Can you _not_ use biographical knowledge you have? How can the knower
cease knowing? Can you even know whether or not you are using
biographical knowledge you have as you read a poem?
Consider the following well-known lines:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me
Now some of you know that the author was a Communist (who once remarked
that Stalin was too good a scientist to be fooled by Roosevelt). Is that
knowledge affecting your reading of this chorus? If you didn't know it,
does the knowledge now affect your reading? Can you forget the fact now
that he was a Communist. (His daugher accidentally set fire to the house
and died of the burns during a brief interval in which her mother ran
across the street. At this particular time Guthrie himself was in the
New York office of the CPUSA chatting withsome friends.)
Incidentally, the poet Shelley was 6ft tall, and probably towered over
most of his acquaintances (since average height was much shorter then).
Now that obviously does not affect the meaning of anyof his poems so
far as I know, but can you forget it the next time yuou read "I falll
upon the thorns of life, I blled."
In Mary Crawford's first conversation with Edward & Fanny in _Mansfield
Park_ Mary speaks of hearing much in her Unclle's house of Rears & Vices
but nothing on mere Post Captains. Then she says now don't accuse me of
punning. Edward looks grave. Two of Austen's brothers were in the navy.
Is there any other way of construing Rears & Vices as a pun except as
referring to sodomy in the British Navy? Can Austen's use of an obscene
pun change your view of her personality and does that affect your sense
of her other novels? ARe you sure your knowledge that The Novels were
written by an unmarried woman has never affected your response to the
novels. And note that it is possible to move from text to biography and
then back to text. Can you read the Prelude while pretending you don't
know it was addressed to Coleridge?
Biography is being discussed in this thread as though readers made an
abstract choice to use or not to use biography in formal arguments. This
is misleading. Can you, while reading TWL, suppress your knowledge that
the author was a man, not a teenage lesbian?