Friday, 4 March 2016

An historical blogger's predicament: conclusion

No one knows if it was really Mark Twain who said "Write what you know", but as a title, it goes back at least as far as 1883. Contrary to the claims of some websites, the phrase does not appear in either Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. It has become part of the Mark Twain mythos; it is something that Mark Twain should have said. Countering this quote is another contentious quote most often attributed to Benjamin Disraeli: “The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it". Quotes often float around until they find a person most worthy of having said them.

Yet these apparently opposite points of view encompass one thing, and that is personality: No one knows your personality better than you, and when you write a book, you transfer some of that personality on to its pages. The creative act is always a personal thing and anything that is produced where this shines through is creative to the same degree. Objective writing is pedestrian and offers little that is new; more appropriate for things like "insert coin here".

Quirk is defined as "a peculiar behavioural habit", in other words something particular to a personality. I realized that, with so  many biographies of my subject having been published, the only way to contribute something both original and personal would be to focus on aspects of his personality which I shared. I had done something like that before in my experimental series The Palaeolithic Artist, which focused on an artist at the Altamira Cave, and in which I examined the artist, not from the effect that their work had on others, but from the thoughts of the artist. I could contact these better because I have been a working artist (and I also have experience with caves). The series also dealt with many aspects of introversion. Being an introvert, myself, other introverts fascinate me. Jung was an introvert (of the same personality type as myself) as was Nietzsche.

When I discovered that the latest biography about my subject concentrated on his psychology I was at first disappointed, just as I was when I learned that a Jungian approach to Palaeolithic art had been written, but just like I did with the latter, I soon found a way to make it more personal: a psychological approach attempts to discover something of the psychology of a person through their history, but personality is not so much as about what happened and what someone did as it is about how a person goes about doing what they do. People can have the same personality type and yet be dramatically different. Besides Jung, I share the same personality type with Plato, Agatha Christie, Noam Chomsky and Thomas Jefferson, but also with Hitler, Osama bin Laden and Trotsky and many other apparently disparate individuals. Mind you, the exact attribution of such types is highly speculative and is often based on the wrong criteria, through movie and popular portrayals of the person and so forth. Sometimes, introverts are mistaken for extraverts as (with my type) the Feeling function is extraverted.

Even what is shared can result in the creation of very different lives. The most memorable line in the film Capote which is about Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is where Capote (brilliantly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) says of one of the murderers: "It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day, he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.”

There, I managed to say everything I needed in only two posts.I will change the title from "part two" to "conclusion". I am so happy about this I will reveal the name of the forthcoming biographical series: It is on T. E. Shaw, formerly T. E. Lawrence and better known as Lawrence of Arabia. My focus starts in India where he legally changed his name. There are still three important books that have been ordered but have not arrived yet, so be patient. Between the blog, my studies, and other things, I am doing a twelve hour a day work schedule. Retirement? What's that?

On Monday, an interesting and entertaining email I got yesterday and my reply (blog post with the permission of the email's author). Have a quirky weekend.

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