I speak my true mind, but some people here then talk of rants and so on. One can't please everyone.
By the way, what's the previous poster saying about prescription drugs, or is this one of those dreary spam postings that should be quietly removed?
Last edited by lionel; 18-Feb-2011 at 11:34.
Last edited by lionel; 19-Feb-2011 at 13:03.
Do writer's messy private lives or annoying public personas have much to do with the quality of their work? I've only read The Rachel Papers and Times Arrow by Amis and found them interesting and enjoyable if not overwhelmingly so. But outside of the fact he was Kingsley's son, I knew nothing about Martin, he not being much of a celebrity in the US. I'm usually disappointed when I read about author's personal lives or see them interviewed. It seems everything I want to know is in the work.
Biographical details are indeed pertinent, my point was more to what kind of person an artist might be. As a general reader not much interested in literary theory or academic studies, I read mostly for the aesthetic pleasure a work may give me. VS Naipul seems to be a something of a shit in real life, but I loved a couple of his novels. Who knows what Shakespeare was like? I read a quote from Barbara Pym once where she responds to an interviewer eager to discover the inner Barbara that sometimes it's better not knowing.
Well, I've always been in favor of putting (auto)biographical works on the fiction sheves, but the facts about the two authors I mentioned - Nothomb and Perec - are very far from 'murky guesswork'. As are many other biographical details about other writers.
But certainly we have to very wary when reading what someone says about himself or herself - mythogenesis, for instance, is a problem. And we have to be wary about what non-too-scholarly biographers assume, as asumptions have a habit of being automatically accepted by later researchers. But biography can be very important, if statements are researched well enough and not automatically accepted - or rejected.
No, what is murky mysticism is your nonchalant assumption that in creating a character, a writer X has, of necessity, revert to his or her own individual psychological predicaments. I always said that if its in the fiction, it's in the fiction and you don't need the bio, and if its not in the fiction, it's not. I know neither Nothomb nor Perec well, so I'll give you another example from my realm. Elizabeth Bishop's work has an ongoing preoccupation with alcoholism, from hidden references http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-unbeliever/ to more explicit ones http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-prodigal/ . There's also a connection in her work to poetry of breakdowns and devastation, from Hopkins' terrible sonnets to Hart Crane. Now, is this 'enhanced' by knowing she was an alcoholic? I say it's unnecessary knowledge (to the meagre extent that this sort of thing is, in fact, 'knowledge'), which additionally muddies the waters, because it makes ambiguous and complex references more straightforward. Why can't two facts co-exist: Bishop was an alcoholic, and Bishop wrote a poem about alcohol abuse inspired by a literary thematic complex of devastation and alcohol abuse, one she could/would have written had she never been a drunk. It#s worse with sexuality. Bishop was a lesbian, and starting in 1980something her work was unidirectionally interpreted as being about the eye of the outsider and about her sexuality. Now, her early poetry is full of delicious ambiguities about hetero and homosexuality, with desire directed at men and women, by male and female speakers. Criticism before the deluge of queer studies is very precise and intelligent in pointing this out. Criticism after almost exclusively discusses this in terms her homosexuality and looks at male persoinals and desire directed at men as being about hiding/dissembling behind lesbianism
I wrote this much because this is a topic I find deeply frustrating, and I feel that this kind of murky mysticism masquerading as psychological clarity is nocent to the field of literary studies. In fact, since there are billions of different psychological ideas around, this has become a mad free-for-all. The texts itself have dramatically shrunk in importance. If you are writing a biography, please go ahead. If you write a cognitive study, please go ahead. If you write about literature, don't. Look at the text and those of its contexts that do not depend on reading tea leaves and second-guessing writers.
