Considerations about the ‘right to a biography’: Saints and intellectuals in contemporary culture
Keywords:saints, biography, autobiography, semioticians, exemplarity, mechanism of stabilization, norm
Taking its cue from Juri Lotman’s essay “Pravo na biografiyu”, this paper re-formulates the categories proposed by Lotman in relation to the two models of the saint and the modern intellectual, the former exemplifying the perfect realization of the norm and the latter the rejection of the norm in the name of an individual rule. These two models are considered with reference to two case studies from contemporary culture, respectively provided by the Catholic saints and by intellectuals – especially semioticians. The argument in the former case, which also takes into consideration other fundamental essays by Lotman, shows that contemporary Catholic culture challenges the identification of sanctity with the ideal of perfect adhesion to the norm. This notion is apparently applicable only to hagiographies seen as part of a mechanism of stabilization by which the dominating religious culture tames the explosive potential of the saintly figure. In the latter case, reflection on the theoretical and autobiographical production of several authors related to the field of semiotics shows that a third model can be added to the two identified by Lotman. This third model consists in acquiring the right to biography and carrying out autobiography not in contrast with the norm, as the modern writers studied by Lotman did, nor by dissolving oneself into the norm, but rather by dissolving oneself into the Other, that is, by opening one’s mind so as to allow the Other to become an integral part of oneself. This model is exemplified by the work by Julia Kristeva, in particular Teresa, My Love (2008), in that it overcomes the distinction between biography and autobiography and describes an intellectual and a saint who become “roommates”.
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