Skip to main content



Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-08-31

Autobiography is part of our everyday life: writing and enunciating our self has become such a common practice that we no longer notice.. We watch TV talk shows where people tell their painful life stories, we expose our daily life through posts and pictures on Facebook and other social media and we write and rewrite our curriculum vitae to be up to date on changes in the labour market. Telling the self blends together entertainment, new ways of communication, organisational duties, and so on. This research project offers a different perspective on the contemporary autobiographical culture we live in. It goes back to our recent past to consider the political use of autobiographical practices in the 20th century. It does not focus on the traditional political autobiographies such as memories of great leaders, important statesmen or heralds of revolution and social change. Rather, it takes into account the mass widespread mass political use of the autobiographical form as a tool of self-transformation for communist party members and second-wave feminist militants in Italy after the Second World War. Italian communism inherited the autobiographical duty for militants from Bolsheviks in the 1940s while second-wave feminism discovered the importance of self-enunciation through the experience of consciousness raising groups in 1970s.
My work takes into account these two political movements as case studies to examine how autobiography works as a political means of self-transformation and emancipation. How did communists use the autobiographical practice? How did feminists employ this practice? Was there a common autobiographical mechanism both communism and feminism were exploiting to their political aims? What is the difference between communist and feminist self-enunciation?
My research project has attempted to answer these questions in order to shed a new light on differences and similarities between old and new left cultures in the 20th century by using autobiography as an innovative way to interpret them. Moreover, the study of these two autobiographical culture focussed on self-enunciation as a way to emancipate individuals – working class members and women – will help us to have a better understanding of the culture we live in with its emphasis on the self and its right to tell and express itself.
My investigation is rooted in the European past to comprehend the present – or at least some facets of it – of European culture, by focusing on a transnational phenomenon such as autobiography as a means to build our present political and social identity.
In order to achieve my research purposes, I have visited several Italian archives in Bologna, Rome and Sesto san Giovanni (Milan) where autobiographies of members of the Italian Communist Party are stored to collect this inestimable and neglected documentation. In parallel, I have also repeatedly visited the archive of the Fondazione Badaracco (located in Milan) to retrieve feminist personal documents. These documents reveal the extraordinary importance of dreaming for Italian second-wave feminists, not only as a means of discovering themselves, but also as a strategy for disrupting male linguistic power. Feminist dreams have represented an element a thread of utmost importance to my understanding of the political use of the autobiography. An extraordinary inventory of these dreams is available on the website of my research project.
My research activity has been strictly coupled with sustained activities disseminate my findings. My commitment has not only been towards academy and scholars, but towards the general public as well. To this aim, I have organized two autobiographical readings of political autobiographical materials in London (UK) and in Genoa (Italy) with the assistance of actors and theatre practitioners. I have also met more than a hundred final year students of the Liceo Giandomenico Cassini (Genoa), one of the best Italian grammar schools, to present my research and its results.
The initial idea of the research programme was original and promising: using autobiography not only as an object of investigation, but also as a methodological means to look at the left wing culture in the second half of the 20th century from a different perspective – beyond the usual dichotomies of party vs movement, working class vs middle class, need vs desire, and so on. Starting from this perspective, my work goes beyond the current state of the art in at least two essential ways.
First, it establishes a unitary interpretive frame both for communist and feminist self-enunciation. The latter is represented by the concept of paradoxical autobiographical injunction which combines the idea of paradoxical injunction as developed in the field of the pragmatics of communication with the definition of autobiography, according to which the autobiographical form is characterised by the identity between author, narrator and character. Communist and feminist autobiography are considered not only as documents or literary texts. Rather, they are regarded as discursive mechanisms through which militants attempt to change themselves in order to create their new political self. However, this work on the self is endless: the autobiographical injunction is paradoxical, for it is a command that is impossible to fulfil. Becoming a real communist or feminist is thus impossible, but this impossibility has a performative value, making those identities possible. This conclusion also serves to broaden the idea of political performativity as developed in the works of Judith Butler and Ernesto Laclau.
Second, the concept of autobiographical paradoxical injunction is also vital o a better understanding of the well-known feminist claim that “the personal is political”. This claim is not only a political stance; it also produces specific textual strategies that identify different ways of constructing the feminist political self to challenge male discursive power. To this aim, Italian second-wave feminists have adopted three separate strategies in their autobiographical accounts: they used a schizophrenic discourse together with paranoid and catatonic self-writing, and in so doing, they trespassed the traditional boundaries of autobiography in search of a new female and human identity.
In conclusion, my research impinges on important facets of European civilisation. It not only reconsiders a recent part of its history from a different perspective, but also focus on one specific element, the forging of individual identity, which is quintessential to the constitution of the collective cultural identity. The latter is a crucial issue in order for European people to have a long and peaceful cohabitation on the continent.
Politicallifewriting Homepage Image