No one can ever really explain another person, not even a psychoanalyst. It’s all interpretation — even their genome. Maybe the answer is several explanations in several media by several people, all given equal weight and cross-referenced. The real problem not just that a human being is multiple in terms of layers and aspects, but also each of the layers is a living process, constantly changing and interacting. The person in this hour and place with these people is not the same as they will be by teatime with the Queen and neither will the Queen be the same.
So an account of a person in terms of temperament, or in terms of goals, or in terms of family or culture or bibliography — books either read or written — will depend on whether the description comes from youth or old age. And so on. This means that the framing of the narrative structure and the eloquence of the writer explicating it will become almost as significant as the subject person, which may not please them. Even writing about someone by editing their diary or correspondence will have the same waltz-step complication.
If this hypothetical biography is being written with a lot of research, that’s one thing, a complexity of what is true, what is slanted, what are facts inaccessible. If the bio is being constructed through interviews, that’s a whole different set of hazards and privileges, esp. if the person has been accused of unreliability, which is an obsession in our times. If the point is to persuade readers of the true identity of someone, that may be impossible because they enjoy their scepticism so much.
If one is writing a book— meaning a stable paper-and-glue object that can be sold to many by replication and actually owned— that’s one thing and must be written one way. If one is simply filling a notebook over time, the basic structure has to be chronological because it must be written chronologically as things happen. But if one has entries in a 3-ring binder, the sequence can be grouped on many different terms, creating many different tracks of mind presenting many different styles. This goes far beyond Doris Lessing’s color-coded notebooks, which would be an idea interesting to attempt on a set of blogs, though it might yield a runaway like the early keyboarders who discovered possible colors, fonts, photos, drawings, music and jumbled them all together. I mean, who has a mind that can manage all that?
Not me. In fact, I’m trying to edit a ten year span of posts from a friend and find myself either becoming so absorbed in the entry that I forget to think about how to fit it into the sequence -- or always having a teasing half-memory about something else that ought to be next to it. It would be easier if I had a physical face-to-face with the writer, but maybe not. I try to organize by place or by some philosophical concept. English-speaking writer’s convention is that it is the turning points, the crises, the temporary triumphs, and the near-deaths that should dictate the shape. But sometimes the triumphs ARE death, and the deaths ARE the turning points even though they really ought to be the end.
Of course, if the subject is living and interferes, that’s confounding. Worse, his/her family and friends may have ideas, mostly protective, meaning “stand back.” There are predatory writers out there in the world, searching for half-truths and able to hack what I put in my main computer, so I have to maintain a second one they can’t access, since it never goes online. But the truth is that I’m working mostly with paper anyway. Old-fashioned scissors and tape. Little stacks with clips.
I never meant to do this — I just kept pages and pages because I love the writing so much. I have no idea how those pages relate to an actual human being who is remarkably mercurial. I have no way to know if anyone else will see these materials the way I do, but what does it matter? Kingdoms will not fall. Rivers will not reverse. Nations will not go to war.
Is this what they call a “labor of love”? A labor of love means emotion without money. Love is supposed to be compensatory enough, but in this case the love is pretty slippery and sometimes agonizing, so what is it compensating for? And yet this is the way most people see the ideal of fiction and poetry: intense exotic love and the agony of prevented attachment, all expressed in a certain way. The youngsters like it pretty; the experienced know better.
Shocking sells, but what is shocking these days? Yesterday’s horrifying practices of the flesh show up in high school writing. The f-word is used so much it has lost its kick. It’s just a tick. The old question of Life v. Zombie or Human v. Machine or v. Animal have been done and done and done. The war between the generations — efforts to escape, to dominate, to own, even to understand — has created a sort of false solidarity among millennials or among geezers, which the relentless marketeers try to sell as genres.
One of the rewards is that reading print is the way the brain learns to write and working with these vignettes and declarations does enrich my connectome. Since I have both sides of some of the conversations, I can see that my own writing changes. For a long time it was becoming richer and more daring. But now I seem to be having little brain neuron clenches that set limits. Maybe this material should be offered to someone younger and closer to the relevant demographic, but I’m not sure I can make myself give it up. Yet there is sentiment in others that it should never have been written. Blocking it would be honorable.
Originally the computer was pitched as a way to eliminate paper, but in my hands a keyboard generates paper: it’s so easy to print pages and pages. Not so easy to get it under control.