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Pontalis, J. Hellman, H. Lister, L. (1992). Last and First Words. Psychoanal. Rev., 79(1):89-103.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Review, 79(1):89-103

Last and First Words

J.-B. Pontalis, M.D., Helen Hellman, Ph.D. and Louis Lister, Ph.D.

Translators' Introduction

Autobiography: Rebirth or Obituary?

Ever since Freud, fiction and biography have not been the same. In this essay, translated from a talk delivered at a conference in Aix-en-Provence under the title L'Autobiographie: VI. Rencontres psychanalytiques d'Aix-en-Provence, 1987, J.-B. Pontalis, author with Jean Laplanche of The Language of Psycho-Analysis, presented his views on the subject. From the Confessions of Saint Augustine to those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Goethe in the Enlightenment, to Michel Leiris, Elias Canetti, and Jean-Paul Sartre today, how has each age placed its stamp on the subject and object of autobiography? Is the subject producing a record of events and intentions? Is he or she trying to discover a self? Is he or she creating a space in which to place a character? To whom does the autobiographer speak, to the other? What other? Is the autobiographer speaking to him- or herself, a self unknown to the other, never before revealed, not even to the self? In a free-flowing manner, familiar to the French man of letters — for in France the psychoanalyst tends also to be a man or woman of letters — thoughts, themselves somewhat autobiographical in character, play on these questions.

“The Autobiography of My Father.” This title would seem to contradict our notion of definitions, according to which autobiography implies that narrator, author, and subject are the same. Biography, on the other hand, requires that they be different persons, different also in time and space, thus facilitating objectivity which conceals the passion of the biographer for his or her subject.

I notice this title in the window of a bookstore, and it holds my attention and troubles me.

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