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TSE  March 2001

TSE March 2001

Subject:

RE: Eliot's letters--Gordon's Biography

From:

"Arwin van Arum" <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 8 Mar 2001 22:12:13 +0100

Content-Type:

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> This all strikes me as a Jamesian disagreement: over words. There is no
> such thing as a biography without interpretation. It is an interpretation
to decide what to > put in and what to leave out.

True enough, although I'm not always sure that there is that much too leave
out, but if there has been, I'd rather it had gone in instead of
interpretation.

> It is an interpretation to arrange facts in an order.

How about sequential? ;-)

> And I think very few biographers see
> themselves as not involved in a far more intensive form of interpretation.
The many
> interpretations will create a context for evaluation, whereas
> mere lists of facts on everyone's part would never get anywhere toward
understanding
> the person as far as I can see.

But as a very dry and boring scientist kind of guy I don't necessarily
appreciate this 'higher calling of the biographer'. I don't want people to
create a context for evaluation for me, I want something to evaluate. You
could see it as studying an Eliot poem only by reading books about the poem,
but not the actual poem itself. If all biographies we had were nothing but
extensive descriptions of the biographee's life and times, then we had much
greater research material at our hands. This could then be used to create
new interpretations, yes, but you and I would be able to verify the
interpretation against the available facts. If I told you extensively about
a new, as yet undiscovered but potentially very important poem by T.S. Eliot
and quoted a few lines from it that I found meaningful about the poem while
doing so, wouldn't the first thing you'd want to do be to read the poem
yourself and make up your own mind about it, and then perhaps (certainly not
necessarily) evaluate my comments about that poem? I'm willing to bet that
you'd find reading the poem more important than reading my interpretation of
it, and I'm hoping this goes for everyone except perhaps a few of my closest
relatives.

> For example, the only thing near
> biography I ever wrote was the first chapter to the MacDiarmid book. But
I do know
> that having interviewed everyone I could find who was still living and had
> known Chris meant I had a vast context of awareness that no one could
> have without doing that. So simply listing "facts" about him would have
> created a "fiction."

If there is anything unreliable it is what other people say about someone,
because all of those comments are usually very subjective interpretations.
Of course, a discerning viewer can still discover useful things from behind
the masks, kind of like Columbo.

Of course this would be an ideal situation, but far better I think would be
a biography which contains transcripts of all the interviews as a bonus? I
think that I would like to read and describe a poet's life like I like to
read and describe a poem; first the poem itself; then basic textual
analysis; then style analysis and higher poetical techniques like form,
metaphore, theme, etc; then contextuality in literature; then contextuality
outside of literature, etc. For humans this would be a recording of the
life's events and actions, then basic biological/neurochemical analysis,
then psychological analysis, then sociological analysis, and so on. In both
of these I would like a clear distinction between fact and interpretation,
and a clear indication of sources on all grounds to be able to establish and
verify their authority.

But like I said, I'm the boring scientific type, and now I'm even a computer
programmer. Before you know it I'll be wearing thick rimmed glasses and have
a four letter label sticking on my forehead. ;-)

That must have been great to do, by the way, writing that first chapter on
CMD.

