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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 III Writing for Others? Relational Identity and the Textual Encounter

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← 118 | 119 →

PART III

Writing for Others? Relational Identity and the Textual Encounter

When you live in a world which chooses not to speak about you, you need artists, films, and books. If my work has been able to get through to people living in solitude and, I won’t say ‘helped them’ – that would be over-proud – but, at least shone a bit of light into their lives, then I have to keep going. One writes for other people too.1

In an interview with the French literary magazine Transfuge in April 2010 Bouraoui was questioned about her decision to represent her sexuality in her work. Asked whether she felt compelled to help counter the cultural invisibility of female homosexuality, she replied affirmatively, that films, books and works of art were highly important for those in minority identity positions, and that if her writing could have a positive influence for isolated gay readers then she felt compelled, in part, to write for them. At the same time, in other interviews Bouraoui has sought to distance herself from the gay rights movement, stating ‘I’ve never wanted to be a flag-bearer’ and publicly coming out against the campaign for gay marriage in 2004.2 Far from being a gay activist writer, Bouraoui commonly represents her sexuality in a manner usually adverse to conventional understandings of identity politics; Bouraoui’s narrators often reject the labels of the LGBT movement, and sometimes openly refuse a self-representation which would ← 119 | 120...

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