Private encyclopedias, personal dictionaries, critical lexica: autobiographical alphabets
Authors from various cultures and language areas have composed literary self-portraits in the form of alphabetic sequences of articles, in which the articles are sometimes stylistically reminiscent of lexicon or dictionary entries, and sometimes are composed as short narratives. A pioneer of literary self-presentation in alphabetic-lexicographical form in the 20th century was Alberto Savinio, with his Nuova Enciclopedia, a “private” encyclopedia, composed around the connecting thread of personal experiences, of persons, things, and topics, in which the author indirectly paints a portrait of himself. Especially complex in its thematic and stylistic-representational aspects is Roland Barthes’ Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, which exhibits reminiscences of a “dictionnaire”, as do other texts by Barthes.
In spite (or because) of the link to a pre-existing schema of text organization, autobiographical alphabets are highly differentiated. Roughly (and for heuristic purposes) one might distinguish:
( 1 ) Alphabetic autobiographies in the strict sense: narratives from the history of the self, arranged in alphabetical order
( 2 ) Self-portraits: alphabetic article series on decisive factors and themes of the (outer and inner) life
( 3 ) The knowledge and thought of the self reflected in personal ABCs: self-portraits of the writer as a critical-reflective moment
( 4 ) Dictionary Selves: self-portraits arranged by lemmata and keywords
( 5 ) Indirect self-portraits: autofictional novel-characters in alphabetic texts
Examples of these groups will be presented, out of which key perspectives will be developed.
Response: Christian Moser (Bonn)