The main problem is that it becomes a bit like a cult. As the texts slip out of focus, so do the common ground for debate between the initiated and the non initiated. You work in academia, so you know. At a larger conference there are various in groups. Speaker belonging to group x says: father shot himself, hence, according freud/klein psychology, this chapter/poem is about X. His in group nods gravely, then there are those who disagree, and those who are nonplussed. And there's never ANY debate across the aisle. that's because texts are out of reach. any literary conference, in half the speeches even the person giving the presentation will not be able to answer a simple question for textual proof, or be able to deal with comments on other parts of the texts that seem to contradict the person's thesis.
Last edited by Mirabell; 19-Feb-2011 at 16:20.
I was writing a warning against a Leavisite reading of a text, and gave Nothomb's and Perec's history as examples of the fruitfulness of biographical background knowledge. No 'murky mysticism' there, and the biographical details are knowledge that greatly enhance our understanding of the two people's works. This is not to say that the characters in their work represent the authors (although Nothomb continues to have the equivalent of a 'Madame Bovary, c'est moi' moment' - not that I'm certain Flaubert ever had one).
But yes, I take your points about Bishop and Lowell and some interpretations can be very reductive, very superficial, or plain wrong - period. However, I disagree that knowledge of Bishop's alcoholism is unnecessary. Is knowledge of Jean Rhys's alcoholism unnecessary? Not for me.
Biographical research can give a much greater understanding of a text, although of course it can be dangerous to automatically jump to too many conclusions - in fact, it's advisable not to jump at all unless you're assured of a sound landing.
So what does it add? Fact is, that it has impoverished literary criticism about Bishop, but a theory isn't invalidated by idiots using it, so given a smart use of it, what does it add? I think it is a quick, reductive fix that harms the field like no other approach. Why look at ambiguities when I already *know* the answer?I disagree that knowledge of Bishop's alcoholism is unnecessary.
And you may not get my point what is so murky and tea-leavy about this. It's this
take out the bishop specifics and enter the perec/mother ones, or the nothomb/vegetable ones. the claim that you *know* that the biographical fact and the literary one are connected is pure, shoddy guesswork.Why can't two facts co-exist: Bishop was an alcoholic, and Bishop wrote a poem about alcohol abuse inspired by a literary thematic complex of devastation and alcohol abuse, one she could/would have written had she never been a drunk
Fact: Both Nothomb and Perec stated that their writing is/was inspired by the the above facts.
What exactly am I supposed to be guessing? These events happened at a crucial time in Nothomb's and Perec's youth, but far more particularly in Nothomb's. The fiction is fiction, but the inspiration is not fictional but factual. Nothomb's reconstruction of her vegetable existence in Métaphysique des tubes is just that - a fictional reconstruction - but it still has a biographical inspiration. Nothing shoddy in that, and nor is it guesswork. No, there's no direct correlation between the biographical and the fictional, but then that wouldn't mean anything, would it?
My initial point remains - biographical details can add a great deal to our understanding of an author and their work. They can also obscure and trivialize issues, OK, but...
You didn't say what this 'knowledge' adds. You picked Jean Rhys. Good Morning, Midnight is one of the best and most harrowing accounts of alcoholism I ever read. What does it add to know Rhys was an alcoholic herself? We have both read the book. Tell me what's added.
While you correctly label this as a fact
you do realize that this is not the same asFact: Both Nothomb and Perec stated that their writing is/was inspired by the the above facts.
Both Nothomb and Perec's writing is/was inspired by the the above facts.
The difference between the two is guesswork.
As I recall, and as I've written elsewhere, the first paragraph mentions the word 'impasse', which Rhys had arrived at, and after which no novel of hers was published for a very long time. If we had no biographical knowledge of Rhys, our understanding of her books would be there - but of Rhys herself there would of course be nothing. That is poverty.
(I hope this makes complete sense, as I'm writing and holding a conversation at the same time - not ideal!)
Fact: Both Nothomb and Perec stated that their writing is/was inspired by the the above facts.Of course, but then, I made the first quote, you made the second, but appear to be claiming I did. Be honest.Both Nothomb and Perec's writing is/was inspired by the the above facts.
Last edited by lionel; 19-Feb-2011 at 21:21.