A biographer bifurcates

The object of this blog has always been to present the why and how of George Calderon’s self-sacrifice in World War I; but to show these things by posting events and documents in a species of ‘real time’, exactly one hundred years after they were happening. It was very gratifying, then, to receive an email that described the blog as ‘a fascinating experiment in creative history’.

(But every so often I have nothing to show on that day, so you get digressions and commentary like this.)

I also said at the beginning that the timeline approach of the blog would be ‘a great help to me as I piece together the narrative of the last chapter of my biography’.  Where that is concerned, things haven’t turned out so straightforward.  There has been a development I didn’t foresee.

To compose a post, however short, for a specific day in the life of your man one hundred years ago, you have to check and recheck your facts.  Researching those from day to day has probably meant that I have gone more deeply into them, particularly their context, and discovered many more connections between them, than if I hadn’t been running the blog but just completing my research for the chapter and continuously writing it.  That’s got to be a good thing.  However, when I have gone back to writing the chapter, I’ve found that the nature and style of the blog have infected my writing of ‘continuous prose’.

Each posting presents a ‘moment’, whereas the chapter is ‘a story’.  It’s a bit like haikus: they can only stand alone, they can’t be linked to form a western-style plot (narrative poem). The posting implies an attempt at depth/verticality, whereas the chapter is progression/horizontality.  Some might say that the posting is ‘synchronic’, the chapter ‘diachronic’.  Or that the ‘chronotope’, i.e. ‘time/space form’, of a blog is quite different from that of a chapter in a biography.  Or that the blog is ‘paratactic’, i.e. juxtaposed fragments without conjunctions.  If someone comes to read this blog when it is over in July 2015, they will, of course, get a ‘story’, it will be a kind of narrative; but it will be a quite different kind of narrative from the 1914-15 chapter in my book.

Well, when I came from posting a few days blog to writing the next few hundred words of the chapter, dealing with the very same events, I found the natural urge was to use many of the same words, merely meld the moments together, and ‘under-propel’ the prose.  The day-by-day approach of the blog was watering down the narrative energy that biography must have.  Fortunately I spotted this, although it produced a day or two’s wobble. Basically, writing the blog and writing the book use different parts of your brain.

I’ve identified this bifurcation, so can try to do something about it.  But who can control their own brain?  I suppose I shall slowly manage to insulate the two areas from each other, but meanwhile I have to admit that the blog hasn’t had as positive an effect on writing and completing the biography as I’d hoped!

Next entry: ‘Who is George Calderon?’

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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