Christine Mayerhofer

Living a Lie?

Passing and Concepts of Identity in Contemporary Novels and Life Narratives

In an increasingly competitive society, many people are afraid of exhibiting qualities that could be regarded as a blemish or weakness. In order to avoid discrimination, they keep certain aspects of their identity secret (such as their sexual orientation, ethnicity, or a physical or mental illness) – a phenomenon that sociologists call “passing”.

This book examines the representation of passing in three different types of texts: true autobiographies (in which authors report about their real-life experiences with concealment), fake memoirs (in which authors actively engage in passing by means of forging their life stories) and novels or novellas (in which authors create fictional examples for such secrecy). The study outlines recurring elements in passing narratives, addresses the psychological and socio-political functions of this genre, and discusses the question why the above distinction into fact and fake is indispensible even in “postmodern” times. Most importantly, however, the book highlights the epistemological relevance of passing in contemporary theoretical discussions. Challenging conventional notions of identity, the phenomenon asks us to rethink our current approaches and look for new ways of conceptualising who we are.


ISBN 978-3-86821-542-7, 280 S., kt., € 32,50 (2014)

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