This lecture series focuses on life narratives as gendered historical or literary texts in the Near East and Eastern Mediterranean. Autobiographical writings take mul- tiple shapes and forms. In the most straightforward sense, autobiography means self-narration, the act of writing one’s life. While often done so in a diary, memoir, or letter, life narratives come in a great number of other literary forms of ex- pression that are not conventionally recognized as autobiogra- phy, including novels, poems, or even epitaphs. In studying how lived experiences are translated into written form, it has been argued by Philippe Lejeune (The Autobiographical Pact), that what is needed —and sufficient— for a text to be autobiograph- ical is the unity of author, narrator, and the character who is being talked about.
Others would argue that no such unity is possible. Instead, they question the transition from experience to individual consciousness, and individual consciousness to larger collective identities: whether there is something that binds experience to identity, identity to politics, or, at least, to a concept of subjectivity that is not fully determined in and by a gendered discourse. In other words, how are gendered conceptions of the self being shaped through the discourses of self-narration or self-disclosure, and to what extent does autobiographical writing itself become in- formed by a gendered discourse? How do these debates play themselves out in the context of the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean over different historical periods?
On a more basic level, we are confronted with the challenge of making life narratives written by women visible and an integral part of the academic discourse: The canonical tradition in autobiographical research and history writing has privileged a male- and Western viewpoint. Furthermore, personal accounts in general have only recently become more widely accepted as “legitimate” sources for the study of history, with the life narratives of women having received even less attention, let alone those of (non-Western) women of diverse cultural, socio-religious, and linguistic backgrounds.
The speakers of this lecture series presented their research on autobiographical texts of the wider Near Eastern region from different historical periods and from their respective areas of expertise by exploring how these two concepts – gender and the self – interact with each other in the creation of life narratives. The contributions to this lecture series and the resultant discussions aim to offer insights into the myriad of lived experiences in Near Eastern literature.