Unreal Nature

October 11, 2019

Swamped

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… the confusion in his psyche undermined his project …

This is from Writing Lives: Principia Biographica by Leon Edel (1984; 1959):

… “Transference” is at the core of all biographical writing but biographers resist this conception of their work. They reply they are simply going about their task and finding out what truths they can so that they may put together a cogent account of their subject’s life. What they fail to grasp — and it is extremely difficult to do so — is that, while they are about their business, their unconscious, or psyche, responds in more ways than they know to their sensory perceptions of their hero or heroine — that subject which has proved so attractive (or sometimes so hateful) that they are prepared to devote some years to their attempt to put it on paper.

… There are so many examples of transference in modern biography that we need not labor the question. But we might glance at the case of Mark Schorer since he was one of the few biographers who intuitively felt what was happening to him as he struggled to write the life of Sinclair Lewis.

Schorer is willing to see that he was involved in an unconscious process behind his conscious decisions:

I was challenged by what I unconsciously felt to be a strange affinity, an affinity perhaps only demonstrated by the fact that my literary tastes, as they matured, had moved about as far away from his [Lewis’s] as is possible. There was, of course, the obvious affinity of our beginnings — the same kind of raw small Midwestern towns, probably much the same kind of inept and unsuccessful boys in that particular man’s world. But I discovered many more, and many that were more subtle … all the careless writing, all the ill-conceived ambitions, all the bad manners, all the irrational fits of temper, all the excesses of conduct, all the immature lifelong frivolities and regrettable follies. That is a little of it. There is much more.

… He began by feeling that he and Lewis had much in common, but then he grew weary of Lewis and the transference shifted from positive to negative. That was why he used the word “burden” to describe his job of work — a job that in other circumstances could be a creative challenge. There are some fine passages of biographical writing in this heavy book. But the confusion in his psyche undermined his project and he was ultimately swamped by his too-abundant materials.

My most recent previous post from Edel’s book is here.

-Julie

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