Re: Bankrupt Accounts

From: Jim Rovira <>
Date: Wed Feb 26 2003 - 22:11:49 EST

John said:

"I take issue with the belief that writing a biography of a writer is a
matter of unconvering the writer's central myth. Why not just stick with the
tried-but-true method of reading the works, however scant the literary
output may be? The biographical material is already there, it doesn't need
to be peppered by the hearsay and gossipy clap-trap so many biographers
resort to. Yes, I am being my typical john g self, and painting so much with
broad strokes with my fat fingers. But generalizations beget generalizations."

This is insufferably naive, John -- to think you can take an author's fiction
and draw direct parallels to his/her life without any supporting research. The
fiction can be read in too many different ways. I think that only after in
depth biographical research can those connections be made, and even then they're
tentative unless the author happened to write about his fiction in pesonal

Reading _Catcher in the Rye_, you can't even know if the author was male or
female, black or white. You might be able to infer the author was from NYC, but
then you couldn't be sure if he/she just visited the city a few times and
created a believable character, or lived there him or herself. I'd really like
to see someone pull off meaningful or specific biographical information from
Salinger's work, even if they were allowed to use all of it. I'd almost
guarantee there'd be more wrong than right.

You only say this because you already know a bit about Salinger apart from his
fiction, so you can read him back into his fiction almost reflexively and
uncritically. But this ability only comes from knowing something about him to
begin with.

So far as locating the author's central myth, I think it's possible to do it
primarily by reference to Salinger's fiction -- without reference to
biographical info -- because, in Salinger's case, a few themes get repeated a
whole lot. But you dismissed the need for locating a central myth, so I really
don't know what kind of bio info you really expect to be able to get from
Salinger's work.

I'd agree with you that we don't need to read everything the author read to do
good biographical work, but I'd disagree with the belief that we don't need to
read _anything_ the author read. A few central texts can really open up a whole
lot. Imagine reading Joyce's _Ulysses_ without having read the _Odyssey_.


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Received on Wed Feb 26 22:11:44 2003

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