Dear Arwin,

This remains a disagreement about words and meanings.  I do not consider 
that there are any unmediated facts.  I tried to write that chapter by 
trudging dutifully through the information I had sequentially.  It was dreadful 
and not authentic, real, or "true" to anything I had learned.  Then I started 
over with techniques from "fiction" because I went to the Shetlands in 1979 
and Chris went in 1932, and you had to get there the same way.  So I 
wrote what I saw--because it is what he saw; it had not changed.  You 
might find it interesting to read; I'd be fascinated at your reaction.  It's 
"interpretation" and there was no other way to do it.  What does one know--
what everyone says about him, what he read, what he is said in 
newspapers to have done, what he said to me when I interviewed him a 
year before he died.  None of that is "objective fact."  

I've done the other also.  In the edited book on MacDiarmid I have interviews 
about him with Seamus Heaney, Norman MacCaig, and John Montague.  
You tell me which one knew who Chris "really" was.


Date sent:      	Thu, 8 Mar 2001 22:12:13 +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

> 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

> 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
> 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


> 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]
> >
> >
> >