Call for paper - 15 - February 2015 - The Risks of Metatextuality

The Risks of Metatextuality
On the Forms and Processes of Authorial Commentary

Special issue edited by Karin Schwerdtner (University of Western Ontario) & Geneviève de Viveiros (University of Western Ontario)
Interférences littéraires / Literaire interferenties, 15, February 2015

Writers who reflect on their oeuvre and careers face the challenge of representing themselves and their work in a coherent, or even singular, way. As is evidenced by the auto-commentaries of Nabokov and Borges, for example, writers’ considerations of their own work tend to reflect multiple interests and concerns. At the same time, such commentaries also entail several risks, whether of a literary, ethical, and/or legal nature: the risk of self-contradiction, the risk of dominant self-interpretations, the risk of self-exposure, and the risk of confronting or negating earlier opinions.
Popular and scholarly interest in authorial perspectives and commentary has been reinforced by writers’ appearances in the mass media as well as by the publication of letters, manuscripts, and other papers. This has required writers to manage their image as authors (Amossy 2009), and some have sought to control the reception of certain aspects of their work. Certain paratexts inevitably become public through prefaces, interviews, public talks and conferences. Yet what is the risk involved in revealing other possible sources of inspiration for an author’s literary production (such as personal letters, conversations and diary entries) that were not necessarily destined to be made public? (Consider, for example, how Rimbaud might react to the inclusion, in his published Oeuvres, of a certain now well-known letter.)
The preface or afterword to a piece of writing can be an especially revealing – or devious – form of commentary in that it allows an author to direct the reader’s attention. Thus, a preface may comment on (and legitimate) the work to be read by prefiguring its aesthetics, by pre-empting potential criticism , by revealing the circumstances of its conception, or by positioning it within a given field. Those authors who engage in such practice, in their own name, face greater risks than those preferring to formulate a preface or an afterword in the voice of a fictional character.
Similar dangers face writers who give interviews or public lectures in which they develop their thoughts on their own work. As Louis Marin (1997) notes, the danger of this genre is that an author’s public commentary might become a substitute for his or her published oeuvre. Further, the interview as a relatively new genre in literary history (Bawer 1988), produces a particular sort of interactional work that is quite different from the slow, solitary, and controlled literary production for which writers have traditionally been known.
Critics have also identified the ambivalent power of an author’s correspondence and have underlined the risks inherent in this authorial “reflection through letters” (Melançon 1998), especially in terms of communicative dysfunction: a letter may be received too late or read by someone else than the addressee; it may be misunderstood or may cause confusion. Writers’ letters face further perils, not least the fact that they may eventually be published, whether posthumously or not. Aware of this danger, Kafka stowed his unsent Letter to his father away in a drawer, while Yourcenar preferred to burn her own archived letters and showed concern for fate of the many letters sent to her “amis et quelques autres”.
The writer’s personal journal is an especially intimate form of authorial commentary that poses particular risks, most notably in how it may bring to light the sort of “psychological and moral dangers” (Sergier & Vanderlinden 2012, 9) likely to be elided in prefaces or other published statements. As Felicity Nussbaum argues, the “unauthorized discourse in diary holds the power to disrupt authorized versions of experience” (1988:136) and perhaps, even, to highlight the authoritative nature of public constructs of reality. When published, a journal may also alter readers’ perceptions of the author who is likely to, “present herself in a fragile, hesitant, unglorified state”, as Ernaux puts it (Schwerdtner 2013, 764.)
All of these risks may help to explain why certain authors prefer not to give interviews or to comment on their work and why others refuse to publish (and sometimes even destroy) their personal writings. On the other hand, they also explain why many readers and critics are at once so interested in and cautious about these forms of autocommentary.
This issue of Interférences littéraires / Literaire interferenties aims to explore all of the questions hinted at in the foregoing descriptions: What risks are involved for authors who produce or leave traces of their reflections on their oeuvre and lives? What sorts of critique may they evoke?  What are the risks of specific paratextual genres, and how do authors acknowledge, anticipate and confront these particular risks? More broadly, how do these authors – as well as their editors, readers, and critics – conceive of or confront these risks? What uses do readers and critics make of authors’ comments on their writing(s) and what problems might arise when using paratexts to accompany and help explain a particular oeuvre?
This special issue hopes to amass different critical perspectives on the risks of metatextual commentary as it has developed from the the end of the 19th century to the present – an era characterized by considerable public interest in the private lives and intimate writings of authors. Particular attention will be paid to how risks are perceived and assessed in relation to metatextuality and how these risks are managed and mediated.

