Splitting a Life Wide Open: Poetic Auto/Biography and Life Narratives

By Aisha Ravindran.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

My paper focuses on a biography in poetic form of the German artist Käthe Kollwitz by the American poet Muriel Rukeyser, and the prose biography of Kollwitz by Martha Stearns, to evaluate the effective premises of “intralingual” and “intersemiotic” translations (in the same language but of different genres) on research and pedagogical outcomes. A significant component of qualitative research enquiry involves the narration, recording, and recounting of narrative life stories. Interpretive roles of subject/narrator and author/narrator, and the selection of content and focal emphases are circumscribed by the historical location of the narrator(s), and the interchangeability of the factual/fictional spaces in the narrative discourse that impact meaning. The entry of the virtual/actual reader who receives the life story as an intertextual construction of mnemonics, reflection and selection further expands its interpretative borders, especially through its transnational and historical travel. But a deeper problematization of the textual meaning incurs when the content is translated intralingually and intersemiotically so that the fictive/factive fissures that mark the discourse imbricate meaning. Rukeyser’s poem “Kathe Kollwitz” is an ekphrasis that interweaves artefact and memoir to weave different strands of life, art and self-reflection in the linguistic construction of the auto/biographical subject. Drawing on Roman Jakobson’s theory of intersemiotic translation and its hermeneutic significance (1959/2008), and contemporary literature on life narratives, I examine the transgressive validity and epistemological diffraction that such a textual transmutation foregrounds. Every transgression from the normative is either based on a model, or offers one up to support theoretical bases. Considering issues related to the use of life histories/stories in research in the humanities, and specifically the use of the poetic genre, I wish to evaluate the effectiveness of this model as a narrative paradigm.

Keywords: Intersemiotic Translation, Kathe Kollwitz, Life Stories, Auto/Biography, Muriel Rukeyser

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 9, pp.49-62. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 618.605KB).

Dr. Aisha Ravindran

Associate Professor, Faculty, American University of Ras Al Khaimah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates

Aisha Ravindran is an Associate Professor at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, in the United Arab Emirates. Her doctoral work was in American poetry and she was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests are in the areas of poetry, curriculum development, pedagogical innovation, and transnational education.

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