The Politicization of Identities: A Life-Writing Perspective

    • Presentation speakers
      • Sigrid Julia Newman, University of Cologne, Germany


    Engaging with the art and the act of life-writing can reveal hidden layers of complexity in both the formation and experience of identities. Indeed, life-writing practice with its reflective and participatory elements may perhaps take us beyond what can be achieved by more theoretically-based approaches. This paper will illustrate how life-writing can shed light on the conscious and unconscious politicization of identities with respect to Europe past and present, highlighting connections between issues of identity in relation to Central Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, Northern Ireland pre and post peace process, and the current refugee and migrant situation in Europe. While recognizing the legitimacy of multiple identities, this paper will challenge the false binaries inherent in much of the discourse related to identities and identification on a social, cultural and political level. The term identity itself has become a site of conflict, and within sites of conflict, whether they be national, cultural, social or political, it is the personal which is so often lost. Life-writing can help us not only to examine and challenge the experience and formation of identity, but can also act as a tool in the (re)formation of personal identity. I shall draw upon the work of writers such as Joseph Roth, Colm Tóibín, and Alastair Reid, examining both fiction and reportage which have been informed by experiences of loss, exile, borderlands and multiple identities. These writers have influenced my own ventures into life-writing in which similar themes are evoked in a different, contemporary political environment. The writing of identity is ultimately not only an exploration, but also an act of resistance against the loss of the nuanced to the superficial, against the loss of the personal to the political: ‘I am not only, but also.’