Monday, November 05, 2007

end-of-weekend various

Busy weekend; reading lots of things, going lots of places. We took the girls down to Ft. Lauderdale today to go to the science museum & walk along the "Riverwalk" (which I suspect is actually man-made canals), & found ourselves in the middle of a multi-venued "jazz brunch." I'm not too crazy about what passes for jazz at these things – let's just say it warms the hearts of the over-70s in the crowd – but it was very fine to be in the midst of crowds that weren't Boca Raton crowds (ie swarms of tourists, snowbirds, Eurosleaze etc.). Ft. L. is so many of the things I'd rather be living among: more class-diverse, gayer, more pet-friendly; more an approximation of the urban I hanker for.
Collecting bad words for biographers. James Joyce: "biografiend." Joyce Carol Oates: "pathographer." "Every great man has his disciples, and it is always Judas who writes the biography" – Oscar Wilde.
(I hope none of the potential students of my biography seminar are reading Culture Industry these days, since I'm giving away most of the few ideas I have about the subject.) Catherine Parke, in Biography: Writing Lives, justifies the fact that all of her exemplary texts are literary biographies:
Over the past 200 years, professional writers have surpassed the former leading candidates of biographical interest in Western culture: royalty, saints, and military heroes. Writers, beginning in the late seventeenth century, became the new heroes of modern print culture and expanding literacy. Their lives also became templates for post-Renaissance notions of the relation between public and private self, the Western invention of individual identity, and the foundational concept of the reality of a psychological life.
Well, ain't that convenient? I'm a literary scholar, teaching the works of poets, fiction writers, dramatists & essayists, & have gotten interested in biography; & by golly, there seem to be more biographies about the people I'm already invested in than anybody else! So I (MS) must hie me off to Barnes & Noble & do some grubby quantitative analysis. First I go thru the "Biography" section counting heads; then I'm off to the places Parke isn't looking – "Music," to count how many lives of Frank Black, Morrissey, & Madonna there are, & "Film," where lives of Rock Hudson & Marilyn Monroe outsell the latest Ezra Pound any day of the week.

Aside from the self-aggrandizing nature of Parke's claim, there's something to be said for examining specifically literary biography (& yes, most of the biographees this spring will be writers), not least the hurdle of making interesting lives whose most significant moments are spent in solitary desk-labor; & of course the mise-en-abyme of the writer confronting the writer, trying to capture one set of words in another.
Obviously I haven't written much about poetry per se in ages. But I'm feeling nostalgic for the days when blogospheric compatriats like Josh Corey would actually post work in progress. Here's a fragment of my own w-i-p, maybe a bit of an aria from a post-android opera:
bend down you fabled aviatrix
mistress of struts fuselage
and yellow busy wasps
beneath your canopy I acquaint
me with sea-surge the moan
of dark and underwater
caves swim through the air
on pinioned and tense wings
lights dim and pattering rain
& John Latta's been posting some very gnarly new lines on his gnarly Dumpster Island.
Eric posted this clip a few weeks back on Say Something Wonderful, but it's too good not to disseminate, particularly since I've had the song ringing thru my mind for days now.


Anonymous said...

Just basking in the glory: my beloved JCO made your blog :-)
I'm taking it as a scrap of validation as I wrestle with my next chapter

Mark Scroggins said...

Don't get too excited, Tai. After all, she looks pretty small potatoes in that company...

And get the hell back to work!!!

Amy said...

The New River is not a man-made canal. It is a real river. I know: stunning. :-) The Native Americans called it Himmarshee, which translates as "New River." In the Native mythology the Himmarshee (New River) was "new" because it was born suddenly in a violent storm, when a bolt of lightning struck the earth and divided it neatly (I remember this being an explanation for why the river is so straight). I'm sure there's more to the story, but that's all I remember.

Jordan said...

Wait, about biography.. is that true, that writer-as-subject is a late development? What about Boswell (or Johnson for that matter, what about Lockhart... surely his life of Scott was one of the first blockbuster biographies...

Mark Scroggins said...

Depends of what you mean by "late," Jordan -- my sense is that the writer-as-subject only emerges around the latter part of the Renaissance (Walton's life of Donne, the various lives of Milton, etc.), & slowly gains popularity until Johnson & Boswell bring it to a really high pitch.

Interesting that the ancients don't seem to write literary biography: Diogenes Laertius's Lives of the Philosophers presents them as thinkers & talkers, rather than *writers* at all.

Mark Scroggins said...

Did I say "depends of" when I meant "depends on"? A senior moment (a "Depends" moment).