The Gross National Debt

Monday, December 31, 2012

TMI, but you don't know it all

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In my recent experiment to gauge my intelligence and knowledge (I watched TV for a few hours and discovered I'm still not smart enough to watch TV), one of the TV interviewers asked a person "What is something no one knows about you?"


Adjusting for the syntax, "no one else knows," I asked the same question of myself.

Couldn't come up with anything.

In other words, what I'm saying is if you look long enough and hard enough and talk to enough people, you'll get a complete picture of the person I am, without having to speak to me.

Talk to EVERYONE I know, get all the information they have about me and you will know everything about me.

The trick would then be talking to EVERYONE I know and get EVERYTHING they know. Not. Gonna. Happen. In the first place, there are people I've lost touch with over the years. Secondly, people forget. Thirdly, some of the folks who had information about me can't be spoken with, at least on this side of reality. They have gone on to whatever comes when we shed this mortal coil.
Not me.

What makes me wonder about this are books we call biographies. I am presently reading a biography of Roman emperor Caligula. The author notes at the beginning of the book his source material is sketchy. He also points out some of his source material has an obvious bias against this accused infamous Roman. So, he reports, his biography is the best he can do under the circumstance.

Refreshing. The author admits to ignorance of his subject matter and says he's pressing forward to do the best he can with what he's got.

I think about the other biographies and autobios I have read. What was left out? How full a picture of the person am I really getting? How distorted is this information. How accurate?

Biographies of historical persons in particular are suspect. The worst of all are biographies based on writings of the person being chronicled.

On this last I speak as a fully qualified expert. If you think you can get a full picture of the person I am from the things I write, then you are mistaken. The same applies to all the other writers I know. While we do bleed - you call it writing - onto the page (dead tree edition or electronic paper), and we share joys, successes, defeats, tragedies and whatever else may happen to us, we do not tell absolutely everything.
Another manuscript finished.

Never.

There is always some small, mayhap even tiny, detail which is left out. Could even be more than one. That detail is critical to the person the writer is.

The further removed the person is from the subject of a biography, the greater the chance of character error. I am here reminded of the recent Abraham Lincoln bios, including one 'grapher who suggested the late president may have a homosexual or at least bisexual. He based this on a couple of letters Abe wrote to a male colleague.

I am also reminded of JRR Tolkien's masterpieces. He said the stories were meant to be enjoyed as a flight of fancy and anyone who read anything else into them was mistaken. That author's disclaimer hasn't stopped academics from "reading into" the stories to come up with massive flights of fancy about what Tolkien was really saying.

Indulging in my own flight of fancy, I want to tell you now - should anyone ever decide I'm important enough to have a biography, it's not going to be a 100 percent accurate depiction of who I am. Even if I write an autobiography, I'm gonna leave some stuff out. If that book ever gets written, incredibly unlikely, it is possible someone I know will read it and ask "Why'd he leave                            out?"

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