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Monday, October 5, 2015

Art of Biography writing

                               15 ‘D’s of Biography.

Biography writing has its own uniquely inherent features other than recording
of mere date of birth, place of birth, important events in the person’s life, 
what he/she is predominantly known for etc.

There are certain elements, important in- built structures and patterns to biography.

Primarily they involve, if we can simplify them as the Fifteen [15] ‘D’s of biographical writing:-

1. Dissecting and analyzing of a person’s attitudes, reactions, choices and decisions in specific contexts which could act as reference manuals for posterity;

2. Doing dissertation of a person’s abilities and attributes which enabled him/her to perform certain extraordinary things or certain things in extraordinary ways which one can look upon as worthy examples;

3. Deep reverse engineering of a person’s psychological perceptions which enabled him/her to stand out as unique;

4. Discerning the interesting interplay of self initiated internal will power and willingness to do some things and external forces which either helped or prevented such an activity, enterprise etc;

5. Dealing with context– by context is meant various aspects like the time when the person lived, did something, the place, the individual’s age, circumstances of life etc- in which a particular person’s life has excelled;

6. Detailing the projections of performances and specific contributions made by a person with     reference to certain areas of human activity especially in specific contexts.

7. Developing interpretations to do justice to the essence of subject or contribution or area of operation or activity or specific quality either physical, psychological, spiritual etc for which the biography of the individual is written.

8. Describing the distortions of life’s journey through frames of reference of the biographer.

This is bound to happen obviously when the previous aspect, namely interpretations, of biography writing takes place.

9. Delving deep into to discern the deeper links and significance of the activity for which a person is specially known for and also find out the unique approaches and uniqueness of that  person.

10. Doing away with exaggerated extolling, emotional exchange etc which of course become inevitable when the biographer is attached to either the cause or the person in some way and finds it difficult to avoid when writing biographies of some very great souls.

11. Delineating the design of deeper intentions, the deeper significances, declared or undeclared visions, definite missions, development of the individual as well as his/her uniqueness of unique contribution for which the person’s biography is written about, the depth of hidden motives, the deceptions of ulterior motives, dispelling the doubts of lurking suspicions etc all must form part of the interpretations of a biographer,  but strictly with relevant tools of evaluation and contextual relevance.

12. Decorating with life’s definite anecdotes, delightful moments, defining moments etc and garnishing with gossips- if necessary.

13. Defining in diplomatic terms any delicate aspect/situation/issue of the person’s personal life.

14. Demonstrating clearly all that needs to be derived from the person’s life, both the positives and negatives and also decoding all possible the impacts and influences of the individual on society.

15. Deepening scrutiny or perusal of pertinent points and perceptions without any preconditioned delimitations or prefixed labels.

Biographer must be free and frank in expressing his/her interpretations and avoid both unloving criticism and uncritical love of either the person or the activity.

Like everything else, biographies also become more interesting and important not only because of the person about whom it is written but also because of the biographer’s ability to grasp the essence or core of the activity or intrinsic significance of the person about whom the biography is written and the interpretations on lines mentioned above.

Even some of the lesser known or less popular authors like John William Navin Sullivan has written because of his understanding an excellent biography of ‘Beethovan’

While a Google search on list of biographies normally throw a lot of biographies, mostly from the West or from the occidental world or what is available in English language translations [while this is understandable], it unfortunately excludes some books like Saint  Genet by Jean Paul Sartre; Eric Fromm gives a far better biographical sketch, more based of psychology than any other author about Hitler in his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness ; biography of  Swami Vivekananda by Romain Rolland etc.

One salient feature of these biographies is that they grasp the intrinsic value or worthy traits or contributions that carve out a great or unique personality out of a person and therefore, warrants documentation for posterity to imitate or emulate.

Any or all mundane details or normal aspects of those extraordinary lives at best require a passing reference whereas detailed analytical, contextually relevant and intrinsically important aspects of their lives require careful evaluation and explanation.

With regard to Saint Tyagaraja the context of life with relevance to time he lived in when singing in praise of king might have perhaps given him greater prominence and wealth, geographical location had it been near any major city or port might have had more publicity and popularity.

It really does not matter whether Saint Tyagaraja’s  stomach was concave or convex or whether he went to any temple daily because  what matters more is his compositions are imbued with excellent musical structures and patterns and ooze such an enormous aesthetic emotions that sobers the heart, stills the mind and carries the soul into a trance and when one returns back to normal consciousness one finds floating in an enormous ocean of musical world.

I have attempted a few biographies, on these lines, at least some of them, but mostly devoid of dates and all such details intentionally.

Latest one being on A.P.J. Abdul Kalam



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