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Nina Bouraoui, Autofiction and the Search for Selfhood

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Rosie MacLachlan

The motif of the ‘identity quest’ features strongly in much contemporary French women’s writing, but nowhere more so than in the work of Nina Bouraoui. Author of numerous books since 1991 and winner of the 2005 Prix Renaudot, Bouraoui persistently explores the question of self-expression in her work, experimenting with a variety of self-representational modes and emphasising the importance of language to the construction of her sense of self.

Considering the textual identities produced through Bouraoui’s work in the period 1999–2011, this book examines how self-referential writing can represent a crucial act of resistance to a number of contemporary problems, including race, gender and social isolation. Using the work of Monique Wittig and Judith Butler to theorise the transformative potential of the literary text, the author proposes autofiction as a uniquely unrestricted space, which for writers such as Bouraoui may provide the only medium through which to formulate a coherent and manageable sense of self.

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Part I Acts of Resistance: Rewriting Gender and Sexuality

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PART 1

Acts of Resistance: Rewriting Gender and Sexuality

‘Homosexuality’, it’s just a word. When I dared to write it for the first time I said to myself, ‘Wow! What an incredible victory!’ But language imprisons us […]. With regard to my last book, people spoke about ‘coming out’. Not at all! I’m not interested in provoking people. I’m my own sort of activist, I write. Writing, it’s an act of resistance.1

In 2004 Bouraoui was interviewed by Dominique Simonnet of L’Express, to mark the publication of Poupée bella, an autofictional diary telling of the writer’s young adult years in Paris, and her exploration of her sexuality in the city’s gay quarter. Poupée bella marks the first occasion in Bouraoui’s oeuvre where she makes explicit her own homosexuality, and Simonnet’s questions about the text focus on the writer’s understanding of her sexual orientation and her decision to make it public. Simonnet asks, for example, if Bouraoui’s sexuality has been a source of pain in her life, to which she responds that it is not her sexuality which causes her to suffer, but the attitudes of those around her, who seek to exclude her from their world. While describing herself as gay may once have felt empowering for Bouraoui, terms like this have come to feel imprisoning, and Bouraoui’s work rarely dwells in such definitions. Instead, she suggests, writing provides a means to break out of imprisoning language, and...

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