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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Biographical Impoverishment

It seems to me that if you really love literature, you will find biographical explanations otiose, reductive, distracting. I mean, there are a lot of asthmatics, but not many of them was Lezama Lima. Only one, in fact. There are plenty of Andalusian señoritos, but only one turned out to be Lorca. Life, friends, is boring. Art is interesting.

To Leslie's question on the post below: is there anything special about Vallejo and Lorca that makes them difficult to "unify"? Or is this a more general problem?

I think what grates on me is that this reduction goes against the grain of these authors' work itself, their poetics. It is a way of containing the energy of their work. So, in a general sense, it is a problem with anyone. I think any writer who is a slave to a biographical legend ends up suffering. Sylvia Plath, say. With a writer who deliberately plays with this, like Borges, this should be taken into account as well.

Biographers are even worse than translators. They are vampires trying to suck the life out of literature by reducing it to a biographical symptom. Ian Gibson's bio of Lorca is one of the only ones I own, because, well, I have no choice. But I find Gibson to be a grotesque figure.

There is a lot interesting going on with subjectivity in modernism. It takes two extremes: exalting the subject, or emptying it out. So there's Beckett and Kafka, or Proust and Rilke. I'd like to situate Lorca between Beckett and Rilke, in a way. What's interesting is how these two things happen simultaneously. Vamos a ver.

1 comment:

Vance Maverick said...

quibble: I don't think you meant that Plath was a slave to a legend (as we could say e.g. of Hemingway), rather that her reputation is, or that most of her interpreters are. (There are of course excellent exceptions, like Forrest-Thomson.)

I do think you're right that there are writers whose life & work makes particular mockery of the literary-biographical approach.