Original Research

Outobiografie as hermeneutiek van die self: Van Rousseau tot Le Clézio

Elisabeth Snyman
Literator | Vol 36, No 1 | a1131 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v36i1.1131 | © 2015 Elisabeth Snyman | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 May 2014 | Published: 22 May 2015

About the author(s)

Elisabeth Snyman, Department of French, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa


Autobiography as hermeneutics of the self, from Rousseau to Le Clézio. This article investigates the hypothesis that autobiography can be regarded as a type of hermeneutics of the self. In order to achieve this, a selection of French autobiographical texts was analysed. As this study is a reworked version of an inaugural lecture, it presents an overview rather than a detailed analysis of the theories or the texts it refers to. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, generally regarded as a cornerstone of modern autobiography, was used as a point of departure for the interpretation of operations of understanding at work in autobiographical texts. The article demonstrates how the writers of the rest of the corpus of texts question Rousseau’s historical model in different ways according to more recent concepts of the self. Thus it is argued that George Perec replaces the historical model of understanding with an approach based on deciphering signs from the past; that Nathalie Sarraute combines the New Novel’s concept of the divided subject with that of tropismes in order to give a truthful representation of her childhood; and that Roland Barthes problematises the notion of language as a medium of expression of subjectivity in his ‘anti-outobiography’. This study furthermore demonstrates how Marguerite Yourcenar breaks with the anthropomorphism associated with humanism to pave the way for the realisation that the presence of the Other profoundly determines the understanding of the self. Finally, the ethics of dealing with the Other in intercultural encounters, as recorded in Ken Bugul and Jean-Marie Le Clézio’s autobiographies, is examined. The article shows how, from the 18th century onwards, literary and philosophical trends influenced the act of understanding and interpreting the individual existence and hence the nature of autobiography.


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