Minakirjutusest. Tõnu Õnnepalu, Mihkel Raua ja Madis Kõivu näitel. On Self-Writing

Aare Pilv


The second part of the word autobiography – bio – means life, in this instance referring to the story or account of a person’s life. But it can also be understood in the sense of being alive, of the fact of existence. Such interpretation of the concept of autobiography examines not only the construction of a life-story, but also other textual, poetic and stylistic devices that convey a personal perception of living. Such dimension of autobiography could also be referred to as self-writing. In this article, I seek to explore the meaning of the term self-writing, if it is not exactly the same as autobiographical writing: how a text as a whole might be a representation of a particular mode of “selfhood” expressed through textual figures distinct from the telling of a ”story.” The first part of the article is discussion of the concept of narrativity in the work of some philosophers such as Peter Lamarque and John Christman. According to them, narrativity is not a necessary precondition for coherent subjectivity; on the contrary, a steady and unified subjectivity is a precondition of autobiographical narrative identity. Paul Ricoeur distinguishes between identity and ipseity: identity can be changed without selfhood being lost; there is the role or contextual identification of the self, the “story” told of the self to the others. But the concept of ipseity is about the inner perception of selfhood and is not a ”story”, but expresses an idea of differentiating between self-writing and autobiography. In principle, this is a distinction where, on the one hand, the narrative identity as sameness is created in the past and, on the other hand, there is the ipseity, which is more oriented to the present and the future. While the story gives the “self” some coherence and teleology, we can, by different textual devices, observe the “gaps” in the coherence of the “self”, the ambivalence of self-perception, and the fleeing of selfhood from the reflecting gaze, so that the text does not seem to recount the life of the “I” in retrospect, but seems to present it in the sense of living. It is not so important how these things are thematized in the text, as it is to observe what textual devices embody or represent it. This may also explain why the poetical/fictional devices have some advantage over the factual ones when it is about the self-perception of the writer, its necessity and uniqueness. The main part of the article attempts to describe and analyse some examples of self-writing, which are construed so that the identity is not based on the sameness of the role, but instead, they express the uniqueness of selfhood and a perception that is on the borderline of the present and the future. Tõnu Õnnepalu’s diaries (Anton Nigov’s Exercises and Õnnepalu’s Spring and Summer and) are discussed with regard to the motifs of the now-moment, devoid of identity; in this void a sharp perception of ipseity is most clearly felt, which is open to despair and uplift at the same time. In the light of Ricoeur’s ideas the title of Nigov’s Harjutused (Exercises) acquires a new meaning, stressing the wish to leave life as a habit (harjumus) and move towards life as an exercise (harjutus) – Ricoeur’s ipse is something that emerges as the basis of an identity and is beyond the habit that creates sameness. In Õnnepalu’s diaries we can observe the writer’s orientation to “nothing” in between the identities that are perceived as inauthentic, and by moving through the “nothing” for a moment we get a glimpse of the authenticity of ipseity. An autobiographical bestseller by Mihkel Raud, Musta pori näkku (Throwing Mud in the Face), recounting the story of the writer’s youth when he was a punk musician and an alcoholic, is textually ambivalent, as the author’s position and the subjective focus shift: there is a somewhat warning and moralistic I, who looks at his own past, but there is also a past I, who was carelessly and absolutely in love with punk lifestyle. The peculiarity of the text is that these points of view are not clearly distinguishable but are fused. However, it is precisely that which makes Raud’s book an interesting example of self-writing, as he has abandoned teleological coherence that would enable the reader to arrange in order or to oppose the author’s different identities. Consequently, an ambivalent gap has been created in which an authentic pattern of selfhood, which cannot be reduced to one-dimensional identity-narrative, is created. The six-part series of memoirs by Madis Kõiv with a title Studia memoriae differs from the ordinary memoirs because in addition to or instead of objective restoration of memories, there is a search for precise subjectivity; it is an attempt to focus on the process of recollecting. Thus Studia memoriae strive to reach a moment that brings to mind the occurrences in the past in such a way that the person who remembers them would see something new that he has not seen before – as if one or another memory has come to his mind for the first time. The focus is not on the I as the recounting identity assembled over the past, but the present I (ipse) who relates and coheres with his own past. Self-writing is usually something outside the coherent I-narrative; it is essentially in the present and in the future, as the self itself is sliding towards an unknown future, towards something which is “not yet the self,” towards something that is nothing in relation to the self, nor reducible to clear-cut ready-made identities. Such “not-yet-self”-being is one of the essential states of being oneself and being alive. What I mean by self-writing is the flash of the patterns which cannot be reduced to identities based on sameness, the gap that points to the unique in self perception or a puzzle in the texture of the self-account.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7592/methis.v4i5-6.523


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