is not a new phenomenon, but goes back to well-known examples like Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759–1767) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Dichtung und Wahrheit (1811). However, as this chapter shows, the self-reflexive and critical analysis of autobiography’s generic conventions has advanced as a central topic in quite a large amount of recently published life narratives. Memoirs and autobiographies that include a commentary on their own narrative procedures and interpretive acts force the reader to realize that all narrative (including the supposedly referential or historical genres) is a construct. Life narratives that re-negotiate and scrutinize the usually tacit but extremely influential generic conventions of the supposedly factual genre of autobiography become a means to illuminate the epistemological, the mnemonic, and the ethical issues at stake in the act of writing a life.
This introductory contribution reflects on common basic structures of forms of autoreferentiality and autoreflexivity, as well as on their philosophical foundations and the etymological roots of the terms. It develops a framework in which such forms can be classified, and focuses on certain spatial and visual conceptions associated with them. Literary examples will be presented (Kafka, Bernhard), but it also becomes clear that autoreferential and autoreflexive structures can be found in a variety of different media. A key question will be how literary, fictional, and narrative texts make their own textual organisation transparent. The study of autoreflexivity is not limited to the observation of forms, but addresses fundamental problems of narrative theory. It does not merely represent the preoccupation of texts with themselves, but evolves around the fundamental question how stories can unfold in the first place.
The chapter deals with contemporary German auto-fiction, in which a return of an emphatic concept of authorship can be identified. Within this return, however, a particular function of authorship – namely “authority” – is questioned, if not denied entirely. The article focuses, in particular, on Jan Brandt’s Tod in Turin and the collective autobiography Futur II, co-written by the Austrian rock group Ja, Panik. These two books are both unique and exemplary in this current trend of auto-fiction: at first glance, they seem to feature a strong and emphatic authorship, but on closer inspection, they also apply an anti-authoritative authenticating strategy.
Paul Celan’s correspondence with his wife, the graphic artist Gisèle Celan-Lestrange, presents striking reformulations of Celan’s poetics and poetry. In a letter dated Geneva, September 30, 1962, Celan describes an experience of seeming coincidence that leads him to understand his own recent work as a “secret echo […] stirred up by the real.” This chapter demonstrates that this “secret echo” is closely related to the poetic experience associated with the “meridian” in Celan’s 1960 Büchner Prize speech, as well as André Breton’s concept of hasard objectif. The chapter then investigates Celan’s poetics of timelessness in his translation of Apollinaire’s “Les colchiques” and his poem, “Die Silbe Schmerz,” in addition to Celan’s fragmentary poem, “Paris, Jardin de Shakespeare”; these texts present the mythopoetical knowledge transmitted by the names of flowers. The autumn crocus marks a trajectory, in Celan’s private poetics, from constraint towards freedom in poetic inspiration.