THREE THEORISTS OF BIOGRAPHY: VINOKUR, LOTMAN, AND DUBIN

S. N. Zenkin

Abstract


The article compares theoretical works written at different times by three Russian scholars and focusing on the problem of biography as experience and text: Biography and Culture by Grigory Vinokur, "Literary Biography in Historical and Cultural Context" by Yuri Lotman and "Biography, Reputation, Questionnaire" by Boris Dubin. Biography, that is, the narrative textualization of an one’s life, presupposes a three-phase process: first, one lives his or her life in a special way, then society evaluates, “reads” this life as a coherent plot, and finally later (or modern) historians tell this life in a narrative form. Grigory Vinokur, later a well-known linguist, in 1927 published a small monograph Biography and Culture, where the problem indicated in the title is posed not in philological, but in philosophical terms, based on the recent phenomenological philosophy (Vinokur refers to Edmund Husserl and especially to Gustav Shpet, with whom he worked closely in those years). From an objective description of events, the author transfers attention to the personal experience lived out by the hero. Yuri Lotman in his article "Literary Biography in a Historical and Cultural Context" (1986) studies not the phenomenological, but the cultural and semiotic aspect of biography - the conditions under which someone's life, and especially creative life in literature, can become a subject of public attention and a story in which a writer becomes a "writer with a biography." Boris Dubin's article "Biography, Reputation, Questionnaire" (1995) notes the possibility of non-biographical forms of cultural integration of individual life experience: questionnaires (cf. Lotman's "track record") and reputation (generalized image of a given person). In such forms, one’s life is interpreted from the outside, from the point of view of administrative authorities or public opinion, and cannot unfold into a narrative. Dubin singles out some objective social factors that allow people to oppose themselves to the dominant social structures: unofficial, dissident communities, various types of ludic behavior that deny accepted norms in the very act of playing with them. The comparison of the three authors tends to show a continuity of ideas, and at the same time a methodological difference in their approaches, due to the disciplinary affiliation of the three scholars (respectively philosophical phenomenology, semiotics of culture, sociology of culture).


Keywords


biography; theory; Vinokur; Lotman; Dubin

References


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