The Auto / Bio / Fiction Series: Alexandre Gefen and Zoey Forbes

Welcome to the February talk in the Auto / Bio / Fiction series:

8 February 2024, 5.30pm UTC (online)

Alexandre Gefen, “Philosophies of biofiction”

Alexandre GefenA literary device for recounting a life with the resources of fiction, biographical fiction has established itself as a global genre whose history can now be told beyond the postmodern moment and mapped in forms ranging from the life of a painter to the life of a criminal.

The focus here is not so much on the poetic stakes of the genre as on the questions this frontier genre poses for literary theory and the philosophy of literature. Indissociable from modern individualism, it is at the heart of discussions on the definition of fiction and the boundaries of literature, and of important debates at the heart of contemporary philosophies of the subject.


Zoey Forbes, “‘Your Fucking Struggle?”: Karl Ove Knausgård and the limits of possessive individualism”

In this talk, I explore the use of other people’s life stories by Karl Ove Knausgård in his six volume autobiographical novel My Struggle. Its 3,600 pages recount Knausgård’s life in intimate detail, from his father’s alcoholism to his wife’s psychosis, using “names, places and events” that “were all authentic”. Objecting to these intimate disclosures, his father’s family denounced the novel as “Judas literature” in the Norwegian press and his uncle brought a legal claim against Knausgård and his publishers for defamation and breach of privacy, triggering a media furore in the Norwegian and international press.

Faced with legal proceedings over the authenticity of his story and a public debate over the ethics of his storytelling, Knausgård uses the final volume of his novel to undertake a meta-fictional reflection in which he dramatises the consequences of using other people’s stories. By situating Knausgård’s reflection within the legal framework of intangible property rights (copyright and privacy) and models of selfhood predicated upon possessive individualism, I show how notions of property shape the legal, ethical and aesthetic implications of using other people’s life stories and suggest a new interdisciplinary framework for approaching life-writing that combines legal and literary theory.


Attendance is free but booking is required to receive a link to attend. Bookings are now closed. Watch the view of the seminar:

The speakers

Alexandre Gefen, Directeur de Recherche (Full Research Professor) at the CNRS Theory and History of Modern Art and Literature Laboratory (UMR7172, THALIM, CNRS / University Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3- Ecole Normale Supérieure), is a historian of ideas and literature. He is the author of numerous articles and essays on culture, contemporary literature and literary theory. He devoted an essay to the biofiction genre in 2015: Inventer une vie. La fabrique littéraire de l’individu (Impressions Nouvelles). Latest publications: Territoires de la non-fiction, Brill, 2020. With Olivier Bessard-Banquy and Sylvie Ducas, Best-sellers. L’industrie du succès, Armand Colin, 2021. L’idée de littérature. De l’art pour l’art aux écritures d’intervention, Corti, 2021. La littérature est une affaire politique, L’Observatoire, 2022. La littérature, une infographie, CNRS éditions, 2022. Créativités artificielles, Les Presses du réel, 2023. Vivre avec ChatGPT, L’Observatoire, 2023.

Zoey Forbes completed her MA in Literary Studies: Modern Literature at Goldsmiths in 2023. In her dissertation (entitled “Other People’s Stories: the ownership of lives and texts in contemporary life-writing”) she developed an interdisciplinary “literary-legal” methodology that is equally informed by her professional experience as a practising lawyer as her literary scholarship. Zoey obtained her BA in English Literature and Language from the University of Oxford and is now a senior associate at Harbottle & Lewis LLP, where she specialises in the publishing industry. She has been named as an “Associate to Watch” for publishing law for three consecutive years by Chambers and Partners and as a “Rising Star” by Legal 500. She is the publishing expert editor for the leading practitioner text Copinger on Copyright and a member of the British Literary and Artistic Copyright Association. She most recently participated in the workshop “Literary Property in America: Claims, Creativity, Copyright” at Osnabrück University, as part of the Collaborative Research Centre 1385 “Law and Literature” programme.