Monday, February 9, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 31.7 (Jorge Luis Borges)


Borges: A Life
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Williamson, Edwin
Borges: A LIfe


Purchased online for something like $.99 plus shipping. The jacket flap/bookmark tells me I got about 100 pages into it.

My ideal literary biography would be only twenty or so pages long, would provide a geographical timeline, a list of personal associations of the artist in the world, and a brief summary of the work, esp. the most influential works. I don't need to know about the writer's rotten childhood or rotten marriages or drinking problem or their unhappy children. Just the facts, mam, plain and simple. But that would put people out of jobs, I guess.

Nothing against Mr. Williamson, but I think biography is my least favorite of all genres, esp. literary biography. I was about to write that literary biographies sometimes serve a useful purpose in helping young writers figure out what it means to be a writer, but on second thought, I don't think that is true. Most literary biographies suggest that being a writer means something other than sitting at a desk, alone, writing, all the time.

Most are interested in the lurid details of personal lives and how the incidents from those lives get transformed into fiction or poetry or plays or whatever. Or, most perniciously, they are the story of the flowering of "genius." Every detail from birth to death is infused with the magical growth of the genius, how this magical quality transforms pain and suffering, hope and joy, the epic and the qutidian, into the product of genius, i.e. ART!

I think I have such a bad feeling for biography because I had so many professors in college that thought reading an author's biography might actually help one understand the work. Most often I found that the biography led me away from the work, or led me to misunderstand the work by trying to read each detail of each poem or story or novel as simply a transposition of an incident or incidents from a life into some composite called the work of art.

Borges' life, like that of most writers, was a series of days in which he read, wrote, and conversed with others. He seemed to have a pretty good life, all in all, but when you get right down to it, a pretty dull one, too. What is most interesting is contained in the work. The rest seems decidedly superfluous.

And they should stop making biopics, too, esp. about artists and writers!

9 comments:

rdeming said...

Your ideal biography sounds a lot like wikipedia...That's interesting, the blogger text box is telling me wikipedia is a mis-spelling.

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Except that mine would be a lot more clever and a whole lot more accurate!

rdeming said...

You know, it might be interesting to collect the blogger "word verification" words, string them together, and then do a homophonic translation. This word is "somfy"--"comfy"? Maybe it wouldn't be all that interesting.

rdeming said...

The entry for Alex van Halen says he eats babies--someone snuck it in at the very end. Unless it's true. I think that's more likely to be true of Sammy Hagar.

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

I just saw a link on one of the flarfist blogs to a guy who did just that. It wasn't that interesting!

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

I was really running hard on the treadmill yesterday because they were playing "Panama" over the PA at the gym. I also enjoyed a reverie about seeing the first incarnation of VH at the Capital Centre (which has since been destroyed and replaced) in Landover, MD in 1984. My first concert. And still the best concert I have ever seen. But I think it was DLR that ate the babies on stage.

rdeming said...

I think Diamond Dave would have been more likely to try snorting the babies.

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Here's what happened. Alex killed the babies by beating them over the head repeatedly with his drumsticks. Then Michael Anthony jumped up and down on the corpses, followed by Eddie separating the meat from the bones. Then DLR ate the raw baby meat and ground up the baby bones and snorted them.

rdeming said...

And the cradle will rock, indeed!