en4/1/1 | Research Strands / History and Theory of Biography


Theory of Biography


Biography as life that has been lived seems immediately accessible to personal experience; in fact, nothing seems so familiar, so self-evident, as the course of one's own life. And yet, is it not like the phenomenon of time, of which St. Augustine writes in his Confessions: ‘If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not’? What is the ‘bios’, that can be ‘graphically’ reworked by the author, that can become biography, and, in so doing, becomes more than life in a purely biological sense? What, therefore - the most complex of all questions according to Immanuel Kant - is the human being?

In only a few years, the Institute has reflected upon a range of paradigmatic works of modern biography – hermeneutic, historical, socio-critical, psychoanalytic, and decidedly literary, postmodern biographies – as well as upon important aspects in the foundation of a theory of biography, the status of biographical sources, the importance of social constituencies, gender perspectives, questions of mediality, and cultural transfer through biographies. Alongside numerous one-off publications and contributions to symposia, five book publications have arisen out of this research, including two comprehensive volumes: 'Biography - Contributions to its History' and ‘Towards a Theory of Biography’.

Meanwhile, a large, systematically organized monograph on the theory of biography remains an urgent research priority. Reflection is also needed upon new, experimental and alternative forms of biographical presentation, right through to interactive, online, hypertext  biographies - things that have previously occurred in only a rudimentary fashion. As is often the case, however, practice has overtaken theory: a multimedial Ernst-Jandl DVD encompassing some three hundred interlinked documents was presented publicly in the context of the ‘Ernst Jandl Show’ exhibition (an accompanying exhibition catalogue has also been published) in the Wien Museum in November 2010.

The Institute would like to extend disciplinary horizons and position itself at the forefront of developments internationally. A specially structured database on Hugo von Hofmannsthal, produced by the Institute in cooperation with the Frankfurt Goethe Haus/Freies Deutsches Hochstift, will provide an innovative and exemplary biographical platform in the field of cultural studies. In addition to this, the multimedial opportunities of virtual museums – the Institute also plans to offer an innovative contribution here – will determine and enrich the future of biographical practice and mediation. Biographies on the move.

Contact: Wilhelm Hemecker 

Theory of Biography
Key Texts and Commentary

Theorie der Biographie. Grundlagentexte und Kom- mentar. Ed. by Bernhard Fetz and Wilhelm Hemecker. Berlin,  New York 2011 (=De Gruyter Studium).

Towards a Theory of Biography

Die Biographie - Zur Grundlegung ihrer Theorie. Ed. by Bernhard Fetz. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter 2009.

Contributions to its History

Die Biographie – Beiträge zu ihrer Geschichte. Ed. with an introduction by Wilhelm Hemecker. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter 2009.