The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Between Two Worlds? Discourse, Argumentation and Biographical Narrative: Apolinary Hartglass as an Example

When dealing with memoirs or autobiographical writing, we, historians, interested in the experience of people in the past, as in their subsequent reconstructions of their experiences, have to deal with two principal vectors. The first, that oscillates between the narrated personal life in the autobiographical writing and the subsequent time when the autobiographical essay was narrated. To what extent is one receiving an account of an "actual" life history and to what extend is one being presented with the autobiographer`s present construction of the past, mediated by the present, and future perspectives? Obviously, autobiographical narratives of old events refer both to the past life of the narrator and to his subsequent experience. How to structure the difference between lived and narrated life history?

The second, that oscillates between structure and individuality. How to balance between the reconstruction of individual intentionality, which is represented in the individual´s life course, and the embeddedness of the autobiographical account in social macro structures? Or, putting it in other words, how does one proceed from a given autobiographical text to "life itself"? And what is that life we try to understand?

With emphasis on methodological aspects of reconstructing narrated life stories, the proposed contribution attempts to answer some of these questions. Using the example of the published autobiography of Apolinary Hartglas, a interwar Polish Zionist leader in Poland, I will address to the complicated dialectical interrelation between both vectors: that dealing with experience, memory, narration and argumentation, and that presenting a collective experience challenged by his personal narrative. Through Hartglass case, I`ll address generally to his biography, the circumstances in which his autobiographical narration came into being, and the cultural patterns and social rules which guided his autobiographical narration. In the presentation I will focus on the distinction between his life history and his life story, and on the interplay between narration and argumentation when expressing and negotiating Jewish and Polish `self`.