Arwin

> Nancy
>
>
>
>
> Date sent: Thu, 8 Mar 2001 20:58:04 +0100
> Send reply to: [log in to unmask]
> From: "Arwin van Arum" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: RE: Eliot's letters--Gordon's Biography
>
> My point, and probably Ken's too, is that I'd rather have a biography
> that's a quarter the size, which sticks to the facts and leaves out the
> interpretation. I know that some people are specifically interested in
> interpretation of lives, but I am not, and certainly not by people with a
> decent grounding in cognitive and other forms of modern psychology (which
> is to say of the last 20 years). I'd much rather have the facts speak for
> themselves so that I can use them as I please whilst interpreting a poem
> or a poet.
>
> Notice that I did say that Gordon had more facts than Akroyd. I just wish
> that they'd have been more accessible. A CD-ROM would have been a great
> help here - she could have listed all the facts, and attach
> interpretations for those who are interested. That would leave the reader
> with the choice to read around them. Now, when you (or, in this case, I)
> really disagree with the interpretations, or just plainly don't like them,
> they tend to get disproportionally annoying. For the Eliot site I
> extracted facts about Eliot up to 1922 that I thought were interesting
> from both biographies and to get the interesting morsels from Gordon took
> a lot of sifting.
>
> Interpretations are for me fiction by default. It's perhaps hard to say
> what interpretations really are, but since I won't call them fact, I tend
> to rather harshly call them fiction. That's perhaps not really fair -
> there is probably a smooth line between fact and fiction, and each
> individual interpretation is somewhere along that line, sometimes closer
> to fact, sometimes closer to fiction. I only read the most recent version
> of the biography, and a lot of the interpretation part of that massive
> work I simply don't buy - although then again I bought the book anyway ...
> ;-)
>
> Arwin
>
>
> > Dear Ken,
> >
> > As I don't know Gordon but am greatly impressed by her scrupulous
> > pursuit of every shred of available information, and as I am more prone
> > to think her unduly deferential to TSE's self-created legacy (in the
> > first two books especially), I am very interested in what
> > --specifically--you disagree with and what you know about her as a
> > source that I don't. Is there some reason to see her as not scrupulous
> > or as prejudiced? Why is she a less reliable source than, say, Ackroyd?
> >
> > Nancy
> >
> > Date sent: Wed, 7 Mar 2001 14:00:56 -0500
> > Send reply to: [log in to unmask]
> > From: Ken Armstrong <[log in to unmask]>
> > To: [log in to unmask]
> > Subject: RE: Eliot's letters--Gordon's Biography
> >
> > Message-ID: <[log in to unmask]
> > >
> > Priority: NORMAL
> > X-Mailer: Execmail for Win32 Version 5.0.1 Build (55)
> > MIME-Version: 1.0
> > Content-Type: Text/Plain; charset="us-ascii"
> >
> > Dear Nancy,
> >
> > Interesting, makes me think of my old favorite Katherine Anne Porter
> > who,
> > like many others, described fiction as creating lies to tell the truth.
> > I do see your point, but if I disagree with Gordon's interpretation, it
> > is because I think it is not true, and if I think it is not true, I
> > guess I'm stuck if someone says I'm calling it a fiction--how can I
> > disagree--though that kind of fiction may not (is all but cerainly not)
> > her conscious intention.
> >
> > In the end, I think her work is seriously flawed. It seems to me not
> > more
> > nuanced in its "Imperfect Life" manifestation, but more polarized in its
> > own proclivities (it was polarized more than enough in its previous
> > manifestations). To anyone who would conclude something about TSE based
> > on her work, I would have to say "Consider the source." That doesn't
> > dismiss it; it puts in (I would say) a better (truer) perspective.
> >
> > Ken
> >
> > On Wed, 7 Mar 2001 10:00:08 -0500 Nancy Gish
> > <[log in to unmask]>
> > wrote:
> >
> > > Dear Ken,
> > >
> > > Interpretation is not fiction.
> > > Calling her work "fiction" is dismissive. What fascinates me is that
> > > her first two books were so cautious and admiring, and she only moved
> > > to a more nuanced and mixed mode in the third. But even if one does
> > > not agree with her interpretation, it is valid interpretation, not
> > > fiction. Nancy
> > >
> > > Date sent: Wed, 7 Mar 2001 10:55:47 -0500
> > > Send reply to: [log in to unmask]
> > > From: Ken Armstrong <[log in to unmask]>
> > > To: [log in to unmask]
> > > Subject: RE: Eliot's letters--Gordon's Biography
> > >
> > > Message-ID: <[log in to unmask]
> > > >
> > > Priority: NORMAL
> > > X-Mailer: Execmail for Win32 Version 5.0.1 Build (55)
> > > MIME-Version: 1.0
> > > Content-Type: Text/Plain; charset="us-ascii"
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > > On Tue, 6 Mar 2001 21:04:49 -0500 Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>
> > > wrote:
> > >
> > > > I do not understand on what possible basis you can judge Gordon's
> > > > meticulously researched material "fiction." It is consistently
> > > > based on cited material, and--more signicantly--Gordon has now done
> > > > three biographies that have gone over and over parallel ground with
> > > > exacting care. It is simply not possible to dismiss
> > > Nancy,
> > >
> > > But no one is dismissing Gordon; just pointing out that her
> > > interpretation of Eliot's life is still that, an interpretation. There
> > > are citations, and then there are the selection and presentation of
> > > citations.
> > >
> > >
> > > Arwin says explicitly that she excels in facts. It is what she has
> > > done with them that raises eyebrows. She has cut Eliot's life to fit
> > > her prejudices. That, too, should not be dismissed.
> > >
> > > Ken
> > >
> > >
> >
> > Ken Armstrong
> > [log in to unmask]
> >
> >
> >
>

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