    Brief article abstracts of approximately 300 words, together with a short biographical note (name, affiliation and research areas), should be emailed to both Karin Schwerdtner  (kschwerd [at] uwo [dot] ca) and David Martens (david [dot] martens [at] arts [dot] kuleuven [dot] be) by April 15, 2014. Proposals may be written in German, English, Spanish, French, Italian or Dutch.  After the selection process is completed (by the end of May 2014), the editors will invite authors to electronically submit (email) completed articles (by September 1, 2014). These articles will be rigorously peer reviewed. The issue will be published in February 2015.

Selected bibliography

Amossy, Ruth, “La double nature de l’image d’auteur”, in Argumentation et analyse du discours, 3, 2009. [Online], URL :
Arkin, Stephen, “Composing the Self: The Literary Interview as Form”, in International Journal of Oral History, 4, 1983, 12-18.
Bawer, Bruce, “Talk Show. The Rise of the Literary Interview”, in The American Scholar, 57, 3, Summer 1988, 421-429.
Braud, Michel, La Forme des jours. Pour une poétique du journal personnel, Paris, Seuil, 2006.
Calle-Gruber, Mireille & Zawisza, Elzbieta (eds.), Paratextes: études aux bords du texte, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2000.
Genette, Gérard, Seuils, Paris, Seuil, 1987.
Lane, Philippe, La Périphérie du texte, Paris, Nathan, 1992.
Lavergne, Gérard (ed.), “Le paratexte”, dans Narratologie, 1, 1998.
Lejeune, Philippe, Je est un autre: L’autobiographie de la littérature aux médias, Paris, Seuil, 1980.
Lejeune, Philippe & Bogaert, Catherine, Un journal à soi. Histoire d’une pratique, Paris, Éditions Textuel, 2003.
Leriche, Françoise & Pagès, Alain (ed.), Genèse et correspondances, Paris, Éditions des archives contemporaines, 2012.
Maingueneau, Dominique, Le Discours littéraire. Paratopie et scène d’énonciation, Paris, Armand Colin, 2004.
Marin, Louis, De l’entretien, Paris, Minuit, 1997.
Martinson, Deborah, In the Presence of Audience: The Self in Diaries and Fiction, Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 2003.
Melançon, Benoît (ed.), Penser par lettre, Montréal, Fides, 1998.
Nussbaum, Felicity A., “Toward Conceptualizing Diary”, in James Olney (ed.), Studies in Autobiography, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988, 128-140.
Pagès, Jean-Luc, “L’autocritique en littérature”, in Mounir Laouyen (ed.), Perceptions et réalisations du moi: études, Clermont-Ferrand, Presses Universitaires Blaise Pascal, 2000, 155-187.
Rodden, John, Performing the Literary Interview: How Writer’s Craft their Public Selves, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2001.
Schwerdtner, Karin, “Le dur désir d’écrire : entretien avec Annie Ernaux », in The French Review, 86, 4, 758-771.
Sergier, Matthieu & Vanderlinden, Sonja (eds.), “Le journal d’écrivain. Les libertés génériques d’une pratique d’écriture”, in Interférences littéraires/Literaire interferenties, 9, November 2012. [Online], URL :
Sergier, Matthieu & Watthee-Delmotte, Myriam (eds.), “Le journal d’écrivain. Un énoncé de la survivance”, in Interférences littéraires/Literaire interferenties, 10, May 2013. [Online], URL :
Simonet-Tenant, Françoise & Viollet, Catherine (eds.), “Journaux personnels”, in Genesis, 32, 2011.

Weiss, Jason, Writing at Risk: Interviews in Paris with Uncommon Writers, Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 1991.
Wilbers, Usha, “The Writer Resurrected. The Paris Review’s Answer to the Age of Criticism”, in American Periodicals, 18, 2008, 192-212.
Yanoshevsky, Galia, “La co-construction de l’image d’auteur : le cas de l’entretien littéraire”, in Proceedings of the 3rd. International Symposium on Discourse Analysis, Belo Horizonte, Federal University of Minas Gerais, 2011, 269-287.
Id., “Sans prétexte, le paratexte : la dimension argumentative du discours et l’entretien littéraire”, in Nadine Kuperty-Tzur (ed.), Mélanges offerts à Ruth Amossy, Leuven, Peeters, 2012, 33-52.

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