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July 26, 2011 / Lee Skallerup Bessette

Moving Forward/Coming Full Circle

I finally finished that paper on Laferrière’s rewriting of Le goût des jeunes filles. I had, in fact, given up, but then the deadline was extended, so I plunged in and wrote over 10k words in five days. This is an essay, however, that has been almost five years in the making; I first presented on the subject in Hawaii at the 2008 International Auto/Biography Association Conference. I actually used parts of the presentation for my paper. I’ve back back to where I started as well as moving forward (having finally written and submitted it somewhere).

But there’s more to it than that. You can’t write or talk about autobiography without also talking about Philip Lejeune (whom I briefly met while at the conference in Hawaii; he was the keynote speaker, talking about the issue of translation in life writing. I had been working on the life writing (archives) of translators, so I went up to him and told him that good work was being done in Canada on this very topic. But I was so nervous and awestruck that I basically word vomited what I had to say and then ran away. Being in my first trimester with my son probably didn’t help either). Finding out that he now has written extensively about diary writing (the addition to Laferrière’s narrative takes the form of a journal) was perfectly symmetrical. There was one thing that was bothering me, and that was, how did I know about Lejeune and his “pacte autobiographique” to begin with?

It finally dawned on me that this interest in autobiography and life writing started way back in CEGEP (Quebec’s transitional two-years between high school and university) when I took a course in autobiography. My teacher, Ms. Cote, was excellent (I also took a course in detective fiction with her). It was there that I first read Lejeune and about his pact. I have absolutely no idea what I wrote about for my essay in that class (we read Maya Angelou, This Boy’s Life, and…I don’t remember). It’s actually surprising to me that I don’t remember because I remember just about every English essay I’ve ever done (seriously). I do remember wanting to take the class because I had been keeping a personal journal all throughout high school, thus was very interested in the concept of “life writing.” Imagine my surprise when I read Lejeune for my present project and he revealed that he, took, became interested in autobiography because of his own diary-keeping habits.

But the connections continued. Whose name should pop up in his comments about diary (particularly electronic life writing, aka blogging) but Régine Robin. I wrote one of my first graduate-level essays on her “autobiographical” novel La Québécoite. It was the most difficult and challenging book we had read in class, and I was completely inspired by it. And overwhelmed. I had the worst case of writer’s block trying to write the paper; I had nightmares about staring at a blank computer screen! But the paper eventually got written, and I am still pretty proud of the results (for a first-semester MA student, that is). Nonetheless, life writing has apparently been an interest of mine before I even became conscious of it.

So it does look like I’ve come full-circle while moving forward, all at once. I’m now so far from that kid who started college more than 15 years ago (!!), completely overwhelmed and unprepared. But those English classes in college helped me see that I loved literature, loved not just reading but writing about it, too. Everything (ok, not everything) has come together to create my most recent paper, and is helping to shape my (eventual) book. I think it’s kinda neat, actually. Lejeune said that we can never know, when writing a journal, when and where the end will be. Indeed, I couldn’t have guessed it would have ended here.

Not ended. But ended up.



Leave a Comment
  1. LMS / Jul 27 2011 8:55 am

    Congrats on submitting! I know you worked hard on that essay (well, I know via Twitter, hehe), so I’m glad you sent it off. I think it’s important that we remember why we write, why we work on the topics we do. It allows us to rediscover that passion that led us here–passion that we sometimes forget about amidst dissertation frustration, teaching woes, and job searching. Don’t lose sight of it!


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