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Biographers of the future
lethesbootslist
This seems like the appropriate place to post these thoughts. The irony does not escape me.

I have been reading biographies lately, including one of Patricia Highsmith and the classic "To The Finland Station" by Edmond Wilson. In these works the authors had access to the copious letters of the subjects in addition to their more public writings. These days far fewer letters are written. I know this in part because my wife works for the post office, and letter deliveries are down - way down - enough so that the post office relies on advertising fliers and bulk mail for much of its income. This trend of course started back in the 90s with the popularization of email applications, and now it has gotten to the point that the only time most people send "snail mail" letters is perhaps a holiday letter or special occasion card. Even then many people just email a greeting. I must confess that I rely totally on email these days, and have for nearly a decade.

So it seems to me the job of the biographer will be if not more difficult, at least different in the future. When most folks, even writers, communicate through email or networking sites, the job of the historian or biographer will entail gathering perhaps critical insights and personal information from the internet. Much of this is fleeting. How many times have we changed our email providers only to loose all of our email exchanges - sometimes years worth. Whether this will make the biographer's job more difficult or easier is hard to say. In many ways much of what used to be private correspondence between two people is now much more public. In the past one might have written to a close friend or trusted relative. Now the similar personal information is given to all friends (and even strangers) on facebook or other networking sites, but those revelations may be more censored or deliberately dissembling then the contents of a personal letter. The word "friend" itself has changed its meaning in the context of the internet.

This does not negate the need for the well written and insightful biography. In spite of the proliferation of personal information on the internet, there will still be the desire and need for distilled and cogent appraisals of the lives of certain individuals, and it will still take a sensitive and skilled writer to pull all of the scattered threads together to create a narrative from the parts and pieces. This narrative is what we crave. The idea that a life is in some sense a story, and story is life. We will still need talented and perceptive writers to create this narrative from the cacophony of voices which now seem (at least tenuously) available, but those writers will find the internet to be a problematic, albeit necessary resource.

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would a history of a car be an auto-biography?

i'm trying to help out by writing stories of my hitchhiking days, filling in the blanks when I had no fixed address and no one but the wind could find me. My friends, tho, say, "Why are you living in the past? Write about what you feel now..." even tho now i feel like writing stories of my past...what to do? please check out some of my tales, are they just self-indulgent, or is my critic too personally involved? (she flies off the handle when I mention any old girlfriend....but says I should ask someone, so I'll ask you!) thanks. -t

Re: would a history of a car be an auto-biography?

I would say to your friends: what we feel now is a direct result of our past experiences. I also agree with other writers who have cautioned that it is best not let close friends or significant others be your primary critics. Also no writer should ever let anyone else tell him/her what to write about. As a stranger I can say your project is interesting, entertaining, and worth refining. I enjoyed reading your creations. Carry on!

By the way, I too attended the U of O, and actually got a degree in Anthropology there in '73. I grew up north of there, in the obscure town of Junction City. I too am a musician. website:http://www.myspace.com/salvadoredalilama
We are middle-aged men who write and perform original songs -- sort of a rarity these days when most guys our age play in tribute bands if they play at all. I also try to write novels, and may actually finish one before I croak.
Mike

Nice meeting you!

Re: would a history of a car be an auto-biography?

funny, the head chef of our kitchen band was from an old Junction City family. while you were attending wwu, i was at evergreen! like your music, i'm in the same spot, i'm on reverbnation under terryminer if you want to hear. there's an active open mike scene here which is fun, and tons of formerly big time professional musicians who show up at the clubs down here in ashland. ye, i'm working on a novel based on mom's geneology, hoping these hitching stories grease the wheels for that...what a time we've lived through, hope you've had as much fun as i had, oops! am having...maybe my girl's right!

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