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New College, University of Oxford
Autobiography as Topoanalysis: the Spatial Dimensions of Life-Writing

In this talk, I explore the concept of topoanalysis – theorised most fully by the philosopher Gaston Bachelard and defined by him as ‘the systematic psychological study of the sites of our intimate lives’ – in relationship to works of C19 and C20 life-writing. Starting with John Ruskin’s autobiographical Praeterita, I suggest that artists and art theorists (including Adrian Stokes, Richard Wollheim and Michael Baxendall) have sought new, often anti-narrative, ways of representing the visual preoccupations which have structured their lives and have frequently found these though models of intimate space and charged ‘images’, at times framed through psychoanalytic perspectives. The talk then turns to the autobiographical writings of Walter Benjamin, taking up the theme of childhood perception and of memory and extending the focus to questions of life-writing, exile and place. Writers discussed include Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov and Orhan Pamuk.


Laura Marcus's research and teaching interests are predominantly in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and culture, including life-writing, modernism, Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury culture, contemporary fiction, and litereature and film. Her book publications include Auto/biographical Discourses: Theory, Criticism, Practice (1994), Virginia Woolf: Writers and their Work (1997/2004), The Tenth Muse: Writing about Cinema in the Modernist Period (2007) and, as co-editor, The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature (2004).

Her current research projects include a book on British literature 1910-1920, and a study of the concept of 'rhythm' in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, in a range of disciplinary contexts.