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Confirmation Seminars

Throughout the last few months I have found myself in the fortuitous position of being allowed to sit in on the confirmation seminars of MVA, DVA and PHD candidates in a somewhat active capacity (I was allowed to pose questions at the end of each presentation).  Apart from learning about the wide variety of research and art production, a happy side effect of being at these presentations is the injection of ideas and inspiration that often occurs.  New information triggers fresh thought processes and questions I had not yet thought to ask.  Following is an overview of these inspirations, the genesis of  divergent processes I am currently reviewing or have on the ‘to do’ list.

Janus, a two-faced god, holding two disparate views simultaneously.  This caught my attention as I have often felt equally moved by opposing views, of being burdened by the ability to see the best of all situations.  Sometimes I am envious of those who see the world in black and white.  For me it is largely shades of grey, however I am doing my best to become more informed and educated in my opinions with age.  The Wikipedia definition for Janus describes him as the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, passages, endings and time. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past.

An apt deity for the autobiographical practitioner.

I have seen from these seminars the importance of defining key terms.  I therefore need to gain the best idea of what autobiography means, as well as the concept of truth. My reading lately has focused on these term and I have found some interesting arguments being put forth.

French theoretician Phillipe Lejeune believes that there is no room for maneuvering in the narration of autobiography, that there is a pact of full disclosure we make with the reader. To give false testimony within the constraints of this pact is tantamount to grievous sin.  There are case studies where autobiographical tales have been successfully received by the public, and later found to contain fabrications. The public reaction in these cases has been disapproving to say the least, with mass refunds and even lawsuits arising. Look up James Frey and his book A Million Little Pieces for a sterling example.

Others believe it is impossible to tell a complete and unabridged version of events as they happened, because memory by its nature is imperfect. We remember the interior environment of our minds, our reactions to events, the way they shaped us and how we relate them to previous and future events.  Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson in their informative text Reading Autobiography argue that we need only concern ourselves with establishing a shared understanding with the reader. We should make our best attempts to relate our lives in a way that resonates in the language of our own truth.

I have even read an argument proposing that everything disclosed by an author may be taken as truth! The idea is that elaborations, fabrications and even complete fantasies will accurately reflect some aspect of the mind of the narrator.  There is room within my own explorations to attempt to compose a new and unique mix of philosophies; to take a pinch of Marx, a dash of Freud, and mix it in a dialectical  idealist turned metaphysical framework.  I have license to sample from a mixed platter of ideology and apply it as I feel it best serves the narrative. Of my thinking at the moment, I am inclined to choose my own definition of ‘truth’ as it pertains to the writing of autobiography and memoir within the medium of sequential art narratives.    I cannot make any statements about the genre as communicated within film, literature, prose, or any other medium, although perhaps I am at liberty to cast predictions where the elements studied are identical.

Some notes taken down in bullet point are:

  • Definitions of key terms!
  • Focus on the question
  • How does it follow on from Honours practice?
  • What is autobiography?
  • What is reflection?
  • What have I proven, what have I learned, what do I expect to come?

A later seminar provided plenty of food for thought, with the candidate basing her theoretical framework on different interpretations of the nature of memory. In particular she is interested in memory as it influences thought, and how our thought influences our future within a philosophical and psychological context.  Her ontological position seems to be mainly dialectical, she maintains that  memory is a patchwork of truth and fiction, changing throughout time. To clarify, a person’s ontology is their theory about the nature of reality. It is that mode of belief they ascribe which guides their further research.  She sites Aristotle’s theory of memory and imagination existing in a symbiotic relationship, that the two seemingly disparate concepts are in fact not separate at all.

Here are some notes:

  • The 17th Century Enlightenment introduced concepts of memory, reason and imagination in the “Figurative system of human knowledge“, an encyclopedic organisation of modern knowledge
  • P.M.H Atwater, an American writer, proposed in her book Future memory (1999) a new theory of reality. This theory describes the way in which we are able to envision the future in a way that is akin to memory, allowing people to temporarily ‘live’ a possible scenario of life in advance
  • Gilles Deleuze, lauded and frequently academically cited French philosopher, proposed a theory of time set out in Difference and Repetition which he called three synthesis of time.  According to this theory, the first synthesis is habit and imagination (the passive living present), the second synthesis is memory (the passive pure past), and the third is a synthesis of conjecture (the static future)
  • Refining a method where habitual repetition of an action leads to creative innovation
  • Anything is permissible as long as it is justified (I took this note after sitting through a wide variety of seminars and realising that the scope for investigation is infinite.  A liberating insight
  • ‘Doodling’, rough sketching as a directionless, meditative process allows new concepts and thoughts to emerge


Useful feedback included Friedrich Nietzsche’s importance of forgetting, and his concept of the Eternal return, which posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space.

All of this takes us up to week 10, which is enough on the confirmation seminars for the moment.  More to come.


If you’re still reading this, congratulations for sticking around!