Tuesday, January 27, 2009

not as good as pro wrestling

From Stanley Fish's ridiculous, broad-brush dismissal of biographical writing (1999):

My criticism of biography does not hold for autobiography. It makes none of the claims made for biography and is therefore not subject to any of the criticisms. You cannot fault the author of an autobiography for failing to be objective, or for substituting his story for the story of his subject.

He is his subject, and his performance, complete with the quirks and blindnesses of his personality, is not a distraction or deviation from the story of his life but an extension of it. Autobiographers cannot lie because anything they say, however mendacious, is the truth about themselves, whether they know it or not. Autobiographers are authentic necessarily and without effort.

Biographers, on the other hand, can only be inauthentic, can only get it wrong, can only lie, can only substitute their own story for the story of their announced subject. (Biographers are all autobiographers, although the pretensions of their enterprise won't allow them to admit it or even see it.)

Biography, in short, is a bad game, and the wonder is that so many are playing it and that so many others are watching it and spending time that might be better spent on more edifying spectacles like politics and professional wrestling.