“…people write what they call ‘lives’ of other people; that is, collect a number of events, and leave the person to whom it happened unknown.”
This quote brought many things into question for me. It has forced me to reevaluate what I “know” about biographies. Is it really possible to write about another person’s life? Could I, for instance, write about my mother’s life? I am extraordinarily close to my mother so getting all the nitty-gritty details on her is no problem. I could write about every single thing that has happened to her during her lifetime. I could even go so far as to ask older members of the family to fill in what she is too young to remember – but would that really be her life? At what point does a piece of writing cease to be merely a history and become a person’s life?
A history is quite basically a timeline – a “number of events.” It may be descriptive and well-written but in the end it is just a timeline. If I were to film the “life” of a man from the day he was born to the day he died I would be able to show no more than a ridiculously accurate history – I would still not have a record of his life. I would have no way of knowing what he was thinking or feeling. My subject could be crumpled on the floor with a broken ankle with tears streaming down his face and still I could not know what he was feeling. Perhaps he had been forced to participate in a certain sport and is now crying with relief because he no longer has to. It does not matter what I see or hear – unless he were to dictate his every thought to me I have no way of knowing what that moment meant to him.
A life requires thoughts and feelings. A robot may have someone write its history but never its life. To write of a life is to write not only of events but of what those events meant to the subject. How did the event make him feel? How does he remember the event when he reminisces? How did that event shape how he sees the world?
It seems to me that every “life story” I have ever read that was written by someone other than the subject is no more than a history book. Unless the book has been written by the subject it can never be called a life story – can it?
Monday, August 23, 2010
I have come to realize just how out of the academic loop I was after reading over the Virginia Woolf conference schedules. It was amazing to see that so many people are actively involved in this Woolf community, how fun and beneficial it must be to offer up your hard earned research for the research of others! A trend I noted involved an individual finding their own specific interest under the topic of the year and then sharing that interest with everyone else; it is fascinating that so many different topics could be pulled together into a cohesive whole. Two titles that seemed to pop up regularly were Orlando and Mrs. Dalloway. Having already read Mrs. Dalloway, this has made me eager to check out Orlando as well – if so many people can find new things to say about it then there must be a lot to be gained by reading it.
Another book I am also now interested in reading is Jacob’s Room because of the paper entitled “Virginia Woolf and Horses: Jacob’s Unnatural Death in Jacob’s Room” by Keri Barber from the University of California. I have always been a very avid horse enthusiast so I am excited by the idea of combining my love for reading with my love for horses. It reminds me of a paper I wrote during high school about the horse imagery in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. It would be a treat to read this paper and observe how others incorporate their horse sense into their love for Virginia Woolf.
After exploring the ideas born from Woolf’s writings, I am now more excited than ever to take this class. Already “A Sketch of the Past” has left me wanting to know more about this author and how her own life has influenced the lives of her characters…