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TSE  April 2010

TSE April 2010

Subject:

Re: Biography

From:

Ken Armstrong <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Fri, 9 Apr 2010 12:10:53 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (63 lines)

Terry Traynor wrote:
>
> Ken Armstrong wrote:
>
>
> >It's worth asking, perhaps, if two renderings of a masterpiece,
>
> >one the original and one a "copy" are indistinguishable, can the
>
> >copy really be said to be only a copy and the person who painted
>
> >it only an imitator? Isn't this an exercise of artists in training, as it
>
> >were? In effect, doesn't it take a creator to recreate an artifice?
>
>
> Yes, it is an exercise of artists in training, but it's only an 
> exercise. Recreating something exactly requires technical skill, but 
> it doesn't require creative vision.
>
    There's a lot riding on this. I'm not sure you're right, or that it 
divides out so nicely. It's been mentioned that someone who copies out a 
poem is plagiarizing. Amen. But what of someone who must follow the poem 
-- imitate the action of the poem --  to create the art experience for 
himself that the poem recreates? Isn't this a common way of looking at 
reading -- the reader as co-creator?
>
>
> Also, you ask what makes use of biography legitimate. That's hard to 
> answer, but in general I'd say that if some aspect of the work can't 
> be understood on its own and biographical information would clarify 
> matters, then resorting to biography is legitimate.
>

   Yes, and I've never argued against using biography and have even said 
it may be essential and with a poet like Eliot that this may be pointed 
up more than for the average poet. Nevertheless, the "clarification" you 
reference is of a special sort; it is not a one-to-one equivalency. The 
"clarification" must work within the action (artificial) proper to the 
poem, especially with Eliot, etc..  While art and life are surely 
related,  the difference between them is absolute.
>
> Often, however, biographical information is brought in even though it 
> is superfluous to understanding the work. For example, it's not 
> necessary to know that Keats was tubercular in order to make sense of 
> "When I have fears that I may cease to be." It's not necessary to know 
> that the Pope commissioned Michelangelo in order to recognize the 
> power of the artist's images.  
>
>
> You also ask if a legitimate use of biography can "create a faux 
> response." I'm not sure what "faux response" means, but there's a vast 
> number of ways that people might respond to anything.
>
    Not to pick on Diana, but her last post in this thread would 
identify a faux response: one that reads Prufrock as if knowledge of the 
poet's early life is the key to the poem. It's not, and in fact, seen as 
the central force in the poem, is a distraction. It substitutes 
something exterior to the poem for the experience interior to the poem. 
It may be therapeutic for the person indulging in it, but it brings no 
light to the poem itself.

Ken A

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