I Problems; Blindness and Autobiography

Dennis Schep


The literary genre of autobiography dates back to the 18th century, when philosophy became a type of anthropology, archives and case histories strengthened the grasp of discourse over life, and modern authorship and hermeneutics led to new modes of reading and writing. Nietzsche and so-called French theory have put significant strain on this constellation in their shared critique of language, subjectivity and authorship – a critique that makes traditional autobiography all but impossible. Needless to say, this has stopped neither Nietzsche nor a number of postmodern theorists from writing their own autobiographical texts. Interestingly, blindness is a recurring figure in many of these texts; and in this article, I argue that this figure allows us to trace the generic upheaval generated by the problematization of the discursive constellation that fostered modern autobiographical writing. By means of a brief introduction into the history of optics and a close reading of Nietzsche's Ecce Homo and Cixous' 'Savoir,' I show that the malfunctioning eye is one of the figures employed to deinstitutionalize both the philosophical and the autobiographical tradition, allowing us to grasp what became of autobiography after philosophy pronounced the death of man, the subject, and the author.

This article was submitted to the European Journal of Life Writing in May 2014 and published on 16 March 2015.


Blindness; Optics; Autobiography; Nietzsche; Cixous

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5463/ejlw.4.87

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Copyright (c) 2015 Dennis Schep

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European Journal of Life Writing - ISSN 1876-8156 - is an open access initiative supported by the VU University Library.