Non-Linear Biographies

The Guardian, I see, has noted another epocal change in the development of literature; – on this occasion in the kingdom of biography. It seems people have tired telling other people’s lives from birth to death, since by an odd revelation multiple biographers have simultaneously realised that this isn’t how we interpret our lives but a real understanding comes instead from some sort of concentration on a crystallizing moment or moments.

This change in human understanding, which has allowed us to pursue this new insight, seemingly occurred in 2008. This was highly fortuituous for the world of biography, since it appears that 2008 was a particular nadir for, er, lifewriting. Perhaps, now I think of it, it may something to do with the other wholly new concept, the “credit crunch” – (OUP’s Word of the Year 2008) which, I’m reliably informed by people unfamiliar with the matter, hasn’t been in continual usage in every other “credit crunch” prior to 2008 – which, I believe, has caused us all to reassess the pattern of our lives.

This, at least, was the conclusion of a biography conference attended by a plethora of renowned biographers, though curiously – as the writer of the piece observes, though apparently without attaching any particular significance to it – this new method of writing biographies could actually be evidenced as having existed prior to 2008 – within the pages of some quite remarkable biographies, she lists them, (going back as far as 1997), which will no doubt go down in the future annals of biography either as astonishingly prescient, or as precursors which only superficially reflect the new trend but which, when you examine them none too closely, do not in fact have the same philosophical or scientific underpinning.

(Obooki must admit he has noticed a strong trend himself recently in biography. People these days are always writing biographies about business leaders. Nothing else at all. There was that biography about Jesse Livermore, and then there was that one about Dick Fuld, and now there’s the one about Michael Milken! All very curious).


2 thoughts on “Non-Linear Biographies

  1. In a further coincidence, the piece was written by one of the key instigators of this epochal shift, so it was satisfyingly efficient that she was able to describe the shift and congratulate those involved (herself included!) in a single go.

  2. I can’t believe that a writer would put forward the view that their own way was the best way of writing. I find it peculiar that a professor of lifewriting should seemingly have so little knowledge of the history of lifewriting.

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