Beyond Endings: Past Tenses and Future Imaginaries

The Limits of Autobiographical Logic. On the Impossibility of Narrating One’s Death


  • Mathias Mayer Augsburg University



Petrarch, Augustinus, death, autobiographical logics, paradox


The practice of life writing seems to exclude the incorporation of the writer’s death. How can autobiography come to terms with this blind spot? Are there any strategies that enable the horizon or end of the writer’s life (‘bios’) to be integrated into his or her reflections thereof? How can the impulses that are given within the scope of the writer’s contemplation of her/his transience be characterized – and how are they important for ‘life writing’? This contribution examines the autobiographical works by Saint Augustine, Petrarch, and Fontane to illustrate three different models of how life writing sets out to address the different roles that death – or rather, the awareness of human finitude – plays for the genre.

Author Biography

Mathias Mayer, Augsburg University

Mathias Mayer is Chair of Modern German Literature at Augsburg University. His research interests and publications include Literature of Goethe and his time (Goethes absoluteste Freiheit des Superlativs, Heidelberg 2018), literature and ethics (Der Erste Weltkrieg und die literarische Ethik, München 2010), Austrian literature (Franz Kafkas Litotes. Logik und Rhetorik der doppelten Verneinung, München 2015; Hofmannsthal-Handbuch, co-editor, Stuttgart 2016), and the combination of music (esp. opera) and literature. Some of his essays have appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.






Beyond Endings: Past Tenses and Future Imaginaries