Auto-Bio-Phagies — a blind alley for those who want to revisit the historical subject

For someone like myself who has spent much time writing biography and reflecting on the genre of biography, there has never been much doubt about the central role of the individual subject as a key for understanding scientific practice, including all possible aspects of contemporary biomedicine. In other words, the idea of the decentered subject of poststructuralism and postmodernism has never resonated with my experience.

Accordingly, I’m paying close attention to current signs of a return of the subject in the humanities. Here’s an example: the Department of French Studies and Modern Languages at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia is organizing a conference under the heading ‘Auto-Bio-Phagies’ 31 October–2 November (with the leading theoretician of autobiography, Philippe Lejeune, as invited speaker). What’s interesting with this meeting is that the organizers focus on how the “process of re-subjectivization” is linked to discourses of the body, particularly the metaphor of digestion:

[T]he instrumentalized body is replaced by a bodiliness which becomes the site of the revisited subject. This kind of discourse often focuses on the metaphor of digestion. On the one hand, this metaphor can be the paradigm of every “bio-graphy”, that is of a discourse which might be described in terms of an “orexis” or of an “eating well” which encourages us to “identify with the other, who is to be assimilated, interiorized, understood ideally” (Derrida, “ ‘Eating Well’, or the Calculation of the Subject”). On the other hand, this very metaphor is equally present in the writing of “auto-bio-graphy”, given that “a strong and successful man digests his experiences (his actions, including his evil actions) as he digests his meals” (Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals). This conference aims to explore the multiple facets of the disappearance and the resurgence of the subject placing special emphasis on the discourses of the body and of the self, in order to investigate what the neologism of the title, namely auto-bio-phagy, might mean.

This seems to me like a blind alley. The problem is that they continue to think the “resurgence of the subject” in linguistic terms. They apparently do not accept digestion as a physiological process outside discourse, but only as a metaphor. Not the body as a physiological process outside discourse, but only “discourses of the body”. So there is still much work to do to firmly base the understanding of the subject, including the biomedical subject, in non-discursive bodily experiences. What do you think, Adam?

For further info, see the Nietzsche News Center website.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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